Meet the Artist – Cecilia De Maria, harpist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I grew up surrounded by music.  We always had the radio playing at home and my older sister played the violin and piano. I wanted to be just like her so was more than happy to start playing those instruments at a young age, but I pestered my parents for years to start learning the harp!

I remember getting my first CD of harp music when I was young and it was all played by the incredible Marisa Robles; the ‘Impromptu-Caprice’ completely mesmerised me. I have been so fortunate to have lessons with Marisa and consider her a friend, thanks to my amazing teacher Daphne Boden.

There are so many wonderful harpists and nowadays it is so much easier to discover new (and old!) music through social media and online platforms. One of the most inspiring harpists I discovered in recent years has to be Dorothy Ashby.  She broke stereotypes in all walks of life, especially in harp playing, and her music is very special.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

When I was younger I struggled with stage fright, so although I was busy performing on a regular basis, it was a challenge for me once I was on stage. I can still remember the day I was fortunate enough to turn this around and it made me very aware that I was pursuing the right career path. I now enjoy nothing more than sharing my music with others.

The last few months have been tough to say the least, not just for me but for all those who work in the arts. When the country pretty much closed overnight due to COVID-19, freelance musicians lost everything and it is still very uncertain when we will be able to return in full force. I was very fortunate to have some teaching I could do online, however the loss of income and opportunities to make music with others has been a real challenge.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

I am so pleased with the singles I recently recorded as part of my new contract with Sony Music Masterworks.  With the wonderful team at Sony and my incredible producer Anna Barry,  we recorded some of my favourite harp pieces and also some exciting new material.  Ronan Phelan at Masterchord Studios is a brilliant sound engineer and I hope everyone will enjoy the tracks as much as I did recording them!

Baroque Flamenco (opens in Spotify)

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I have always enjoyed playing uplifting and rousing music! That’s why ‘Baroque Flamenco’ was a piece I really wanted to record for my first single. It has so many exciting and unusual elements to it. That being said, I’ve also always enjoyed the French-Romantic genre.  Harp music is spoilt for choice when it comes to French composers and there is some incredible music for us to play.

I am always open to new musical suggestions, genres and styles. I have often been asked by audience members to play some Metallica or Led Zeppelin, usually as a joke, because the majority of people would presume you can only play classical music on the harp.  I took on the challenge and it really diversified my play list so that I could show that the harp is incredibly versatile and the possibilities are endless!

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I love being surrounded by nature.  My favourite places in the world are the Lake District and Malta and I have been so fortunate to enjoy both, being of Maltese heritage and growing up in the UK. I could not be happier than when I am swimming in the Mediterranean or when I turn off my phone and go for a hike with my husband in the Lake District.  I think cutting yourself off from technology and enjoying the simple things around you is so important and grounding.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I try to listen to as large a range of music as possible. I don’t tend to stick to traditional harp repertoire all the time and I have started exploring a lot more piano music recently as that was how I originally started my musical journey. There is so much that can be arranged for the harp and I enjoy  challenging myself technically as well as musically.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

There are so many wonderful venues but in terms of acoustics, I think Wigmore Hall is very special.  It provides an intimate and unique setting for recitals.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

I really do feel that a love of and interest in music has to be developed at a young age whilst still at school. Music is a vital part of every child’s education and it is so important overall development. It can increase self-confidence and there are many studies which suggest that music helps brain development which can help in the learning of many other subjects.

I am incredibly fortunate to have grown up listening to classical music and having the chance to have music lessons from a young age. I think it is important to remember that classical music is a huge part of all our lives whether we realise it or not. Many film scores are based on classical music and many current pop singers use classical music for samples.

To this end, I think that the Senbla Concert Orchestra’s performances of popular movies with live orchestra is a brilliant idea.  Although people are going to watch the film, speaking to audience members after the concerts showed up how many people do not quite realise what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in terms of the music and were blown away by the sound a live orchestra could make.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My debut concerto at the Barbican when I was eighteen really stands out for me.  It was such an honour to be given this massive opportunity and I worked so hard to make it as brilliant a performance as possible. I was so nervous before going on stage but can still remember the joy I felt once I finished.

In an orchestral setting, playing under Sir Roger Norrington’s baton when I was leading six harps in ‘Symphonie Fantastique’  was so inspiring and a really enjoyable experience. His humour and musical expertise are unrivalled in my opinion and it’s an experience I will never forget!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I don’t think there is one way to define success as a musician. We are always striving for better, hence why you can never stop practising as there is always room for improvement. I am so very fortunate to have been given a platform to share my music and I think success for me is being able to continue making music and sharing it with others.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Keep an open mind. Explore all avenues of music, even the ones you might think you do not like. Do not compare yourselves to other people, just keep working hard and have confidence in yourself and your choices. It is so easy to be overwhelmed by others on social media but if you are making yourself or another person feel something through your playing, then you are doing something right.  Also, keep up the practise!  Watching other musicians performing, whether at a live gig or on a recording or online can also be very inspiring. There is so much that can be learnt from musicians all over the world, playing in all kinds of genres and styles.

What is your most treasured possession?

My harp really is my most treasured possession. I try not to get too attached to material objects in general but my beautiful harp is something I have had for twenty years now.  It has travelled the world with me and been there for all my auditions, exams, high and low points.

What is your present state of mind?

I am excited to see what the future holds. This has been an interesting year to say the least but I am determined that musicians will be back, stronger than ever and with even more to share than before.

Cecilia Da Maria’s second single is released on 4th September on the Sony label

Born in the UK to Maltese parents, Cecilia recently completed her Masters degree with distinction at the Royal College of Music where she was an ABRSM scholar, studying with Daphne Boden. Prior to this she graduated from the same institution with a First Class (Honours) undergraduate degree.

Cecilia originally started her musical life as a pianist before starting the harp at the age of eleven. A year later she was accepted into The Purcell School of Music and later joined The Royal College of Music, Junior Department.

Cecilia has been fortunate enough to travel extensively with her harp to countries including; Italy, Spain, Portugal, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia and The Baltic States.

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