On The Record – Emily Levin


Principal harpist Emily Levin previews her upcoming performance of the Ginastera Harp Concerto with the DSO and celebrates the magic of a well planned dinner party. 

Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra

“This piece was the first piece I played in my youth orchestra, the Denver Young Artists Orchestra, as principal harp… I have all these old, distant memories that resurface whenever I play it, and it’s just such a nostalgic feeling, and it was the first time  that I realized how much fun you could have in orchestra…

In the fourth movement… the harp has these beautiful rolled chords that accompany [the melody], and this is an excerpt that is on every single audition. It’s been on every audition I’ve taken, because your counting has be be exact.  It goes back and forth between five beats in a measure and six beats in a measure, and also you have to find that delicate balance between being with the stroke of a timpani, and also accompanying an entire string section. And it sums up the role of the harp. You are a single voice, you’re a solo player, but you are also often accompanying a melody and so you have to have sensitivity to sometimes an entire group of instrumentalists playing together. And you also have to fit in with about three or four different sections at the same time, each with their own method of attack.  It’s a delicate job, but it’s one of my favorite parts of the piece.”

Debussy: Sonata for flute, viola and harp

“This was the first piece of chamber music that I ever played… This is a piece that I play probably once every two or three years, and it’s so interesting for me looking back to see how I’ve grown with it, because this is another piece I now know inside and out like the back of my hand… the other thing I love about it is, especially with Debussy— he’s so nuanced and so organic— every time I play it, it feels like a first performance, and that’s because there’s so much room for interpretation with the two other musicians that I’m playing with, and sometimes they’ve played it and they have their own ideas… I love the second movement.  I once heard someone call toward the end ‘the most perfect part of music’.  And for those of you who are going to listen to it, there’s this section where the harp starts doing these high arpeggios back and forth and then the viola comes in with this nostalgic, other-worldly melody, and I always get these old castle views.  It reminds me of this computer game I used to play as a child that took place in an old medieval castle, and the story line was about Marie Antoinette. So I suddenly have all these fun childhood memories of playing that game, and all of these beautiful colors come to mind as I hear it.  I just love it. It’s really stunning.”

Simon and Garfunkel: “The 59th Street Bridge Song“ from Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

“I started listening to Simon and Garfunkel when I moved to New York City in 2013 to start my masters, and I was really overwhelmed for the first several months… This was around the same time I first started listening to Simon and Garfunkel, and because I’m that type of person, I ended up listening to their greatest hits album on Spotify.  But I fell in love.  I love the folk aspect of their music, I love the lyrics, I love the simplicity and yet powerful nature of what they do.  And so I would end up listening to them when I was walking home, or when I was just walking anywhere, and so I associate them with just wandering through the streets of New York City and there’s this feeling of freedom and adventure, but also safety.”

Tournier: Sonatine pour Harpe, Op. 30, I. Allegrement

“This is one of the harp composers that I wish everybody knew.  Marcel Tournier, he taught at the Paris Conservatoire, he was a beautiful harpist and composer and pedagogue, and this piece is amazing.  If you think about the Ravel Sonatine for piano, but then put on harp where you only use eight fingers instead of ten, that is essentially the essence of this piece.  It’s virtuosic.  He knew the harp intimately, and he really knew how to make it sing, and it’s just stunning.  I absolutely love it… All three movements are amazing, but there’s something about the rich virtuosity of the opening that eventually moves to this delicate softness by the end of the movement. It’s beautiful.”

Mozart: Concerto for Flute, Harp, and Orchestra in C Major, K. 299, III. Rondeau — Allegro

“I had never played the Mozart flute and harp concerto and it was spring 2018 and Jaap had requested it. And so I was learning it to play with the DSO and I was feeling a little nervous because I had never played the piece. It’s hard! It’s technically not the easiest thing and I also wanted it to go well because it was Jaap and it was my concerto debut with the DSO. So I was spending so much time learning the notes and learning the music and questioning my musical instincts.  I actually went back to New York to have a lesson with Nancy on it because I wasn’t sure if I was doing everything wrong… I was having a little crisis of questioning how much I actually knew about music.  And so Nancy told me about this recording that she had made and I started listening to it on repeat, and it was around that same time I was listening to her recording and then also several other recordings, and I heard how different they all were and then I remembered that we’re all musicians and we can all do our own thing and that’s okay, so it gave me confidence to explore my own musical ideas.” 

Listen to other episodes of On The Record with Sarah Kienle: