Monday, 15 February 2016

Claire Jones "The Girl with the Golden Harp" Tiverton Community Arts Theatre (T.C.A.T.) Saturday 13 February 2016

Claire Jones

The Golden Harp
Claire played Victor Salvi's Golden Harp
as Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales
The Tiverton Community Arts Theatre (TCAT) is located in the school hall of Tiverton High School on the Petroc College Campus in Bolham Road in Tiverton. Since July 2012, when they hosted their inaugural production by Cornish theatre company 'Bish Bash Bosh' (Alan Kent's "The Tin Violin"), the theatre has put on regular theatre and music events - including the very popular outdoor Shakespeare productions in the school field by the Festival Players.

In 2015 the TCAT Committee were approached by a very special performer with the idea for a very special show. The incredibly talented and successful concert harpist Claire Jones is currently touring with her stage show which traces her journey of recovery after contracting the condition Myalgic Encephalopathy (M.E.), also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, with all its debilitating symptoms.

An accomplished public speaker
Before her illness her list of achievements had been exemplary. A First Class BA Degree from the Royal College of Music was followed by a Prince of Wales Study Award, and an MA from the Royal Academy of Music. During her MA training, Claire was also retained by the Royal Household as the Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales - a position she held for a further two years after she graduated. In her final year in the position, Claire performed at Buckingham Palace for the wedding reception of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

(The position of Official Harpist was revived by Prince Charles in 2000, after a break of 119 years, to showcase the Welsh harp, and Welsh musicianship. In 2006 international harpist and harp manufacturer, Victor Salvi, donated a superb golden harp to the Prince for the Official Harpist to play - shortly before Claire Jones took up the post.)

Holly Williams
dances to Gustav's Holst's
"Venus, Bringer of Peace"
- amazing image of a stellar nebula  
All of this Claire explained very succinctly, in her beautiful Welsh accent, at the opening of the concert. Despite all she has been through, her stage presence was as accomplished and engaging as ever. Taking us back in time she described the devastating symptoms of illness which brought her career to a full stop after such a glittering beginning.

Following an opening performance of a harp arrangement of  Audrey Coppard's musical setting of the folk song "Scarborough Fair" (made famous by Simon & Garfunkel), Claire introduced three arresting harp pieces (under the positive-thinking title of "Calm & Serenity") illustrating this unexpected hiatus. First Gustav Holst's "Venus" from his "Planets" suite - accompanied by a stunning slide show of astronomical images, including a spectacular close up of the constellation The Swan, showing a young (and very energetic) star with its awesome incandescent jets of ejected matter (Nebula Sh2 106). Against this impressive backdrop, Claire's illness and sense of loss were recreated in dance by Holly Williams, Director of Dance Party Cardiff & Pzazzwales.

"Heartstrings" - a marriage proposal in Rio
The opening section continued with Edward MacDowell's "To a Wild Rose", accompanied by projected roses, and Zdeněk Fibich's piano sketch "Poème" (one of 379 sketches, dedicated to his lover Anezka Schulzová) skillfully arranged for harp by Claire's husband, percussionist Chris Marshall, also from Cardiff, and a graduate Trinity College of Music.

The second section, reflecting Claire's convalescence in her native Pembrokeshire, featured three original compositions by Chris Marshall accompanied by projections, controlled off-stage once again by Chris himself. These included images of Claire playing the pieces in some very chilly-looking locations - perfectly synchronised with Claires live playing on stage.

"Heartstrings" was accompanied by views of the Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro - at the top of which Chris proposed marriage to Claire in 2012 - and also included views of Claire playing her harp on the beach at Southerndown in Glamorgan.

"Bluestones" - from the Preseli Mountains
Chris also interposed his arrangement of "Ar Hyd y Nos" (All Through the Night) in which Claire is accompanied by the London Mozart Players, before his own composition, "Coracles", from his "Teifi" suite (named after the river on the Ceredigion/Carmarthenshire border), and his masterpiece, "Bluestones", accompanied by images of Claire playing her harp under the 16 ton capstone of the mysterious Pentre Ifan dolmen in Pembrokeshire, with Carn Ingli in the background. The title "Bluestones" refers to the Preseli dolorite monoliths used in the third stage of building at Stonehenge in Wiltshire. (NB The heaviest of the Stonehenge monoliths was only a quarter of the weight of the Pentre Ifan capstone!)

Tiverton Flower Society
three arrangements
During the interval, part of the stage decoration was sold off by raffle. The Tiverton Flower Society's contribution of three beautiful arrangements of lilies went to three lucky audience members.

