Northern Liberties harpist is soloist for a U.S. premiere

A North­ern Liber­ties harp­ist will per­form as a so­loist at a Phil­adelphia Or­chesta mul­ti­me­dia con­cert this week­end that in­cludes film.

Eliza­beth Hain­en of North­ern Liber­ties will per­form as a so­loist in a spe­cial per­form­ance next week. COUR­TESY OF THE PHIL­ADELPHIA OR­CHES­TRA

As prin­cip­al harp­ist with the world-class  Phil­adelphia Or­ches­tra, Eliza­beth Hain­en has giv­en a num­ber of so­los over the years. But her so­los at con­certs next Thursday even­ing and Fri­day af­ter­noon will urely be among her most unique ex­per­i­ences.

The North­ern Liber­ties mu­si­cian will per­form the U.S. premiere of a work for harp and or­ches­tra that was com­mis­sioned ex­pressly for her. 

And un­like a tra­di­tion­al con­certo, this is a mul­ti­me­dia work that in­cludes videos as well as mu­sic.

The piece, com­posed by Tan Dun, is titled “Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Wo­men, Sym­phony for Mi­cro Films, Harp and Or­ches­tra.” The title refers to a dis­ap­pear­ing lan­guage cre­ated in Hun­an, China, in the 13th cen­tury.

While Hain­en plays the harp, three video screens will pro­ject im­ages of the Hun­an wo­men singing their an­cient songs that were un­known to the rest of the world.

“The audi­ence will be ex­posed to a hid­den cul­ture halfway around the world,” says Hain­en.   

These videos will be of in­terest visu­ally as well as mu­sic­ally.

“The video screens will be art­fully hung,  and they  are un­usu­ally beau­ti­ful,” says Hain­en. “The bor­ders look like an­ces­tral hangings. 

As for the mu­sic: “It’s really cap­tiv­at­ing,” says Hain­en. “It en­hances the foot­age of the vil­lage wo­men who sing as I play. ”

The long evol­u­tion of this work makes the premiere even more ex­cit­ing. It all began in 2001 when Dun was com­poser in res­id­ence at the Saratoga Cham­ber Mu­sic Fest­iv­al.  

Hain­en, who had heard about com­poser Dun, first met and worked with him at this fest­iv­al. “I was so im­pressed with his ex­cite­ment and en­thu­si­asm,” she re­calls. “He’s a dy­nam­ic per­former as well as com­poser.”

Since then, Dun has ap­peared with the Phil­adelphia Or­ches­tra a num­ber of times, either as com­poser when a piece of his was per­formed or as guest con­duct­or.

ldquo;My ad­mir­a­tion for him grew,” says Hain­en. “I felt he had a true un­der­stand­ing of the sounds of the harp.”

So she ap­proached him about writ­ing a piece for the harp. “I’d like to, but I’m very busy,” was his ini­tial reply.

“But he seemed in­ter­ested,” says Hain­en. So she didn’t give up. “I per­sisted,” she ad­mits.

And her per­sist­ence paid off. Sev­er­al years later, when the Or­ches­tra was per­form­ing in Shang­hai on one of its China tours, she saw Dun, spoke to him and fol­lowed up with an email again pro­pos­ing a piece for the harp.

This time, the an­swer was dif­fer­ent. “He replied, ‘Great idea! Let’s do it!’” relates Hain­en.

That was six years ago. It’s not sur­pris­ing, she says,  that it took him this long to com­pose the piece. “When Tan works on a new piece, he does an ex­traordin­ary amount of re­search. For two years, he spent time in Hun­an Province, do­ing re­search and tak­ing videos of the vil­la­gers. That gave him the in­spir­a­tion to write the piece.”

She first saw the score one year ago. Shortly after, she went to Shang­hai and first per­formed ex­cerpts of this new work at the Shang­hai In­ter­na­tion­al Arts Fest­iv­al. “It was very mov­ing, and the audi­ence was deeply touched,” she re­ports.

Last Tues­day, she re­turned to Shang­hai and per­formed again at the arts fest­iv­al this past Sunday, Oct. 20. This time, she played the en­tire piece, with Dun con­duct­ing.

Now she’ll per­form it again with the Phil­adelphia Or­ches­tra next Thursday even­ing and Fri­day af­ter­noon. This time, mu­sic dir­ect­or Yan­nick Nez­et-Seguin will con­duct, and it will be the first time the piece is heard in the United States.

It’s one of three works com­mis­sioned for a Mi­cro Film Fest­iv­al of new works. The pro­ject is a key ini­ti­at­ive of Nez­et-Seguin. The two oth­er works were com­mis­sioned for prin­cip­al flute play­er Jef­frey Khan­er (also per­formed Oct. 31) and for prin­cip­al bas­soon play­er Daniel Mat­sukawa (per­formed Nov. 1 and 2).

All three com­mis­sioned works will be con­duc­ted by Nez­et-Seguin. “It’s a great hon­or and a won­der­ful ex­per­i­ence to play un­der his bat­on,” says Hain­en.

Al­though so­loists usu­ally stand while they per­form, Hain­en will be seated on the stage when she plays the con­cert grand harp, which is six feet tall, weighs 87 pounds and has 47 strings and sev­en ped­als.

Be­cause she’ll be out front, the audi­ence will get a good view of this strik­ing in­stru­ment.

An award-win­ning mu­si­cian, Hain­en leads a busy mu­sic­al life that in­cludes more than her role as  prin­cip­al harp­ist with the Phil­adelphia Or­ches­tra.  She’s on the fac­ulties of  the Curtis In­sti­tute of Mu­sic and  Temple Uni­versity, where she gives in­di­vidu­al harp in­struc­tions.

Hain­en also has an  act­ive ca­reer as a so­loist and re­cit­al­ist who has per­formed all over the U.S. and abroad.

Mu­sic has been her fo­cus ever since child­hood. But she star­ted out play­ing the pi­ano and vi­ol­in: her fath­er, Fred Hain­en, was a vi­ol­in­ist with the Toledo Sym­phony Or­ches­tra for 40 years.

At  age 10,  she found  a new in­terest. “I fell in love with the sound of the harp after I heard it dur­ing a per­form­ance of ‘The Nutcrack­er,’” she re­calls. “I was mes­mer­ized.”

She pleaded with her par­ents for a harp, and they fi­nally agreed and got her a stu­dent size harp.

It’s been her in­stru­ment ever since. She was ap­poin­ted prin­cip­al harp with the Phil­adelphia Or­ches­tra in 1994. The harp she plays for or­ches­tra con­certs is  a hand­some  in­stru­ment in Art Deco design, with an  an­gu­lar shape and white gold leaf on the sound­ing board.

Next Thursday even­ing, that 87-pound harp will be placed out front on the stage when it’s time for the audi­ence to hear the U.S. premiere of Tan Dun’s harp con­certo, com­mis­sioned  for Hain­en.

ldquo;It’s a much more mean­ing­ful ex­pres­sion of art than a tra­di­tion­al con­certo be­cause of the in­clu­sion of the videos - and the amaz­ing lan­guage they re­veal,” she says. “I’m thrilled to be per­form­ing it.” ••


The Phil­adelphia Or­ches­tra presents a pro­gram fea­tur­ing so­loist Eliza­beth Hain­en in the U.S. premiere of Tan Dun’s “The Secret Songs of Wo­men, Sym­phony for Mi­cro Films, Harp and Or­ches­tra ” on Thursday even­ing, Oct. 31 and Friday afternoon, November 1 in Verizon Hall, Broad & Spruce Streets. Tickets are available by calling 215-893-1999 or visiting or at the box office. 

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