Harp world engages in battle for the crown

January 10, 2017 by norman lebrecht


From a plucky insider plucker:

Here’s a rare opporunity to peer into the arcane world of the harp.



As the “empress” Susann McDonald (pictured) retires from the University of Indiana, the world will see how fairly the succession process is handled. Will it be her hand-picked proteges, or a spectrum of the best? Will they dare to hire someone who would offend her or her students?

The job has been posted, though not advertised. They are already inviting her ex-pupils as guest teachers. This is a public university with legal responsibilities. But no one outside the harp world ever cares enough to ensure fair play.

If it is fair, they will invite, at least, Yolanda Kondanassis (Cleveland Inst. of Music and Oberlin), Joan Holland U of Mich. and Interlochen), Elizabeth Richter (Ball State U.), pupils of Lawrence and Chalifoux, who were pupils of Salzedo, whose legacy McDonald overturned. And the greatest living harpist, Heidi Lehwalder, Salzedo’s own protege, will she be considered?

And what will happen at the Curtis Institute if Elizabeth Hainen is hired in Bloomington? Big changes are in the offing, and scandalous results seem almost guaranteed. The University in Graz is also hiring a professor of harp. With only two openings in the whole world, after years of no openings, who will win the crown? Note that virtually all University and college harp professorships in the US have been reduced to adjunct (hourly) positions, after there once being dozens of such jobs. It is a dismal time, indeed.

Comments (14)

  1. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Don’t get me started, Norman. The battle that I contended with was always Salzedo vs. Grandjany. Elizabeth Hainen has roots in both camps, I believe. I know her personally and she is fine player and a caring pedagogue.

    I shall now retreat to a safe place while the battle commences. Harpists are sometimes not so angelic!

    1. norman lebrecht says:

      You and me both, Bob. See you in a darkened Montmartre bar.

  2. Kimberly Rowe says:

    I feel compelled to respond. Harpists are not “arcane.” Most of today’s players—including many named in your post—have dropped the “Salzedo vs. Grandjany” thing, so please do us all the favor of not perpetuating this outdated stereotype.

    We’d also like to point out that the photo in your post—no doubt chosen to illustrate your smug use of the word “empress,” was obviously taken directly from, where we suggest your readers go to obtain real news about the harp. While we think Ms. McDonald looks fabulous in any shot, one of the many professional photos of her readily available online would no doubt be more befitting of someone of her stature.


    Kimberly Rowe,
    founder and web editor at Harp Column

    1. Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

      Yours is a great response to cheap journalism. Brava!

    2. Eleanor Turner says:

      Well said, Kim 👏👏👏

    3. Sarah Javaux says:

      Thank you, Kim!! This was a ridiculous article, and your reply was excellent and needed.

    4. Maryanne says:

      Thank you, Kim! Also, one minute of research would reveal that the institution in question is Indiana University, not the mysterious and nonexistent “University of Indiana.”

      1. norman lebrecht says:

        Round here, there is no difference between Cambridge University and the University of Cambridge. These sensitivities are indicative of the level of harp debate.

        1. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

          Ms McDonald is professor of harp at the Jacobs School Music of Indiana University, Bloomington. In the arcane world of American musical higher education, it’s often simply called “Indiana” and most people know what that means. Another moniker is simply “Bloomington.” More recently folks have become accustomed to saying “Jacobs” meaning the full title stated at the beginning of this reply. Please forgive my pedantic musings.

        2. Annette McMullen says:

          That’s totally ridiculous. Do you also call the University of Massachusetts Massachusetts University? It’s interesting to note that the sports world hardly ever gets the name wrong. What a shame that an arts blogger can further undercut the relevance of the arts by being so uninformed.

  3. NYMike says:

    At the very first International Harp Competition held in Israel in 1959, Annette Vito – daughter of Toscanini NBC harpist Ed Vito and niece of Chicago Symphony harpist Joe Vito – didn’t make the final round although she played better than many who did. She was neither a Grandjany nor a Salzedo pupil – both judges. McDonald placed 2nd in what I thought were technically secure but boring performances. Disclaimer: my wife at the time was also a contestant who made the finals.

    As the Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal harp, Liz Hainen is as good as they come. An appointment to IU would be a huge conflict.

  4. Emma says:

    It is actually Indiana University, as the University of Indiana is different.
    Quite frankly many of the younger harpists these days far outshine either Salzedo or Grandjany, and technique has evolved and improved greatly over the past fifty years, making your blanket statements about respective harpists’ merit based on lineage tenuous at best.

  5. John McLaughlin Williams says:

    With so many amazing harpists working today it is virtually impossible to say who is the greatest among them. One name they should consider is Sarah Schuster Ericsson, a student of Chalifoux and former Assistant Principal Harp of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Additionally, I believe she is the only harpist ever nominated for a Grammy. No doubt there are other deserving names available, which means that UI has some intense and pleasurable work ahead in filling its vacancy.

  6. Mary Jane Darville says:

    Thank you, Kim for speaking on behalf of so many of us.
    Mary Jane D’Arville

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