Marshall McGuire has won plaudits around the world not just for his consummate skill as a harpist but for the way he has bravely taken the harp repertoire in new directions. But don’t think this means Celtic-inflected new age soundscapes or lost 18th century favourites. McGuire is more interested in the future than the past.
In the last 10 years he has commissioned over 20 new works for the harp, mainly from local composers. Working with composers is one of the things he likes about his eclectic life as a freelance musician.
It exercises the creative part of me, working with composers and creating something new, which is really exciting -¦ it’s good for me, it’s good for young composers and audiences to expand how we think of the harp.
McGuire realises he has made an unusual choice -“ people can’t seem to let him forget it -“ but he’s not someone who grew up desperately in thrall to the romance of the harp. His moment of inspiration was more prosaic. His family encouraged his musical interests and suggested he take up an orchestral instrument to improve his job prospects.
I was taken along to concerts and I remember quite clearly at a Melbourne Symphony concert seeing a harp. It was gold and it was on its own, but most importantly there was a man playing it -“ a guy called Hugh Jones. I’d never thought about the harp until then because it was always a girl’s instrument. That was the moment when I thought, -˜Oh well, maybe I’ll play the harp,’ McGuire remembers.
McGuire says that confronting stereotypes about men and harps has been more of an issue for him than being an out gay man in the music world.
Wherever I’ve been around the world, the classical music industry is a fairly conservative workplace. People tend to thing that the performing arts is just full of outrageous queens everywhere. But it’s not so true of a lot of areas and definitely not true of the music world -¦ But I don’t think anyone I’ve known has really had a problem, you cope with snide comments occasionally but it’s a relatively tolerant workplace.
But people still think he’s the delivery man and not the harpist when he turns up with a harp.
People make comments to me like it must be a hard instrument to play and must require a lot of strength and I can’t imagine them saying that to a woman. They’re more likely to talk to her in terms of its delicacy. So it’s interesting -“ it causes people to rethink things, McGuire says.
Although much of his focus has been on contemporary work, McGuire also loves to return to the traditional repertoire and talks excitedly of the glorious Mozart Harp and Flute concerto that he will soon play with the Brandenburg Orchestra.
To add to the excitement he is playing a harp dating back to 1804, one of the few of its type left in the world and the same sort of harp used in Mozart’s time. McGuire makes what he says is a bit of a rash claim, that this is probably the first time in Australia that the concerto has been played on original instruments because by the time harps and harpists started coming to Australia this type of instrument had been superseded.
McGuire plays with the Brandenburg Orchestra 2,3,7,9,10 May at Angel Place. Tickets can be booked on 8256 2222.