Catrin Finch is one of the most accomplished harpists of her generation. Since first picking up at harp at the age of 5, she has been delighting audiences with performances in the UK and worldwide.
Having first appeared at the Royal Albert Hall with the National Youth Orchestra in 1990, she returns to the Hall’s Elgar Room in March, as part of our Love Classical Festival.
We caught up with Catrin ahead of her show here on 8 March:
Where did it all begin? What inspired you to become a musician?
When I was 5, my parents took me to see Spanish harpist Marisa Robles perform a recital. Children were able to go for free to the concert so my parents took me and my siblings along to save on the cost of a babysitter. At the end of the performance I announced that I wanted to play the harp and for my 6th birthday my parents rented me one.
And so it just grew from there?
Well growing up in West Wales, harp teachers were few and far between. So my parents would drive me on a 5-hour round trip, every fortnight, to study with the incredible Elinor Bennett. I learnt the harp with Elinor from when I was 8 until 16. By the time I turned 9 I had achieved my Grade 8, so it was clear that learning the harp wasn’t just a fad! My parents were incredibly supportive and so I’ll forever be grateful to them.
Grade 8 by the age of 9 – that’s incredible! Is that around the time when you joined the National Youth Orchestra?
I performed in the orchestra from when I was 10 until 16. The National Youth Orchestra was a really amazing experience! It was an opportunity for me to play music with kids who were as passionate as me.
‘The first time I played at the Royal Albert Hall was with the NYO at their yearly Prom in 1990. I was the 4th harp, right on the end but playing a Prom and being on such a stage at the age of 10 was an incredible experience. The Royal Albert Hall is amazing. Anyone that plays there has the same feeling of grandeur. It’s a special place. Whenever you get a chance to perform there you remember it.’
Yeah, I can imagine there was a real sense of community for the young musicians involved. Do you feel that the harp is popular for young people today?
Well the harp has always struggled with keeping up with other instruments in part because it is so big and expensive, but also because it’s not an easy instrument to devote yourself to. However, it is increasingly becoming seen as a cooler instrument with big pop-stars like Lady Gaga using it in her performances. In fact, harp manufacturers in the UK are struggling to keep up with demand at the moment, so that’s really encouraging.
That makes sense – I guess it doesn’t really take centre stage unlike say, the piano or violin.
Exactly, it doesn’t really have the same repertoire as other instruments, so you can often find there’s a barrier within orchestras if you play the harp. It’s often hard to push ahead the piano or violin, and in fact, I often still get people saying to me after solo performances that it’s the first time they’ve ever experienced solo-harp. But I guess I’ve found that this lends itself to experimenting with collaborations and other quirky projects.
Is that why how your work with kora player Seckou Keita came about?
I’m always constantly looking for new collaborators as collaboration is a huge part of what I’m about. Before working with Seckou I was in a Columbian band called playing Joroppo music. I love improvisation, and so I’m very open to working with different styles whether it’s classical, jazz or world music.
Sometimes collaborations work really well and sometimes there’s not that chemistry, but Seckou and I just clicked straight away. It’s interesting because Seckou doesn’t read music whereas I’m classically trained but I feel like it’s been really successful in that we create a sound field where you often can’t tell who is playing what. And four years later we’re still working together and are putting together a second album.
That sounds great; I look forward to hearing it. You’ve another project with an album due out later this year, what can we expect?
French impressionism in is a period when the harp really flourished. The best examples of chamber music for the harp, from the likes of Debussy and Ravel, come from this time. So last year I recorded some of these works with old compatriots of mine that I studied with at The Royal Academy of Music. We’re hoping to release the material later this year.
Will you be performing the chamber music from this record at The Royal Albert Hall’s Love Classical festival?
Yes, our show in the Elgar room will be our first performance of this music, and then we hope to continue to develop it throughout the year. We’re septet; there’s a string quartet, a flute, a clarinet and myself on the harp. That ensemble covers the whole period of my favourite chamber music and it’s really fun to get to share this music with such good friends of mine.
Saturday 4 – Wednesday 15 March 2017
Love Classical is a 12-day festival of classical music-themed events across seven different spaces around the Hall, from the iconic auditorium to deep underground in our Loading Bay.