The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra will launch their 2018 season with ‘The Harpist’, a one-off performance featuring elite soloist, harpist Xavier de Maistre.
One of the world’s most sought-after classical artists, Frenchman de Maistre is constantly working to redefine the boundaries of possibility and his stunning repertoire includes several pieces originally intended to be played by entire orchestras. He has worked with leading composers, appeared at festivals and with orchestras around the globe and has released several albums.
Here, Xavier de Maistre chats to scenestr about ‘The Harpist’ and his time with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra.
You began playing the harp at the tender age of 9, what drew you to this instrument?
I began to play the harp at the age of nine because I met the harp teacher. I liked her so much that I wanted to learn the instrument she was teaching. It was more that I fell in love with the teacher, rather than the instrument, initially.
You are performing with The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra in ‘The Harpist’. Is this your first time performing with the orchestra and if so, what drew you to them?
I got an invitation from Paul and was really interested to play with him and his ensemble.
How would you describe ‘The Harpist’ and what can audiences expect from this performance?
I am happy to be able to present not only a concerto with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, but also solo pieces from my previous albums. This will help give people an overall impression of all my activities and all the colours that are possible on the harp.
You are set to play a number of complicated pieces during the performance, which is your favourite and why?
That’s a tough question. I chose these pieces because they are ALL my favourites. I couldn’t just pick one. They all have something very special about them, and show the many different colours and many different aspects of my playing. It will give the audience a great overall impression as to what can be done on the harp. Maybe they’ll discover some things that they would haven’t have expected from my instrument.
What was it like working with Paul Dyer, founder and artistic director of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra?
It’s always interesting to work with new colleagues because you get new input, even with pieces you have played many, many times. This is the case with the Boieldieu concerto. Paul has done some fantastic research about this concerto and located the original score. In the first rehearsal it was very interesting to exchange information with him. And you always play things a little bit differently when you have new partners. I think it is what makes our experiences richer and how we become better musicians.
Image © Beatrice Waulin
You are described as an elite soloist who is “constantly pushing the boundaries” and redefining your instrument. What inspires and drives you to pursue these endeavours?
I have no choice. There is not enough original repertoire for the harp so I have to always look for and create new projects. This is one of the reasons there have been so few harp soloists before, as we don’t have, say, 26 concertos for the pianists by Mozart or 5 Beethoven concertos. We have very little original repertoire from the famous composers. So I have to always find new ideas, adapt new pieces, or to motivate composers to write for my instrument so we can expand the repertory. This will help make the harp more attractive as a solo instrument.
Your repertoire includes several complex pieces originally composed for entire orchestras, what is the greatest challenge you face when tackling these pieces?
I try to make a very wide range of colours and sounds. It is a big challenge, but also a big opportunity. You need to really go beyond your boundaries and find new ways of playing so the people get the impression that a whole orchestra is playing and not just one instrument.
Is there a particular piece of music or composer whose works you would love to explore in the future? Why?
Kaija Saariaho has just written for me a beautiful harp concerto, and there are a few other composers I like and admire who I’d like to motivate to write for the harp, among them would be some famous Australian composers like Brett Dean.&
You began your solo career almost 20 years ago after leaving the coveted position of Principal Harpist with Vienna Philharmonic. What led you to make such as extreme (yet ultimately successful) decision?
I left the Vienna Philharmonic about ten years ago after playing with them for ten years. When I was a student, everyone told me that it wasn’t possible to become a soloist as a harpist, and that the best thing you could achieve would be to play with a big orchestra. For me that was to play with the Vienna Philharmonic. It was my goal. But when I got the job when I was 24, I couldn’t imagine doing the same thing for 40 years, so I tried to develop my solo activities. Eventually I decided to quit, which was a risky move. But I think that I would have become quite frustrated after a while if I couldn’t evolve and couldn’t develop my own projects. I couldn’t have expected things to turn out so well and that I would perform so many concerts with wonderful orchestra in amazing halls, which I’m doing now. So I’m very, very grateful.
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra Dates9, 11 May – City Recital Hall (Sydney)
12-13 May – Elisabeth Murdoch Hall (Melbourne)
15 May – Queensland Performing Arts Centre