Harpists are abuzz with talk of the recent Metropolitan Opera Orchestra audition, where Emmanuel Ceysson emerged victorious to fill the Principal Harpist vacancy left by the late Deborah Hoffman. Between winning a dream gig and releasing a new CD, it’s been quite a busy week for the current principal harpist with the Paris Opera. Despite his hectic schedule Ceysson graciously found time to tell me about the experience and what else he’s been up to lately.
Congratulations on winning the Met Orchestra harp position! Since you already have a great opera orchestra position in Paris, what made you decide to go for this one?
Thanks! Well… The Met is such a legendary house! I grew up listening to the recordings of Beverly Sills, Renée Fleming, Mirella Freni, Luciano Pavarotti at the Met. It’s also a path that Salzedo followed when he arrived in the USA (he was invited by Toscanini), he is a figure I very much admire, and being in his footsteps is very uplifting to me…
Since I discovered NYC in 2006 when I won the YCA auditions, I always went to the Lincoln Center for an opera night out for each visit that I paid to the Big Apple. I have been Principal of the Paris opera for 10 years now, and enriched my opera repertoire from the pit. When I heard about the audition, I didn’t hesitate much… It also came as the opportunity of a radical life change—I am someone that needs change from time to time, and it came just at a right moment in my life, so I went trying. Which opera lover wouldn’t want to live in NYC, working with one of the greatest opera house in the world, with the best singers and musicians??? 🙂
When will you begin the new job?
This September, and Tannhâuser, one of my favorite harp parts, will be on my stand there 😉
Can you tell us a bit about the audition process? What was the most challenging excerpt for you?
I loved the fairness of [this] audition: we played behind a screen for all three rounds, we picked numbers for the order, our cell phones were confiscated. The jury had no way to know who we were, how we looked, they only judged us on what they heard…
The semi and finals were on the same day, starting at 3 p.m., and we finished around 10 p.m., it was quite a long and stressful day, but [all] auditions are a challenge…
Most challenging excerpt? Well you can make all excerpts challenging, as any piece of solo repertoire. I loved the repertoire for this audition because it gave us the opportunity to express ourselves in many different ways: Lucia, Chenier, Meistersinger for phrasing, Hansel for virtuosity and stability, Walküre for pedal changes, etc.
Did you feel you had a good chance to win?
The only thing I can say, is that I felt ready. I prepared over a long time, did everything in my power to feel the less uncomfortable I could (travel a long time in advance, play my harp, having my best friend with me, practicing run-throughs at the worst time of the day, without warming up, on the technically challenging excerpts, playing in front of musicians that don’t know the harp and gave me “non-harpist” feedback.)
But I have been playing competitions and auditions for a long time now, and the only thing I know about them, even if I was successful quite often, is that there is no magic trick to win them, the most important thing is to be true to the music, and yourself. Then, you never know what the jury expects, what kind of playing they are used to, etc., etc., so just be your musicself!
You have a rather well known harp, the “Red Salzedo.” Did you play it for the audition?
Yep I played my little “Carlita Roja”, she was my lucky charm 😉
Anything else you can tell us about the audition process?
Orchestra auditions are always challenging, especially in terms of focus. All the excerpts are very short, very different from one another in terms of style, so when you start playing one, you need to be already in the music, knows what comes before, imagine yourself in the pit with orchestra, tell with the harp the opera story that the excerpt refers to… Performing run-throughs in difficult conditions, imagining yourself playing behind a screen, picturing the audition moment, all of this is essential: psychological comfort is of the essence.
What’s your favorite opera to play?
There are many: Wagner’s Tannhäuser (with which I will start next season), Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, Strauss’ Capriccio, Debussy’s Pelleas, Donizetti’s Lucia—I am such an opera lover that I find pleasure in every part I have to play, every time for a different reason, sometimes it’s because it asks to play as a soloist, sometimes it asks you to be flexible and follow the singer, sometimes it makes you a color in the orchestra. I just love it!!!
What’s your favorite harp solo to play?
In my top 3: Salzedo’s Ballade, Renié’s Concerto, Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re not thinking about the harp?
A lot of classical: Strauss and Wagner, but also Broadway (Sondheim is my God), and some pop (Coldplay, Clean Bandit, KT Tunstall). I love to discover new music, having no boundaries.
What are you most looking forward to in coming to New York?
The Big Apple never sleeps, Paris in comparison is very calm, like a village! I am at a time in my life when I am longing for this kind of never ending energy, multiplying projects, meeting new people, feeling the life vibes under my feet. NY will be perfect for that, I am really thrilled!!!
I hear you have a new CD. What’s on it and when will it be released?
Yep, it’s called “Belle-Epoque”, telling the story of the French Post Romantic Concerto in the early 20th century. A tribute to Renié, who showed the world, starting with France, that the harp was an instrument that deserved a place in front of the stage. When she played her Concerto in C minor at the Concert Lamoureux in 1902, the French musical scene was so impressed with her and the harp, that it took only a few years for well-known composers like Dubois, Pierné, and Saint-Saens to compose their first concert pieces for solo harp. You can find all 4 concertos (Renié, Pierné, Dubois and Saint-Saens) on the CD, with the French Orchestre d’Avignon Provence, conducted by a good friend Samuel Jean, under the French label Naïve, it’s already available on iTunes and Amazon!
Anything else you want Harp Column readers to know?
I still have a few spots left in my summercourse in Tignes (early August), you can register on http://www.festivalmusicalp.com.
So long France, hello USA 😉