"I become immersed in and love every piece I play."
Ekaterina Dvoretckaia was born in Moscow in 2003. She graduated from the Central School of Music of the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory where she studied with Professor Elena Illinskaya, Honored Artist of Russia. She has been a student at the Moscow Conservatory since 2021 studying with the same teacher. She won in the XV International Competition for Young Musicians in Moscow in the category "String Instruments" in 2019 and was awarded the second prize at the First Russian National Competition for Young Musicians "Constellation" in the Educational Center "Sirius" in Sochi in the category "Orchestral String Instruments". The year 2020 brought her the victory in the Third All-Russian Music Competition in the category "Harp" in Moscow and in the International online contest for talented young musicians "Nouvelles Etoiles" in France. Ekaterina Dvoretckaia won in the 21st Israel International Harp Competition and the Korean International Harp Online Competition in 2022. She has performed with the Moscow Virtuosi Orchestra under the baton of Vladimir Spivakov, the Russian Presidential Orchestra, the Russian Ministry of Defense Orchestra, the Northern Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Fabio Mastrangelo, the State Symphony Orchestra of the Republic of Tatarstan under the baton of Airat Kashayev and other orchestras. She takes part in the programs of the Saint Petersburg Music House since 2020.
Ekaterina Dvoretckaia: The first time I saw the harp live was when I entered the classroom of my professor Elena Nikolaevna Ilyinskaya at the Central School of Music, I was 5 years old. Before that, I had only seen the harp in pictures and recordings, and I liked it even then. `But when I saw her in person, she made a big impression on me. I liked it so much that I knew right away that I wanted to learn to play it.
Saint Petersburg Music House (SPMH): Was the choice of instrument your decision or your family's decision?
Ekaterina Dvoretckaia: I myself decided that I wanted to play the harp when I was very young. My parents are musicians, so I listened to a lot of different music since I was a kid and knew the names of all the instruments. And one day my mother opened the bottom of the piano where the strings were, and I saw them and said I was playing the harp. Since then, I kept telling my parents that I wanted to learn to play the harp. From the age of three I studied solfeggio, and from the age of five I began to learn to play the harp at the Central School of Music.
SPMH: Is it tough for a 5-6 year old child to handle such a large instrument?
Ekaterina Dvoretckaia: I started playing the big harp right away, sat on the stand, also had a footrest and special attachments on the pedals. It wasn't too tough for me, because I started playing with the simplest exercises and pieces. There are small harps, these are Irish harps, they have no pedals, instead they use levers that are switched by hand. Sometimes little children start out practicing on these harps and then gradually move on to the large concert harp. But in our classroom, we started playing the big harp right away.
SPMH: If it wasn't for the harp, what would you do?
Ekaterina Dvoretckaia: I think I would have had an artistic profession anyway, because I've always been among musicians since I was born. When I was a kid, I was into a lot of things besides the harp when I had time, like drawing. But I can no longer imagine my life without the harp, because I've been playing it practically all my life.
SPMH: The harp is one of the most sophisticated instruments. What is the biggest challenge for you personally?
Ekaterina Dvoretckaia: I pay a lot of attention to the sound, I work on it every day, it is very difficult to achieve a beautiful, soft and high-quality sound, and most importantly to keep it. Another challenge is to maintain a balance between beautiful sound and virtuoso technique, and not to concentrate only on one thing while playing. The harp also has pedals with which we switch notes (bacards, dieses, and bemos) with our feet. There are often difficult passages in the pieces where you have to put a lot of pedals, but you just have to learn these passages well, which is customary for harpists.
SPMH: What would you advice to young harp players about their concert performances?
Ekaterina Dvoretckaia: Always try to set yourself a goal that you want to achieve. This goal will be an important stimulus for practicing and artistic development. Expand your harp repertoire, play a lot of varied and interesting music, not only solo, but also as part of various ensembles. I would like to see the harp promoted as a solo instrument, thereby preserving and passing on the traditions of the harp school. Because it has so much potential.
SPMH: What piece did you play when you won your first competition?
Ekaterina Dvoretckaia: My first victory was at the XII International Competition for Young Musicians in Moscow, at the Central School of Music. I participated in the youngest group. My competition program consisted of several pieces, the finale being a popular virtuoso work by Albert Zabel, "At the Fountain." I had a lot of different programs at different competitions, but my most memorable experience was playing the Gliere Concerto at the Third All-Russian Competition in 2020, where I won the first prize. That was not my very first competition, but it was the first time I had performed a Concerto with an orchestra at a competition, and before that I had only done it at concerts.
