Interview with Erin Wood, Guest Harpist of Masterworks III
Updated: Apr 17
Erin Wood is an active and versatile musician, performing regularly with orchestras, choirs, and chamber ensembles throughout the Midwest region. Erin has been featured as a concerto soloist with the Sunflower Chamber Music Festival, Pittsburg Festival of Arts, Westwood Ensemble and Las Vegas Civic Symphony. She has served as Principal Harp and Guest Principal Harp of many ensembles including Reno Chamber Orchestra, Nevada Opera, Utah Festival Opera, Ozark Lyric Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, Kansas City Symphony, Kansas City Chamber Orchestra, Topeka Symphony, Evansville Philharmonic, and Springfield Symphony.
For the Masterworks III Concert: Evocations, we had the chance to ask her about her experiences with Tailleferre's Concertino for Harp and Orchestra.
What does Tailleferre’s Harp Concertino mean to you?
I am so thrilled to be performing the Tailleferre Concertino with the Hays Symphony. I spent a lot of time learning this concerto for a performance in April 2020. When COVID happened that year, the performance got rescheduled a couple of times, but then we realized it would be a while before concerts would happen again, so I didn't get to perform it. Bringing this piece back under my fingers has been so healing for me. The last movement especially brings me joy and makes me so happy to be playing music together and sharing it in a performance hall!
What has proven most challenging with the music?
I performed this piece once with piano, but this will be my first time performing it with orchestra! It is an extremely challenging piece. It's physically demanding with constant 16th notes or 32nd notes throughout almost the entire piece. My biggest challenge is to relax and trust my fingers to keep doing their job.
The theme for this concert is “Evocations.” What emotions or memories come to mind as you work through the Tailleferre?
Foremost, it evokes a specific time period of French music, art and literature. Tailleferre was a member of the Les Six, a group of composers including Milhaud and Poulenc. Their music was seen as a neoclassical reaction against Wagnerian Romanticism and contrasts the Impressionist styles of Debussy and Ravel. Tailleferre's music is more sparse and angular, often using classical forms with avant-garde harmonies and modes. If a Debussy piece evokes Monet, Tailleferre would evoke Picasso and Matisse.
It also evokes a sense of triumph and optimism. For me it is a reminder of all that we have overcome since COVID. For Germaine Tailleferre, I believe that by dedicating this joyful piece to her husband, Ralph Barton, it meant she hoped to salvage a difficult marriage. Sadly, it was rumored that on the night of the concerto’s premiere, performed by harpist Marcel Grandjany and the Boston Symphony under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky, Barton was seen yelling at Germaine stating that he did not want to be known as Mr. Tailleferre. Their marriage ended not long after when Barton suffered a mental breakdown and tried to kill her after she told him she was expecting a child. Though Germaine escaped, she lost the baby due to the trauma and stress.
Despite contending with condescension from critics who labeled her music as "simple" and "feminine," she had wonderful lifelong mentors in Erik Satie and Maurice Ravel, and she was very influential in the music scene time, composing a huge catalog of music. She eventually divorced her next husband who was an abusive alcoholic and supported herself and her family as a composer and pianist. Germaine represents someone who continued to create and express herself through difficult times in her personal life and society.
What would you like concert attendees to listen for in the Tailleferre?
First of all, just appreciate the opportunity to hear this piece performed. Though Tailleferre's Sonata for Solo Harp is a staple of the harp repetoire and is performed frequently, this Concertino with orchestra is rarely performed. It is a 20th-century neo-classical masterpiece that will hopefully be showcased more often. Listen for Tailleferre breaking away from 19th-century conventions of harmony and texture while at the same time alluding to classical forms and phrase structure. The first movement is basically in sonata form with a cadenza in the Lydian mode. The second movement the harp is very textural, using a bisbigliando effect, which means whispering in Italian, and is achieved by playing intervals between the hands, rapidly and lightly. The third movement in Rondo form so you will hear the theme multiple times. It is fun and fast and difficult!
What do you like most about performing with orchestras in the Midwest region, specifically?
The harp is a fairly rare instrument everywhere, but especially in the Midwest. I love to perform and share the magic special instrument. Hearing a harp live and the seeing pedals is a completely different experience than hearing it on a recording.
Where can people who want to hear more find you?
I haven't taken the time to record any CDs but you can listen to some music on my YouTube channel. I created this holiday playlist when I was recording a lot of music for churches and various performances during COVID.
Erin currently teaches at the University of Kansas and maintains a private studio. She is in demand as a teacher and clinician and has taught at the CIVEBRA Festival in Brazil, Midwest Music Camp, as well as masterclasses in Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, and Kansas City. You can learn more about Erin on her website as well as follow her on Instagram @ kansasharpist.