Tag Archives: harp


Anna Maria Mendieta

Classical Harpist Treads New Paths Playing Tango

Anna Maria Mendieta has no trouble recalling the dayspring of her lifelong love affair with the harp. At age five, her arts-loving parents (her mother was a pianist and accordionist; her father played classical guitar and saxophone) played a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, and the overture swept her away.


“They told me the story of Romeo and Juliet and I remember being so amazed because you can really hear it in that music, and there’s this moment where everything becomes silent and all you hear is this beautiful harp. And that’s when I knew: That’s what I want to play,” she says. “I sat there with my ear right up to the speaker and I had them play the recording for me over and over again.”

Unlike Shakespeare’s infamous star-crossed lovers, Mendieta’s love was requited not too much later. Her parents started her on the piano while they figured out the logistics of harp studies and found her a teacher. “My father was a great collector of instruments. He had all sorts of things, even a harpsichord! But no harp,” she says. By age seven, she had begun studying the Salzedo method with Israeli harpist Efrat Laury-Zaklad at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. “I took my first lesson and I knew; clearly, there was never any wavering from that.”

The towering physicality and visual beauty of the harp—and the highly-aesthetic Salzedo method in particular—have always been part of the appeal for Mendieta. The visual sleight-of-hand that keeps the audience’s eyes on the graceful gestures of the arm and away from the foot pedaling action that determines the harp’s key is a dance in itself. (“Now you know the secret to the long gown,” she slyly whispers.) For her, the connection with dancing offers a certain familiar comfort: alongside their musical studies, Mendieta’s parents encouraged their children to study dance. The family’s Spanish heritage made flamenco an important point of cultural connection (one of her sisters is a professional flamenco dancer), but it was after Mendieta’s career as a professional harpist was well-established that she found a new love: the tango.

Like so many people, Mendieta found the tango through the compositions and performances of revolutionary Argentinian composer and virtuoso bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla, whose nuevo tango style changed the face of both classical music and tango. Falling in love with the music and its accompanying dance, Mendieta sought out harp arrangements of Piazzolla’s work. Finding none, she wrote directly to Pablo Ziegler, Piazzolla’s former pianist and the preeminent composer and performer of nuevo tango, to see if he had anything that might work. No luck. “I said, ‘Just send me what you have and I’ll figure out how to play it,’” she says.

“People told me it wouldn’t work, there was just no way. ‘You can’t play tango music on a harp, it’s too chromatic,’ they said. And it was a real challenge,” Mendieta recalls. “Astor Piazzolla’s music is so incredible. He uses his instruments not only as melodic instruments but as rhythm instruments. It took me many, many years to figure out how to do that on the harp. I had to change my technique in order to get the sounds. To play the chromatics, I figured out different ways to bend the notes.”

Mendieta realized that the methods used by jazz harpists to use the pedals of the harp strategically to create slides and slurs could provide a basis for this new technique. This, of course, went against everything she had ever learned about the pedals: be as gentle and quiet as possible so as not to lose the clarity of notes; move feet with subtlety so as not to distract from the hands. Suddenly, she found herself using the pedals like a pedal steel guitar player would: bending her notes in real time while also getting creative with enharmonics, using them to substitute for chromatics when an extra note was needed without a pedal change. “I was also incorporating percussive sounds, like the chicharra sound of the violin [a method of playing the violin string above the bridge for a cricket-like percussive effect], but I had to figure out how to make all those imitative sounds. I just basically made it all up,” she says.

Mendieta’s creativity in making the tango work on the harp resonated with many of Piazzolla’s former orchestra-mates and contemporaries, who found echoes of Piazzolla’s own rule-breaking in this new tango frontier. Mendieta has played with a number of these musicians and has spent significant amounts of time in Argentina both studying and teaching, alongside names like Pablo Ziegler, Javier Cohen, and Daniel Binelli.

A surprising moment in Mendieta’s touring concert and show, “Tango del Cielo,” comes when the male principal dancer walks over to the harp and takes her hand, leading her to the dance floor. “Oh, the audience loves that, they really don’t expect it,” she laughs. Learning to dance the tango was, for Mendieta, crucial to understanding the deep feeling and rhythms of the music.

Even as she treads new paths in the tango field, Mendieta has not abandoned the music that made her fall in love with the harp in the first place, as the harpist for the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera and a fixture throughout the California classical scene. Her work with the Sac Phil, along with regular performances in San Francisco and Los Angeles, has made her a rare AFM triple-carder: Local 12 (Sacramento, CA), Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA), and her original Local 6 in San Francisco, with whom she first signed on as a teenager.