SPMH: How do you select your repertoire: by composers, by eras, by genres...?
Ekaterina Dvoretckaia: My repertoire always includes works from different eras, definitely Baroque, such as pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Domenico Scarlatti and other composers. I also play compositions from the Romantic, Classicist, and Impressionist eras. There are more modern ones, like Paul Hindemith or other composers. I make sure to include programs for harp solo, with orchestra, and many pieces for harp in an ensemble. I make quite a large part of the program specifically for contests, where there are certain requirements. But I often choose pieces myself that I like and really want to play at concerts. One of my favorite pieces is "The Ballad" by Carlos Salcedo. It is very virtuoso and incredibly beautiful, and is rarely performed. I heard a recording of this piece less than a year ago and immediately knew I really wanted to play it. I have been fortunate enough to perform this composition several times now, and every time I go on stage I enjoy it. Another stunningly beautiful piece is the Konzertstück by Gabriel Pierné, written for harp and orchestra, also one of my favorites. Let me name a few more works: Marcel Tournier's Sonatina for Harp Op.30, several pieces by Debussy, among them Dances for Harp and String Ensemble - Danse sacrée and Danse profane.
SPMH: The first spring recital at the English Hall of the Saint Petersburg Music House on March 3 will open with your performance of Bach's Partita No. 2. Arranged for harp by American Maria Luisa Rayan-Forero. What is your opinion of the original and the modern transcription?
Ekaterina Dvoretckaia: It is quite common for harpists to play various classical compositions by clavier part, it is the urtext sometimes. But playing the harp has its own peculiarities. On the harp, the alteration of notes (rising and falling) is done by 7 pedals, each pedal has 3 positions: for the C, B, and Bacards. Therefore, harpists adapt the score for performance on the harp, marking the pedals in the notes and also the fingering, because when playing the harp, only 4 fingers of each hand are involved, not 5, as on the piano. Rayan-Forero has made a transcription of Bach's partita for harp as close to the original as possible.
SPMH: In your opinion, is there a problem with the solo repertoire for the harp? And how do you feel about adaptations?
Ekaterina Dvoretckaia: The harp repertoire consists for the most part of pieces by harpists themselves. Only a handful of famous composers who are not harpists are known to have composed for the solo harp, and these include: George Frideric Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Paul Hindemith, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Alberto Ginastera, Joaquín Rodrigo, Reinhold Glière, and others. This is not including the harp part in the orchestra, where Ludwig van Beethoven, Gaetano Donizetti, Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner, Camille Saint-Saëns, Gustav Mahler, Hector Berlioz, and others were the ones who began to use it. Unfortunately, famous composers such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Sergei Rachmaninoff and many others did not commit any major opuses to the harp. Today harpists collaborate closely with composers who write a lot of new music for the harp.
I welcome adoptations because they greatly expand the harp repertoire and allow harpists not only to perform compositions that are new to them, but also to increase their concert audiences. For all the similarities between the harp sheet music and the piano sheet music, there are still some differences that limited the authors' freedom of expression. That is why harpists often wrote their own music for their instrument, enriching their repertoire with arrangements of famous composers' masterpieces.
SPMH: What are your most memorable performances connected with the projects by the Saint Petersburg Music House?
Ekaterina Dvoretckaia: It is quite challenging to single out just one concert, because all the concerts played in the projects by the Saint Petersburg Music House are special and memorable for me, because each time the program is different and extremely engaging, and the concerts are always held in the best venues. One of the most memorable performances for me was the one in Kazan, Tatarstan, where I performed with the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Tatarstan in the Saydashev Hall, because it had been my dream to perform in that hall for a long time. In addition, it was my first time performing Gliere's Harp Concerto, which was a great responsibility. Also very memorable was the tour to Armenia. There was a performance in Yerevan where I performed my favorite Salcedo piece, the Ballad. The audience was incredibly welcoming, I was very impressed.
SPMH: It is believed that the harp can be used to play everything from church music to rock music. In this range, what is closer to you?
Ekaterina Dvoretckaia: I am closest to romantic music and impressionism. The harp is at its best in these genres, and these genres are represented in the greatest number of pieces written for the harp. Either way, I enjoy playing different genres, classicism, baroque, or something very modern. I become immersed in and love every piece I play.
Interview by Tatiana Mikhailova