LISTENING to a cadenza from Tchaikovsky’s The Waltz of the Flowers as an 11-year-old changed the course of Helen Webby’s life.
Her parents had brought home a second-hand double LP of Greatest Classical and Ballet Hits and the harp solo struck a chord with the young listener.
“It’s gorgeous and it’s actually the world’s most famous harp solo,” she said.
“I heard that when I was 11-years-old and I said to my mum I want to play the harp.”
Supportive of Webby’s wish, her mother went to the public library and started looking for information about the instrument.
One of the things she found was a plan of how to build a harp.
“She gave it to my brother, Kim Webby, and he built a harp from the plan. Then we went to Auckland to meet the harp teacher that my mum picked out.
“We all arrived on the doorstep – me, my brother, my parents and the harp that my brother had made – and she was completely amazed… and incredibly encouraging.”
Webby, who is now principal harp with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, is on tour with Arts On Tour New Zealand and will perform in Invercargill this Saturday.
Presented by MASSAV Productions, Pluck – Concert Harp and the Blue Celtic Harp will showcase Webby’s skill on the ethereal musical instrument.
The programme would include Celtic music of Wales, Ireland and Scotland, Baroque music by Bach and French compositions by Debussy and Faure.
She said the concert harp had an enormous 300 year tradition of music written for it.
“I’ve chosen the pieces to kind of show how it was invented and what people wrote for it. Then in the second half of the programme I plug it in and do a bit more experimental, fun and funky stuff.”
perform some New Zealand compositions and each had an interesting story behind it.
Webby said she would play a piece by New Zealand film composer Mark Smythe, which was written for her 2013 album Pluck
“It’s actually one of my all-time favourite pieces.
“He’s such a clever composer that the digital delay really creates an amazing rhythmic effect.”
She would also perform Blue Smoke by Ruru Karaitiana, which was New Zealand’s first recorded pop song.
“It’s a really iconic and gorgeous piece of Kiwiana.”
Douglas Lilburn, “the father of New Zealand classical music” would also feature.
Webby said in 1948 Lilburn wrote a couple of harp solos which disappeared – nobody knew they existed.
“They turned up in a cardboard box of music which was actually in the estate of my very first harp teacher.”
Webby said she would perform one of the compositions during the night.
“It’s quite amazing to find a piece that nobody knows about and it’s really beautiful.”
Mirroring Webby’s life-long connection to the instrument, her brother also kept building harps and is currently commissioned to create a new concert harp for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
Webby said she would be bringing one of his creations on tour – a concert harp made of New Zealand red beech.
“It’s carved like a Nikau palm tree so it’s an absolute work of art.
“It’s pretty exciting taking it around New Zealand.”
She would also play a blue carbon fibre Celtic harp made by luthier Davy Stuart, and the concert would also include a brief cameo by a mystery drummer on the Irish goatskin bodhran, Webby said.