21-10-29 SVMF Harp, Gretchen Van Hoesen@.jpg

Gretchen Van Hoesen performs in the Sun Valley Music Festival

As a way to thank their supporters, Sun Valley Music Festival will present a new online performance on Oct. 29: “5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Harp Music.” Principal Harp Gretchen Van Hoesen will play two pieces. 

“This event is just a thank you to everybody who has helped so much to keep music alive,” Van Hoesen said. “If we didn’t have music, where would we be?” 

This free video comes in tandem with the Music Festival’s Annual Report, highlighting their accomplishments from the year. The performance will be available on the festival’s website, YouTube channel and Facebook page from Oct. 29 at 6:30 p.m. until Nov. 5 at 6:30 p.m.   

“A lot of people have seen the harp, but they have not heard the harp in a solo role,” Van Housen said.

Van Hoesen has played for Sun Valley for nearly three decades. She started on the greens of Elkhorn. Her daughter learned to ride a bicycle here. 

The two pieces are “Quest” by Gary Shocker and “Fire Dance” by David Watkins. Each of these composers are harp players, which Van Hoesen says makes a big difference.  

Of “Quest,” Daniel Hansen of SVMF said, “Throughout the piece, contemplative phrases interplay with moments of innocence and transcendence.”

Van Hoesen attended Julliard with Shocker. 

“Playing contemporary music written by living composers is a great thing,” Van Hoesen said. “I’m always looking for new music.”

While writing “Fire Dance” in 1960, Watkins traveled to South America. He was inspired by their ritual dances and the Paraguayan harp, resulting in cross rhythms and syncopation. 

Van Hoesen first learned to play it in her youth. 

“Because I’ve lived with it for so long, it’s in my fingers, I know what I want to do with it,” Van Hoesen said. “Yet, every time I play it, I discover something new.”

While teaching this piece to students, she shares tricks she has learned along the way. Van Hoesen says there is a lot of technique to take away from this composition, like the short bursts of glissandos (continuous rush upward or downward between notes.)

They shot this performance in a church in Van Hoesen’s hometown of Pittsburgh. SVMF sent a crew to set up audio and visual. Snow sat on the ground outside. They had to shut off the heat to kill the white noise. Shivering, Van Hoesen had to wear a jacket between takes. 

“It was unbelievably challenging,” Van Hoesen said. 

She hoped her harp would not go out of tune. Thankfully, it turned out great.  

Along with showing appreciation for the Sun Valley community, Van Hoesen hopes this will spread awareness of solo harp playing. 

“If you’re a good harpist, you have a lot in your bag of tricks,” Van Hoesen said. “You can create all kinds of different sounds—a very brittle, hard sound, all the way down to the most beautiful, luxurious rich tone to the most delicate, light sound. You have complete control over that with your hands if you know how to use them well.” 

When the orchestra plays, the harp often sits in the center. 

“The harp is the only instrument in the orchestra that can harmonically encompass the entire sound,” Van Hoesen said. “I can glue the sound of the orchestra together with this.”  

Currently, she is working on a concert for Dec. 1 with 31 harps playing together. The big ensemble will play holiday at Carnegie Hall foyer, a three-story-high open space with marble columns.

“The last year and a half has been really difficult with COVID, but now, we’re back,” Van Hoesen said. “I can’t tell you how good it feels to have live music ... there’s something really special about it.”

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