Camac brings its unique breed of harp festival to the States.
This fall, for the first time, the French harpmaker Camac will host its harp festival in the United States. The weekend-long gathering of harpists for concerts and workshops, sponsored by Camac, has been an annual fixture for the French team for a decade. Camac’s first festival on this side of the pond will be Nov. 11–13 at the Sheraton Pasadena Hotel in Pasadena, Calif. Since Camac’s approach to festivals doesn’t follow the usual formula, we thought we’d catch up with them to find out more. We asked Camac’s Artist Relations Manager, Helen Leitner, to tell us a little bit more about what to expect from their first U.S. festival.
Harp Column: There are lots of festivals and conferences out there for harpists to attend, what makes the Camac Festival different from others?
Helen Leitner: I would say that it is spacious. We program one thing at a time, not lots of things running simultaneously. We want you to have time for the whole festival, meet and exchange with your colleagues, and have lunch—the two-hour lunch break is non-negotiable! But seriously, I think this unhurried space, and this focus on quality rather than quantity, is very French. It’s something that has really influenced me a lot in the seven years I’ve been working for the French team now (I’m British). Also, the festival is free to attend, the Camac festivals always are.
HC: Tell us about Camac’s philosophy regarding festival sponsorship and how it came about.
HL: We have always been more into festivals than competitions. We do of course respect and sponsor competitions—there are some important things only a competition can achieve, and winning a competition is in itself an incredible achievement. But at the end of the day, only one person goes home happy from a competition; festivals are more fun. We love their open, inquiring, and celebratory spirit, full of friendship and discovery. Working in artist sponsorship as I now do, I have learned that the world of music is very large, very large of heart, and welcomes all sorts of different lives in it. You might pursue a classical solo career, join an orchestra, teach, give harp therapy, provide top-notch music for weddings and functions—your possibilities are endless. It is much easier to celebrate all this in a festival. We are so proud of the diversity and creativity of the amazing artists, who have honored us with their trust in our instruments.
HC: You could sponsor festivals using the traditional model of participants paying a registration fee or buying tickets. Why is it important to you to do it your way?
HL: If you fully sponsor a festival, more people can attend. Of course, an independent event must charge for tickets—that’s normal. But we are a commercial organization that owes its existence to harpists. We derive enormous pleasure and satisfaction from the fact that we’re in a position to give something back.
HC: Tell us what attendees can expect at the Camac Festival in Pasadena in November.
HL: Our Camac Festivals take place over a long weekend. One important feature is our special exhibition—in France, it’s always our biggest exhibition of the year. We’ll open our Pasadena exhibition on Friday afternoon. You can spend an hour browsing that, and then there’ll be a harp maintenance workshop with Liza Jensen. Liza is our principal touring technician for the U.S.A., and also travels regularly to Asia, Australia, and everywhere outside Europe. Liza will also be doing free regulations of Camac harps throughout the festival.
The festival’s opening concert will be on Friday evening. This is usually a classical concert, and Pasadena is no exception. The artists include Southern Californian soloist Kate Loughery, Bakersfield Symphony artists Laura Porter and Nancy Wallace in their flute and harp duo, and finally Chantal Mathieu. We always seek to program the finest artists of the festival region, together with international guests.
Saturday is the busiest day at the festival. The exhibition will open at 9 a.m., before a three-hour masterclass with Chantal Mathieu. In the afternoon, Janet Harbison will give a workshop on traditional Irish music. Camac was born in the middle of the Celtic Revival in Brittany in the 1970s, and we have always loved the lever harp as an instrument in its own right. All our concert lever models are developed together with a star of the lever harp world, and we are very proud of our “Janet” Irish harp, made with and for Janet Harbison.
There’ll be two concerts on the Saturday evening. First up is a Blue Harp concert. The Blue Harps are our electric and electroacoustic models. This will be also be a chance to celebrate talent from Southern California, beginning with Jessica Brizuela’s Latin ensemble, and then Lara Somogyi from L.A., up second. She’s currently making a wonderful series of pop covers—Beyoncé, Bon Iver, Sia, Swedish House Mafia—using only the blue harp, turning the instrument into an entire band. As well as her partnership with us, she’s also working with Roland/BOSS, Earthquaker Devices, and Walrus Effects Pedals, continuing to explore and innovate with the Blue.
Continuing in an electric vein, we’ll follow the Blue Harp concert with a jazz night. Charles Overton, from Felice Pomeranz’s fantastic class at Berklee [College of Music], will be first up, followed by Addi & Jacq from NYC. [Camac President and CEO] Jakez [Francois] and I discovered Addi & Jacq when they played at the Princeton Harp Festival in 2015, and we were completely blown away. Like Lara, Jacqui Kerrod [the harpist in the Addi & Jacq duo]also uses loops and other sound processing, and Addi & Jacq have this gorgeous, big, pop sound. I also love their mix of covers and original songs, which is quirky, varied, and always attention-grabbing.
On Sunday there will be a chance to work with Addi & Jacq in a pop harp workshop, and I’ll also be giving a class on professional development for harpists. We’ll close with an Irish harp ensemble bonanza! Janet Harbison will have been working with young harpists from throughout California over the weekend, and I promise you, the Irish know how to party!
HC: You have been sponsoring these festivals for a while in France, how did you decide this was the right time to sponsor a U.S. festival? Any particular reason you chose Pasadena?
HL: The Pasadena Festival is the official launch of our increased California distribution with Carolyn Sykes at Pacific Harps. We are very proud of our network of international partners and many of our events are run together with them. Thanks to Carolyn, we can now offer harpists an exclusive distribution on the West Coast and this festival is also a celebration of our partnership with her.
For more information, contact Carolyn Sykes at firstname.lastname@example.org. •