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A Classical Note: Michelle Velvin

‘A Classical Note’ is 8 quick Questions with Wellington Classical Musicians & Composers.

A chance for us to catch up with people & see what they’re up to, or introduce you to a new musician/band and their music. Alistair recently interviewed Michelle Velvin, a Wellington based harpist, composer and teacher. Michelle has a special interest in writing harp music and performing New Zealand compositions, and is is also interested in exploring new and unexpected sonic landscapes through collaborative musical and artistic experiences. Her harp performances have figured in a diverse range of music, from experimental to Jazz to Classical, most recently in the Live At The Museum series in Auckland with Mara TK and Hollie Smith.

Who are you? Please tell us a bit about you and your background in music.
I completed A Postgraduate Diploma in harp performance, with distinction, at Te Kōkī, New Zealand School of Music in 2015, under Carolyn Mills, as well as a Bmus in Classical Performance and Instrumental/vocal composition in 2014. I’ve performed as part of all of New Zealand’s major orchestras, and am involved with many chamber music ensembles, including Stroma new music ensemble, Duo ‘VAARP’, with violinist Laura Barton, the NZ Harp Duo, with Jennifer Newth and Duo Eolienne, with Genevieve Davidson (saxophone). In July 2016, I was accepted to attend the Catrin Finch Harp Academy in Cardiff, Wales, where i performed in masterclasses with both Catrin Finch and Elinor Bennett. In 2015 I was the winner of the NZ Performance Harp Competition and created the Wellington Harp Orchestra. In 2015 I had my composition for harp ensemble Under Watchful Eyes, performed at the week long Auckland Harpenz festival. I’ve also recorded for New Zealand Singer/Songwriter Dudley Benson’s new album, Zealandia.

What pieces of music have you been working on or playing lately?
Lately I have been working on a mix of solo, chamber music and orchestra pieces. Two of the solo harp pieces are by NZ composers: Autumn Arabesque, by Kenneth Young and Poco Lento and Study for harp, by Douglas Lilburn. I have also been exploring new saxophone and harp music through my ensemble Duo Eolienne (myself and Genevieve Davidson). One of the pieces we are preparing is Andy Scott’s Sonata for saxophone and harp. A fantastic piece of music which really showcases both instruments!

Do you have any favourite pieces of music you enjoy playing?
The short answer is yes, but I have too many to list! (I love playing everything that I gave mentioned above as a start.) What I do love most is when I have time to sit at the harp and improvise and write my own music, or to do the same but with other musicians.

Do you have any favourite composers? Can you recommend any NZ composers whose work you like?
Some favourite NZ composers: Gareth Farr, Kenneth Young, Sarah Ballard, Glen Downie, Jack Body, just to name a few. Other composers I enjoy listening to/like to play: Britten, Alan Hovhaness, Ravel, Debussy, Bartok, Andy Scott, Tchaikovsky…

What were the 3 most influential pieces of music to you growing up?
I can’t name three particular pieces, but there are two completely different musical memories that stand out.
No. 1: Any sacred music sung in a cathedral holds a special place for me in terms of influence. Being in such a responsive space comes with so many overtones of memory and experiences, as I used to sing as a chorister in Wellington Cathedral as a child.
No. 2: I used to listen over and over to a tape recording of Roger Whittaker singing. I just liked his whistling and his voice a lot.

Where is the best place people can follow you & find your music?
Through my Facebook / Instagram pages and my Website.

What are your favourite venues in NZ to play in?
To name a few, I love performing in Futuna Chapel in Karori, Auckland Town Hall, Dunedin Town Hall, St Paul’s Cathedral Wellington…

Where/when is your next performance?
18 May – Duo Eolienne (saxophone/harp) play at Southern Cross Garden Bar (4pm – 6pm)
18 May – Years Gone By, Wgtn, 8:30pm, Meow, Edward St, Wellington

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