Charlotte Rhodes
"The Pink Panther"
After the break there was more audience participation as local harpists and Tiverton High School pupils joined Claire and Chris on stage. In front of a promising looking ensemble of djembe players in school uniform, Claire introduced three young students of the Devon harp teacher, Emma Graham.

Niamh Flynn played a harp arrangement of John Williams' music for the 'Cantina Band' of alien musicians, which appears in the "Star Wars" movie. Caitlin Davies, only nine years of age, played a delightful Welsh piece "Pwt ar y Bys" (Finger Study) on a diminutive Welsh harp.

Chris Marshall
djembe orchestra
Finally the oldest student, twenty year old Grade VI student Charlotte Rhodes played an arrangement of Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther" theme. The semi-tone slurs that open "The Pink Panther" are particularly challenging on harp, as the accidental notes are created by using the pedals. Charlotte was able to demonstrate her fine mastery of harp footwork.

As Chris removed the student harps, Claire introduced his djembe orchestra. Chris returned to lead the players in rhythmic hand-claps, then sang lines from an African song "Ghana Call Ashiya" which they repeated, before they all joined in a djembe ensemble performance of a Nigerian take on the Ghanaian 'High Life' rhythm.

Vibraphone: Chris MarshallHarp: Claire Jones
"Dance of the Young Princess"
Returning to the theme of Claire's Journey of Recovery, three further pieces reflected memories of vigorous youth. First Chris joined Claire on stage to play vibraphone in a duet with Claire's harp, composed by himself, called "Dance of the Young Princess". The combination of harp strings and vibraharp bars was entrancing to hear, and a delight to watch. In a homage to the Victorian fairy harp music which would have been an inspiration to Claire in her childhood, she played "La Danse des Sylphes" by nineteenth century Belgian harpist Félix Godefroid. The section finished with a traditional Welsh lullaby "Si Hei Lwli 'Mabi" (Sleep, my Baby), arranged for Harp by Chris.

Holly Williams
"Toss the Feathers"
After putting an infectiously positive slant on the trials of illness and recovery Claire, with the help of Chris and Holly, finished with three pieces reflecting her new-found health, entitled "Vitality & Strength". Ástor Piazzolla's 1974 classic "Libertango" was a suitable opening - arranged by Chris for harp and cajón (a deceptively simple looking box-drum, full of tricks). This was followed appropriately by Nigel Hess' theme to Charles Dance's "Ladies in Lavender" (a story of recovery for the vioinist Andrea played by Daniel Brühl). Finally Chris had prepared a harp arrangement of an Irish folk song "Toss the Feathers" (very appropriate for a TCAT event, as it is normally scored for tin whistle and violin). Holly made her final appearance to perform a delicate Irish step dance, and Chris joined them both for an encore - playing a snare drum.

Saturday's concert was a great occasion for Tiverton Community Arts Theatre. Claire Jones and Chris Marshall, who are currently preparing the US release of their CD "Hands of Fire" and a ten-day tour of the East Coast starting on Thursday 4 March in Orlando FL and winding up in Baton Rouge LA ten days later. Immediately following the subsequent four days of post-tour press interviews in New York, they will be releasing their new album "Royal Harp Strings" on Silva Classics. It was an amazing privilege for us here in Devon to have a harpist to the Royal Family taking time out from such a hectic schedule to perform for us here in the West Country - and so generously to make way for new musicians to join her on stage.

Her performance was also a testament to her recovery from serious illness. Without Claire's explanations, however, no one would have guessed the journey of recovery she has been through. Every piece was played with commanding precision and subtle delicacy. The very professional synchronisation of video and slides with Claire's live playing, by Chris behind the scenes, was a joy to watch. Chris's own performance, on vibraphone, cajón and djembe, was equally engaging. Add the sensitive and evocative dance portrayal by Holly Williams, and the combination is a perfect stage performance.

Devon harpists, and aspiring harpists, including Emma Graham's students who attended the concert, will be greatly inspired by a visit from such an illustrious musician as Claire Jones - and by the wonderful music she has created with her husband Chris Marshall.

Other albums by the duo (also known as "C2") include "Girl with the Golden Harp" released shortly after Claire completed her contract as Official Harpist, "Journey" (Music to Soothe the Soul) which was inspired by her illness and recovery, and several classical albums including "Harp Concertos" recorded with the London Mozart Players.

Claire and Chris welcome enquiries by email -
Full details can be found on the Claire Jones website -

Harp: Claire Jones
Cajón: Chris Marshall
Dance: Holly Williams
Harp: Claire Jones
Vibraphone: Chris Marshall
Classical Dance: Holly Williams
Introducing the djembe band: Claire Jones
Dance I : Holly Williams
Dance II : Holly Williams
Finale: Holly Williams, Chris Marshall, Claire Jones

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