Harp on Wight celebrated their fifth birthday in triumphant fashion with a series of dazzling and well attended concerts across a myriad of styles and very informative teaching workshops.
After the traditional Thursday night harp-themed dinner at Michelangelo's Restaurant in Ryde where the harpist was Bethan Watson from Wales, the concert programme began the following evening on Friday 26th at All Saints' Church.
After a welcoming speech by the Mayor of Ryde Councillor Malcom Ross, harpist and judge Fran Barsby began by announcing - and then performing - the winning pieces in the festival's 2018 composition competition to compose a new piece of music for the harp on the theme of a mystical journey.
The senior competition winner was Mera Royle from the Isle of Man and the jnior competition winner was Megan Collyer.
There then followed a concert by the contemporary quartet The Hermes Experiment featuring Harp on Wight's Patron Anne Denholm on harp. It was fascinating to see how the ensemble de-constructed Bach Preludes and then re-built them in an innovative way using soprano Heloise Warner's voice as an added insrument to the harp, clarinet and double bass.
The Saturday afternoon Performance Platform concert is always a popular feature of the festival. It provides an opportunity for the winner and runner-up in the prestigous competition organized in the North London Festival in May by the French harp makers Camac to paly at Harp on Wight. This year saw two performances by students from the Royal Academy of Music in London - Milo Harper, from the UK, and Nicolette Chin from Singapore (also last years runner-up). The technical prowess of the two harpists is always an outstanding feature of these concerts. Nicilette gave an atmospheric rendition of Le Jardin Mouille (The Moist Garden) by Fresle , whilst an entertaining aspect of Milo's excellent playing was the harp imitating the sound of a woodpecker tapping on wood in Le-Tic-Toc-Choc au Les Maillotins by Couperin.
A standout highlight of the festival was the peerless performance by American harpist Lily Neill in the Saturday evening concert.. Lily is popular with Island audiences having played here seven times prior to the festival, and she took the capacity audience on a real international journey, performing pieces from Finland, Irish tunes by O'Carolan, American ragtime and even early music written by William Byrd. It was beautifully sensitive and one of the best ever concerts in the festival's history.
Dutch harpist Anouk Platenkamp delivered a restful and relaxing hour of European music and songs on Sunday afternoon, before a major departure for the festival in the evening to celebrate their fifth birthday. Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee from India is arguably the best sitar player in the world. He was joined by table player Soumen Nandy and together they delivered a breath taking show. The intensity and speed of the playing - together with the wonderful empathy between the two musicians - was amazing to witness. They only played one complete piece the first half - Raga Shyam Kalyan - and two in the second but they received a deserved standing ovation at the end of each half.
Brittany harpist Nikolaz Cadoret - making only his second UK appearance - maintained the very high standard in the Monday evening concert. In the first half he played acoustic lever harp with some lively Breton dance tunes, longer jazzier pieces with dramatic flourishes and a beautifully sensitive Breton lament.
In complete contrast, in the second half he played the electro-harp and incorporated a range of looping effects with lots of delay and sustain. The looped notes echoed around the Methodist Church, producing an out-of-this-world effect. Nikolaz certainly takes the harp into new unexplored territory.
Tuesday saw the two final concerts. Island harpists presented 'The Magic Island' during the afternoon - a happy hour-long combination of music and storytelling for all who are children at heart.
It was then left to Paraguayan brothers Sixto and Juanjo Corbalan to close the festival. They had received a standing ovation on their last visit to Ryde two years ago and another awaited here. As well as traditional Paraguayan tunes, there lots of longer stretched out jazzier pieces, played with a colourful and resonant Latin American flourish. Again, there was great understanding between the two brothers in their rapid and rhythmic playing as they attacked their harps with great passion.
Finally, throughout the five days, the exhibition of harps in the Methodist Church made by national manufacturers was a popular feature.
Over the five years the festival has built a respected reputation for bringing together a diverse range of outstanding international harpists .
This years concert programme was probably the strongest yet in that respect.
Festival Secretary Vic King said "We were delighted with how everything went."