Catherine Beynon

Harp

Catherine Beynon

Catherine began playing the harp at the age of eight and attended the Royal College of Music Junior Department with Daphne Boden and later gained a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. Catherine then completed her studies at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse in Lyons with Fabrice Pierre. She is an extremely enthusiastic chamber musician and has performed across Europe and in Japan with numerous distinguished artists such as the Quatuor Debussy, Francois Le Roux, and the Lindsay Quartet. Catherine has given solo recitals at the Purcell Room, Fairfield Halls, and St Martin-in-the-Fields and in September 1997 made her BBC Prom debut in the Proms Chamber Music Series at the Victoria and Albert Museum. She has also made many chamber music recordings for the Naxos, Metier, Timpani, and Hyperion labels. Her recording of Flute Mystery by Fred Johnny Berg, with Emily Beynon, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and the Philharmonia Orchestra, was nominated for a 2010 Grammy. As a concerto soloist, Catherine has performed with the English Chamber Orchestra, the Philharmonia, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and the London Chamber Orchestra and as principal harp of the European Union Youth Orchestra. She has worked with many eminent conductors, including Bernard Haitink, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Carlo Maria Giulini, and Mstislav Rostropovich. In August 1999, Catherine was appointed principal harp of the Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen (Det Kongelige Kapel) and in May 2000 she was awarded an honorary degree of ARAM by the Royal Academy of Music in recognition of her distinguished career in the profession. She was appointed principal harp in the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg in September 2003. In August 2008, Catherine performed with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and Claudio Abbado, both in Lucerne and Vienna. She was recently invited to play with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in performances and recordings with Mariss Jansons in Munich and at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Ask the musicians: 

How did you come to choose your instrument ?

I remember when I was very small I had a little box, a metal box that I used to keep my hair clips and hair ribbons in. On the front of that there was a picture of a harp and a picture of a violin and lots of flowers and 'girlie' things around it. I loved the shape of the harp and I decided then that I wanted to play the harp. Apparently, when I was about four years old, I heard a Spanish harpist called Marisa Robles playing a piece on the radio and I was completely spellbound. From that day on I nagged my parents: “I want to play the harp, I want to play the harp …”
It took me four years to persuade them that I really, really wanted to play the harp, so I had my first lesson when I was eight.

How important to you is the conductor ?

Absolutely vital! There is nothing more important for an orchestra than the conductor, I think. It’s above all a question of trust - you have to know when you’re playing a difficult part or you have a delicate entry with your colleagues that you can trust the person standing in front of you absolutely,almost with your life. If that works, everything works. If there is any doubt in either direction actually then it can be quite catastrophic. You have to be completely convinced of the trust you have in one another in order for the music to blossom.

Who is your favorite composer and which work do you most enjoy playing ?

My favorite composer of all time would be Gustav Mahler and I have a kind of love/hate relationship with Richard Strauss. I  love to play his pieces but sometimes I find his music a bit brash and flashy. Actually there is one exception: His “Four Last Songs” I love playing them AND I love this music. Absolutely sublime! What makes them so special? I think it is the very purest writing. For my “Desert Island Disc” piece it would definitely have to be Mahler 3rd symphony, last movement - which has no harp in it (laughs).

How important to you are the orchestra’s tours ?

I think they are very important. Apart from anything else you spend time with your colleagues and get to understand them as human beings, rather just working with them in a kind of blinkered environment. You get to know a little more about their personal lives, what they enjoy and so on, so I think it’s very important as a team-building experience. Professionally for the orchestra itself it’s also extremely important to adapt to playing in different halls. We have a gorgeous hall here, the Philharmonie and we’re very used to playing in it. We know how to play in it, but we need to remember how to adjust when we go to a different hall. We may hear different things according to our position on the stage, certain tempi may have to be changed (for example if it’s a very resonant hall, we may play slightly more slowly) and so on. I think it’s very important that the orchestra exercises this muscle regularly. It encourages us to listen extremely attentively which I think is the hallmark of a fine orchestra. It is  also important for us as an orchestra to be heard  and seen in internationally renowned concert halls.

What does music mean to you ?

Everything! I think it’s a way of life. I simply can’t imagine a world in which there is no music - it’s just not possible. I think a lot of people feel the same, whether they are musicians or not.

