The Prince's Plucker Says: 'They’ll Be Greeted by the Harp'

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Massive passion."

That’s how harpist Claire Jones, the Official Harpist for His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, describes her feelings for the string instrument.

On April 29, Jones and her official "Prince of Wales" harp will be front and center on a small solo stage in Buckingham Palace, where she will pluck classical and Welsh tunes to welcome Prince William and Catherine Middleton to their reception after the royal couple’s Westminster Abbey wedding.

"Every harp is so different," Jones said in a phone interview. "The Salvi harp I’ve always found to be incredibly mellow. This particular one is extremely powerful and has lovely depth and sonority," Jones said of the official “Prince of Wales” harp, which was manufactured by Salvi.

The 26-year-old Jones has performed more than 150 times for the royal family since assuming her royal harpist duties in 2007. A specialist in the Baroque through Romantic periods, Jones is a 2007 graduate of the Royal College of Music. In 2009, she received her masters from the Royal Academy of Music.

When performing for the royals, Jones typically provides background music for dinners and official events, rounded out with a ten to fifteen minute solo performance.

“I will certainly cherish April 29 as being the pinnacle of all of my royal engagements,” Jones said.

It’s not easy to become the royal harpist, not least because the role did not exist for nearly 130 years. Before Prince Charles revived the position in 2000, appointing Catrin Finch, and later Jemima Phillips, the royal harp gig was last the held by harpist John Thomas as appointed by Queen Victoria in 1871.

“I see myself as an ambassador for the harp, and then ambassador for the Prince of Wales as well,” Jones said. “I’m incredibly proud of that.”

Jones, who has performed concerts with the English Chamber Orchestra and the Philharmonia Orchestra, performs 30-40 times per year for the royal family. On a typical performance day as royal harpist, she will turn up to the palace a few hours before the performance, warm up the Prince’s harp, perform over the course of the event and provide a solo show toward the end of the night.

“The wedding day itself is very different for me,” Jones said of the upcoming event. “I think I’ll be getting up at 5:00 a.m. I'll be starting interviews at 6:00 a.m. following hair and make-up. I'm doing some UK and American press for an hour or two in the morning. Then I’ll enter Buckingham palace and get ready and be in my dress. I’ll await for the couple to arrive back.”

But the tuneful role has not always been so cleanly regimented. The Welsh native took over the role from Jemima Phillips, an esteemed harpist who descended into drug addiction and recently faced charges of theft and fraud. Yet the pressure of royal harping is not driving Jones to delinquency.

“The more experience you get, the better it is,” Jones said. “When I got the appointment, it did feel a little that everyone was focused on [me]. People were suddenly interested in Claire Jones, wanting to know about her life, about everything that she did. That’s something a performer is not always used to. In terms of the playing, however, I think most performers can cope with it.”

Details of the pieces Jones will perform at the royal wedding are being kept under close wraps. The harpist could say only that she would be playing some classical pieces, “mostly romantic,” as well as Welsh folk tunes. The selection, Jones said, would be up to the royal couple.

So are William and Catherine serious classical music buffs?

“It’s difficult to tell at the minute, because I don’t primarily work for Prince William and Catherine Middleton,” Jones said. “I’m waiting to hear exactly which pieces they choose. That will give me an indication of what their taste is exactly like.”

Decked in the Royal Harpist Brooch, Jones plans to wear a long gown for her reception performance. “Generally with the harp, long dresses are best,” Jones said. “Also things that you’re very comfortable in so that you have enough room to play.”

But Jones, who said the palace does not determine her performance wardrobe, declined to give any further details of the optimal harp-strumming gown for the big day. “It’ll be a long dress and a strong color as well,” she said. “I do like a strong color.”

Jones has appeared in concert with Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, tenor Alfie Boe and flutist William Bennett. In 2010, she released three albums, including a concerto album with the English Chamber Orchestra, and will launch a U.S. tour in May. But she continues to set the bar, or strings, high.

“There are many goals in the works,” she said. “One of them is to perform in the White House.”

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