The Ambassador

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A Woman of the World—Isabelle Perrin has earned a reputation for world-class artistry and teaching, making her in demand around the globe, from Beijing to Bloomington.

—by Elizabeth Jaxon and Marta Power Luce of the Atlantic Harp Duo

If harpists decided to appoint one of their own to the position of Harp Ambassador to the World, Isabelle Perrin would certainly make the short list of contenders. Born in France and brought up in the famous French school of music, Perrin’s roots are as French as Camembert. But Perrin’s musical life reaches far beyond French borders. She studied with Susann McDonald at the Juilliard School and has built a career performing and teaching around the world. After being named artistic director of the World Harp Congress in 2011, Perrin is fresh off leading her first congress in Sydney last summer and is now turning her sights to Hong Kong in 2017. Though based in France for most of her career, Perrin has just recently moved north to Oslo, Norway, where she is quickly finding herself at home.

Oslo is where the Atlantic Harp Duo—–Marta Power Luce and Elizabeth Jaxon——caught up with Perrin via Skype. Power Luce and Jaxon, both Americans now living and working in Europe, studied with Perrin at the École Normale de Musique in Paris and are fluent in French, so their conversation loses nothing in translation.

Harp column: In the course of your life you’ve been an orchestral harpist, a teacher, and a performer. Do you believe that somebody can be consistently excellent at these three things all at once? Or, do you believe that these are separate strengths that come at different phases in life?

Isabelle perrin: Well, I have to say, in my own experience, that those three things have been together more or less all along. For sure, teaching and orchestra—that’s for sure—because I started the two together. My first position, which was in Nantes, on the west coast of France, combined those two roles: teaching at the conservatoire and playing principal harp in the orchestra. When I won the audition at the Orchestre National and moved to Paris, I had to drop the teaching in Nantes. For about two years I was not teaching, and I missed it so much! I was lucky enough to finally get a teaching job in Paris at the École Normale, where I had many wonderful students, such as the two of you. I could not imagine my life without students and without teaching. It’s so fulfilling.

These pedagogical aspects of my personality have been with me since I was a child. I remember, when I was a young student in Nice, at the age of only 11 or 12, I already had my first students—the youngest beginners. I would imitate my own teacher when I was with them. I always loved that.

My solo career really began when I moved to Paris, because it was much easier to do that there, and because I got to meet wonderful musicians. It was only about a year and a half ago that I had to make the choice to stop playing, because of a physical injury in my thumb. So, it depends to what extent of course, but I think it’s possible to manage the three. In fact they complement each other very well!

HC: About your thumb, I know you’ve recently suffered a chronic thumb injury. Could you explain what happened and what you’ve been through to get better?

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