Who or what is most important in your life ?

Family of course - family and friends without a doubt. I have a lovely young family at the moment. They are very demanding and delicious at the same time! It is so hard to imagine until you have a family. It’s very, very, very hard work and worth every second of it. Friends are also absolutely vital - to have a good network of people you can trust and rely on and seek advice from …

What do you do in your spare time ?

Spare time? What’s that? (laughs) When I get the chance I love to read, I love to walk. I like going to see a good film. I like visiting new places,  going to art galleries, museums…We’re already traveling a lot with the kids, taking them around trying to get them interested in the world. How old are they? The oldest is six and the youngest is two. They are great travelers.

Do you like listening to other types of music ?

Yes, absolutely. Sometimes I get a bit saturated by the music that we’re rehearsing in the orchestra. As a musician listening to non-classical music, you can’t help having “classical ears” on and thinking about intonation and whether or not something was together. I find it hard to switch that off. I like listening to all sorts of music, provided it is good quality. Good quality jazz, Sting, whatever... it doesn’t matter so long as it’s good…Sometimes the “musak” they play as background in shops can be so badly out of tune that it’s distracting. I forget what I was supposed to be looking at in the shop!

Are there other musicians or composers who have especially influenced you ?

Of course my harp teachers Daphne Boden and Fabrice Pierre influenced me in an enormous way. They have had an enormous impact on the way I look at music, the way I look at the harp, that’s undeniable, but aside from that, yes Herbie Hancock. I had a fantastic experience of going to hear a concert of his in London. It was about three hours long and this is a guy in his late seventies I think. His energy, his humility, his integrity and the quality what he was playing was just breath-taking. It was one of those rare experiences for a classical musician where you go to a pop or funk concert and you come away wanting to go and practice your classical instrument to improve yourself. That’s really magical I think. The other person that has influenced me a lot is Claudio Abbado. I was very lucky to work with him a few times towards the end of his life. His concentration, the shaping of his hands and the sounds he can get from that left hand! When he looked at you in the orchestra you would give him everything in the world. It’s quite astounding!

What brought you to Luxembourg and what do you particularly like about being here ?

I joined the OPL in September 2003 and we had Bramwell Tovey and then Emmanuel Krivine as our chief conductors. I think that the development of the orchestra has been absolutely incredible. The quality and the professionalism has improved out of all recognition. I could see from the very start there was an enormous potential in this orchestra - wonderful musicians, really, really good colleagues and a lot of good will and fantastic facilities - it was all there. And we’ve had chief conductors, thankfully, that have helped us and pushed us on in the right direction. They have been very demanding and that’s precisely what we needed. What do you think OPL will be in 5 years’ time? Well I hope more of the same. I hope it’ll continue to develop and I’m sure with Mr. Gimeno it will be tremendously invigorating. I have no doubt about that. He’s an extremely exciting and wonderful musician and I think he has great ideas. I think we’ve also got a fantastic management team that is very imaginative so I’m extremely optimistic about our future. I think it’s going to be great.

What do you think OPL will be like in 5 years’ time and what would you particularly wish for the orchestra ?

I joined the OPL in September 2003 and we had Bramwell Tovey and then Emmanuel Krivine as our chief conductors. I think that the development of the orchestra has been absolutely incredible. The quality and the professionalism has improved out of all recognition. I could see from the very start there was an enormous potential in this orchestra - wonderful musicians, really, really good colleagues and a lot of good will and fantastic facilities - it was all there. And we’ve had chief conductors, thankfully, that have helped us and pushed us on in the right direction. They have been very demanding and that’s precisely what we needed. What do you think OPL will be in 5 years’ time? Well I hope more of the same. I hope it’ll continue to develop and I’m sure with Mr. Gimeno it will be tremendously invigorating. I have no doubt about that. He’s an extremely exciting and wonderful musician and I think he has great ideas. I think we’ve also got a fantastic management team that is very imaginative so I’m extremely optimistic about our future. I think it’s going to be great.

Are there also some funny moments or anecdotes to tell about the day to day life in an orchestra ?

There are a lot but I really can’t think of anything that I would be allowed to say (laughs). There are always funny stories, crazy things going on especially on tours and it’s entertaining as I’m sure it is in any other workplace!

How is your instrument feeling and what does it have to say about that?