Sadness at death of a pioneering harpist, aged 64

Sadness at death of a pioneering harpist, aged 64


norman lebrecht

September 08, 2015

Susan Allen, who died of brain cancer in Seattle on Saturday, was a passionate performer of contemporary music and a disciple of Pierre Boulez (she’s the one on the left).

susan allen boulez

After studies at CalArts, she moved to Boston where she founded the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, Cambridge Chamber Players, Marblehead Music Festival, and Composers in Red Sneakers. She went on to perform all over the world and can be heard on many recordings, some of them anonymously as movie soundtracks.

She played the concert harp, the electric harp and the Kayagum (Korean zither) and commissioned over 200 new works, while maintaining a busy academic life. At the time of her early death, Susan was associate dean for academic affairs at her alma mater, Calarts.

PARIS IMPROVISATION # 6 (Susan Allen & Jacques Burtin) from Jacques Burtin on Vimeo.


  • Jonathan Cavett Dunsby says:

    I knew Sue slightly. Only early 60s – totally tragic !

  • Aniela Perry says:

    Susie meant so much to me. I really admire her.

  • Carol Robbins says:

    Susie was a very important harpist. She was a creative and innovative improviser and an exceptionally gifted teacher. I will miss her great sense of humor. She was such a bright light. I am so sad we have lost her.

    • Lissa Avery says:

      Susie — a force of nature, a friend — she shared her passion for the harp, and life, with everyone, including my daughter who had the chance to study with her. For fun: Semblabla, ma soeur.

  • Virginia Schweninger says:

    I only just learned of Susie’s death. I’m so very sorry to hear this . . . she was such a fabulous performer and a passionate player! When she first came to L.A. she and I shared a nightly job at the Century Plaza Hotel playing in their very up-scale restaurant. She would leave behind traces of the hot pick bowa that was attached to her very sexy dress. It was a rather different type of dress than they expected at the harp! Loved her.

  • Elizabeth Vercoe says:

    Susan demonstrated various harp techniques, including extended techniques, while I was writing a piece for her. She performed the resulting piece, Parodia ‘Lasciate mi morire’, based on a Monteverdi madrigal in Germany, at the Piccolo Spoleta Festival in Charleston, at a festival in Michigan, and elsewhere. When she moved to California, she coached a student at the Cal. Inst. for the Arts to learn the piece and arranged a performance preceded by a group singing the madrigal.

    Any composer lucky enough to have Susan champion her work received careful, accurate and sensitive performances by this wonderful, funny, bright and caring musician. She leaves a big empty space but many wonderful recordings and memories.