Union membership has not only afforded Mendieta performance opportunities, networking, a safety net, and the knowledge that there were people who had her back, but also a wealth of opportunities to develop personally as both a performer and a business professional through the extensive continuing education programs on offer. “Local 47 in particular has that great new building and they offer so many interesting workshops—all kinds of things, from technology training to tax information, as well as every kind of music you can imagine.”

With COVID threatening the livelihoods of so many artists (and the venues in which they play), Mendieta sees the AFM as crucial in helping musicians stay connected, sharing ideas and inspiration and outside-the-box thinking, and lobbying for survival.

Personally, Mendieta spent the shutdown finishing the Tango del Cielo album that she’s had on the back burner for years. It was partially completed but never quite finished due to near-constant performances and teaching.

“I just had not found the time to finish it,” she says. “So early on, when it seemed like things might be closing for a week, maybe two, I decided to take the opportunity to go into the studio and finally finish recording my parts, and I’m so glad I did because mixing them—which I did digitally with my producer—gave me something to do in those early weeks, and I did finally get the whole thing finished and released!”


  • Lyon & Healy harp (Salzedo Model)
  • Horngacher harp
  • Premier harp strings (“I like the clarity of their strings.”)
  • Portastand Minstrel music stand (“It’s so lightweight, it’s solid and sturdy, plus it’s small so it doesn’t block the sightlines of the harp during performances.”)

Maurice Ravel: Introduction and Allegro (for Harp)

book cover for Maurice Ravel Introduction and Allegro

This critical edition of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro includes a preface with historical and performance information on the piece, including a comparison of the separate parts of all seven instruments to the full score with a list of corrections for each instrument. It has been published the way that it is actually played, making it clear to read and consistent with Ravel’s music and musical intent.

Maurice Ravel: Introduction and Allegro (for Harp), edited by Carl Swanson, Carl Fischer, www.Carlfischer.com.

Tango Del Cielo

Anna Maria Mendieta

Harpist Anna Maria Mendieta’s newest album, Tango Del Cielo, is a collection of Argentine tango and Spanish classical music. The album includes arrangements for harp and orchestra featuring works by Astor Piazzolla, Pablo Ziegler, and more. These orchestrations have been created by award-winning composers, including Jorge Calandrelli; pianist for Piazzolla, Pablo Ziegler; and Jeremy Cohen. The album was recorded at Skywalker Sound with Grammy Award-winning engineer Leslie Ann Jones.

Tango Del Cielo (Tango of Heaven) brings Mendieta’s technical prowess to the forefront. The album synthesizes years of advocacy and partnership between Mendieta and some of Piazzolla’s closest colleagues and artistic collaborators, thus presenting a groundbreaking new vision for both tango music and the harp repertoire.

Mendieta is a member of Local 6 (San Francisco, CA), Local 12 (Sacramento, CA), and Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA).

Emily Levin

The Power of Music to Soothe the “Savage Breast”


In a time such as now filled with so much strife and anger, it’s comforting to think that music can soothe the soul (or the “savage breast,” as was written in 1697). It was this power of music, in fact, that ignited in Emily Levin when she was four years old the desire to play the harp. “My dad would tell the Bible story of David playing his harp for King Saul [which would drive away the evil spirit inside the monarch], and that sparked an idea,” Levin says. And even though her mother put her on a waiting list to play cello, it was only one year later, at age five, that Levin was allowed to switch to the harp—and she has been playing ever since.

“What I love is that the harp is unique in that you use both hands and both feet—you have both voices going,” says Levin, a member of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX) and the principal harpist in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO). “It’s such a tactile instrument. Harpists spend our entire careers trying to perfect our tone; I love how personal it becomes at that point. I love having so many colors available; you can create a world of sound. I find that extremely satisfying.”

“David Playing the Harp before Saul,” engraving circa 1508 by Lucas van Leyden

Levin took lessons from the same teacher until she graduated high school. She completed undergraduate degrees in music and history at Indiana University, and then went on to study music at the Juilliard School under the tutelage of Nancy Allen, a member of Local 802 (New York City). After receiving her master’s degree in music in 2015, Levin began the PhD program at Juilliard. She was only one month into the program when she auditioned for the DSO. “There’s only one harp per orchestra, so when auditions come up, you do it,” she says.

She won the job, which started the following season, so she continued in her doctoral education for another year before leaving the program to head to Dallas.

By this time in her career, Levin was already a member of the union. She joined Local 802 after starting at Juilliard because one of her professors told her it was not only necessary in order to get jobs, but that it was also simply a good idea. “Since then, I’ve learned that being a union member means you’re protected, that there are rules and regulations and that your employer can’t take advantage of you,” she says. “A unionized orchestra implies that your colleagues—and yourself—are all united. Not everyone has that. When there’s tension and divide, it’s noticeable. Having a union where everyone pays the same dues and receives the same protections represents the same idea as an orchestra: We each have a role to play and we all come together to achieve success. It’s impossible to be an orchestra by yourself.”

