Composer’s Spotlight Series: Emily Sanzaro plays ‘Baroque Flamenco’

Emily Sanzaro has performed Deborah Henson-Conant’s ‘Baroque Flamenco’ and her audience loves the performative aspect of the piece saying it’s fun to watch and listen to, with many commenting on her facial expressions.

Emily loves playing this piece for its energy, theatrics, and extended techniques which showcase the versatility of the harp. She encourages others to learn it without worrying about perfection and just enjoying the fun. She also has a favorite memory of this piece when during a solo concert, she had to teach the audience how to change a string.

Working with the composer directly has been incredibly valuable for Emily, giving her a personal understanding of the story behind the piece and related guidance on the chords’ passion rather than perfection.

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Emily Sanzaro

Emily Sanzaro is a harpist, vocalist, violinist, and electronic loop artist based in Tasmania, Australia. Emily specializes in creating original compositions, covers with a twist, improvisations, and experimentation with percussion, electronic effects and looping. She also plays a wide range of musical genres including traditional, folk, jazz, blues and classical. Emily mostly works alone, but does enjoy collaborating when conditions are right. Emily relishes any opportunity to depart from the type of music audiences expect to hear from a harp. She came to the instrument in her late twenties, since then it has happily taken over her life!

Continue reading below for the full interview with Emily Sanzaro

Watch Emily Sanzaro play ‘Baroque Flamenco’ in her music room.

A Mini-Interview with Emily

How would you describe your experience of playing the piece?

Performative, passionate, fabulous, adventurous, flamboyant

What do people say when you play this piece? Do you have favorite memories of people’s reactions to it?

People consistently tell me that they love the performative aspect of Baroque Flamenco. They say, “I didn’t expect to hear something like that from the harp, it was so much fun to hear and to watch”. They also often comment on my facial expressions during the piece, and that I am clearly having a lot of fun whilst playing it.

I usually tell the story of how I learned the piece and why, how I came to harp relatively late, and that I attended a Baroque Flamenco workshop at World Harp Congress in 2014 (Sydney) with DHC [Deborah Henson-Conant] and heard it performed by the incredible Eleanor Turner. I had really only just started playing harp, and at that moment I resolved to perform it myself one day. I love relating DHC’s story of how and why she wrote the piece, and the different themes and stories within the piece. I do love to talk about the big pink wig too!

My favorite memory of this piece is during a solo concert, I performed this at the end, and one of my bass wires broke with a bang mid-way through the piece. It was so theatrical, and I went on to give the audience a lesson in how to change a string, then played the piece again. It was a lot of fun and I think everyone seemed to enjoy coming on the journey with me. It is SO satisfying to make eye contact with the audience and then make a big flourish to use my nails on the strings or bang the harp with my hand…the delight on their faces is something to behold!

What drew you to this piece – why did you choose to learn it?

I was initially drawn to the piece for its energy and totally unexpected nature. The flamboyance and dynamic range, the fun theatrics, the extended techniques. I just love the taste of ‘traditional harp’ which is then turned on its head, then it keeps returning with such interplay. It’s just so much fun! I really enjoy playing in a very physical way…I’m not particularly gentle or angelic, so I love getting stuck in with my fingernails and banging on the soundboard. It’s truly a great way to pour myself into the performance. I love DHC’s story behind the piece too, it really is very entertaining and engaging for me and I always think about it when I’m performing the piece.

What does this piece add to your repertoire (and/or your life) that you didn’t have before?

I am a big believer in versatility and variety. When I go to a performance as a patron, I don’t want everything to sound the same. I think one of the great (and underrated) aspects of the harp is its versatility….it is so much more than a pretty, gentle instrument. There is a whole lot that it can do! I think this piece just brings such a change of energy and mood and is so unexpected and is a great way to demonstrate some of the different sounds that can be made with the harp.

I’ve yet to encounter an audience who hasn’t loved it and it is a great storytelling piece as well. I love to talk with my audience and give them the context and background for pieces, so this one is certainly good for that. This piece really was a gateway to a total change of performance and musical style for me, breaking away from the traditional and it has truly changed my life.

What would you tell someone else who’s thinking of learning this piece that you wish you’d known before you learned it?

Hmmm…. I think I would say just go for it! Don’t worry about whether it’s ‘perfect’ or ‘ready’ or ‘technically right’ or whether you’re ‘good enough’...just dive in and let it all go! There’s a lot of fun to be had.

What do you think you can get from working directly with the composer of the piece that you can’t get from the sheet music?

Working directly with Deborah was just brilliant. I feel like I was extra lucky getting to meet DHC and hear the piece performed live. Then, doing the online course was just so personal and gave me a real sense of understanding. It was incredibly valuable to hear what the piece is about, and why she wrote it. To understand what the story really is in very relatable words. To be guided that it’s about passion, not perfection. I learned many things about my harp and about myself and my performance style from working directly with DHC which I definitely wouldn’t have gleaned just from the sheet music.

Please follow this artist on social media and let them know what has opened up for your own self-expression in seeing and hearing their performance, and please share in the comments below.

Website: emilysanzaro.com
Facebook: Emily Sanzaro Tasmaninan Harpist
Instagram: @emsanzaro

Stay tuned for more artists soon and check out my Composer’s Spotlight blog series, featuring other talented musicians who played my song!

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