The extraordinary harpist Maria Christina Cleary from Ireland, has been described as “a true virtuoso”, a “brilliant player” and “a pioneer of period harp practice”. She is noted for her improvisatory skills and ingenious basso continuo playing, combined with a particular care to create a beautiful sound on a perilous instrument.
Specalising in historical harps, Maria is part of a rare breed of harpist who performs on medieval harps, the Italian arpa doppia, the Spanish arpa de dos ordenes and the 18th century harpe organisée. She promotes a pedal technique that was exclusively used on harps with a single-action pedal mechanism. She has developed several innovative tunings for performing medieval and renaissance music, some which can heard on recordings with Ensemble Tetraktys on the Olive Music label.
She has performed as soloist with, among others, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, American Bach Soloists, Bayerische Staatsoper, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Arion Ensemble Montreal and the RTE Concert Orchestra. In the 1990’s, Maria performed at the Playboy Mansion in LA and while living near Milan for the last 15 years, she has never played at La Scala. In 2014, Maria was invited to perform a Concerto by J. B. Krumpholtz with the Orchestra of the Antipodes at The World Harp Congress in Sydney. This was the first time the harpe organisée was featured at the Congress. As a basso continuo player, she has performed in most festivals in the world including the Boston, Utrecht, Montreal, Salzburg festivals, with historically-informed orchestras and ensembles. Maria performs regularly with Davide Monti under the name Arparla, a violin and harp duo specialising in repertoire from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
Her recordings include So mach’ die Augen zu (2010), the first ever CD of Louis Spohr’s music using original instruments and historical performing practices. Subsequently, Davide and Maria recorded a second CD of Spohr’s music, Geliebte Dorette, in 2016. Other solo recordings of works by Frescobaldi, Merula, Uccellini and Michelangelo Rossi can be found in Arparla's CDs: Le Grazie del Violino, Uccellini Op. 5 and Uccellini Op. 4. Le Grazie del Violino (2010), is the first ever CD using the harp exclusively as an accompanying and solo instrument. She has recorded over 40 CDs with orchestras and Early Music ensembles.
She has been prizewinner at the following competitions as soloist: Utrecht Early Music Competition (First Prize ex-aequo, 1997), Nippon International Harp Competition (sixth prize, 1996), Dutch National Harp Competition (second prize, 1997). She has received awards from The Arts Council Ireland and Culture Ireland throughout her studies and professional career. As an orchestral player, she has worked as Principal Harpist in the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam and further held the position of harpist of the RTE Concert Orchestra Dublin. Maria has worked for years in the area of contemporary music, with MusikFabrik Köln and Remix Ensemble Porto. She has premièred over fifty pieces for solo harp and harp in ensemble, including Arc Song by T. Hosakawa at the Darmstadt Festival in 2002 with Peter Veale (oboe). More recently, she has recorded Evanescente (2013) by Beatrice Campodonico for the CMC Milano label.
Maria holds Bachelor and Master's degrees from Dublin, London, Den Haag and Bruxelles, where she studied with Susanna Mildonian. She was awarded a Ph.D. from Leiden University, The Netherlands in 2016 on historical pedal techniques. She has published academic articles and book chapters.
Maria teaches historical styles, improvisation and chamber music to all instrumentalists. She has taught at the Guildhall School of Music London, Conservatories of Singapore, Brisbane, Sydney, RMIT Melbourne, Venice, Padua (2005-2008), Krakow Academy, Sibelius Academy Helsinki, Oslo Academy, Oberlin College Ohio, Case Western Cleveland and at the Juilliard School of Music New York. She holds teaching positions at Verona and Vicenza Conservatories in Italy and at the Haute École de Musique de Genève.
Click HERE for my personal thoughts on teaching.