This philosophy also informs Levin’s love of her career. “In an orchestra, the harp adds layers of texture and color you can’t otherwise get,” she says. “It’s a combination of chamber voice (by accompanying soloists or complementing the string section) and solo voice among a sea of other musicians. It’s an important responsibility.” Another responsibility she has is as a musician in general, because she is a believer in music’s powerful impact on the heart, mind, and soul. “That belief started for me as an abstract concept, and has become more concrete through experience,” she says.

Levin learned the harp through the Suzuki teaching method, which is rooted in the belief that as you work on your musical skills—discipline, focus, collaboration, creativity—you are also developing these skills in your personal life. Becoming a better musician can also help you become a better member of your community. When she performs in concerts she sees the universality of music: that people of all backgrounds, colors, and creeds can feel it, can connect with it in different ways, can be moved by it. “At the end of the day, doing something impactful without actually saying anything was a very strong realization for me,” she says.

This desire and ability to influence people extends off the stage for Levin as well. In college, she participated in fundraisers and school outreach programs; at Juilliard she was a fellow with the community engagement program; and in Dallas with the DSO she has participated in benefit concerts, educational events, and outreach initiatives. “This is a very important part of who I am as a musician,” she says.

As a professional educator, Levin is an adjunct associate professor of harp at Southern Methodist University and is on the faculty at the Young Artist’s Harp Seminar.

In the Dallas AFM local, which Levin joined as soon as she moved to Texas in 2017, she volunteers on the Dallas Symphony Players Association negotiating committee. “We just did a contract with the DSO and I learned so much about our union by being on the committee,” she says. “I learned so much about union rules and things like recording rights about which I had no idea. Seeing all the benefits we get is amazing, like making sure rehearsals don’t go too long, or that the management can’t just throw in a bunch of new pieces to a concert at the last minute.”

Getting more involved in her local has shown Levin the importance of musicians and unions standing together. Local 72-147 recently held a COVID-19 drive to help support its members who were out of work and in need of financial support; the local also donated funds to Baltimore Local 40-543 in 2019 when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was locked out; and Dallas members supported striking AFM members in Chicago (2019), Fort Worth (2016), and Pittsburgh (2016), and locked out musicians in Atlanta (2016). “It’s a comfort to you to know that if the same ever happens to you, to your orchestra, to your local, that the AFM has got your back,” she says.

Photo: Dario Acosta

In addition to her position in the DSO, Levin, now 29, is an active performer around the country and around the world as a soloist, orchestral musician, and chamber collaborator. She has performed as Guest Principal Harp with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Houston Symphony, and regularly appears with the New York Philharmonic. As a soloist, she has performed throughout North America and Europe, in venues including Carnegie Hall (New York), the Kimmel Center (Philadelphia) and Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Rugen, Germany).

In the time of COVID-19, however, Levin has been confined mainly to her house, just like every other musician around the world. It’s been both a blessing and a curse, she says, and she has spent much time focusing on musical projects she would usually not have time for. One important skill she has learned and honed throughout the quarantine period has been technological. She learned audio and video editing while working to record, combine, and post online music performances.

Her latest quarantine project for the DSO has been performing, recording, and editing video duet concerts for the Dallas community to enjoy virtually. The project, called “Open Bar,” features DSO musicians performing short duet recitals. Each concert is paired with a featured cocktail video from local bars.

It has been a digital world for many years, but in the time of quarantine that digital world has become essential. One major question for orchestras is how they connect to their communities if they cannot be together, Levin says. “It’s a remarkable asset in reaching a broader audience, and it helps music be more accessible literally and figuratively,” she says. “Although there is no substitute for live performances, I think it’s imperative that orchestras and individuals continue to use their online presence to share their music with people who wouldn’t normally be able to come hear these live performances (or who haven’t explored classical music before).”

Tools of the Trade
Emily Levin plays a Lyon & Healy Style 23 harp
and uses Bow Brand harp strings
Photo: Mark N. Kitaoka

Two Masterpieces for Solo Harp

Impromptu, Op. 86 and Une châtelaine en sa tour, Op. 110

Here in one volume for the first time are Gabriel Fauré’s “Impromptu, Op. 86,” one of the most iconic and played pieces in the harp repertoire, and the much less accessible “Op. 110, Une Une châtelaine en sa tour.” Both pieces have been engraved as originally played but with clearer pedal changes, respelled enharmonic notes, and re-notated and fingered passages.

Two Masterpieces for Solo Harp: Impromptu, Op. 86 and Une châtelaine en sa tour, Op. 110, by Gabriel Fauré, edited by Carl Swanson,
Carl Fischer, www.carlfischer.com.