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.
A native of Ireland, Maria grew up surrounded with Irish music as well as receiving a Classical musical training in piano, recorder, harp and singing. She was part of an inter-disciplinary group based on the Renaissance epoch (Capriol Consort Dublin, directed by Doris Keogh at the Royal Irish Academy of Music). She studied harp at the College of Music Dublin with Mercedes Garvey, and later began a Degree in Psychology at Trinity College Dublin. She studied harp at the Koninklijk Conservatoriums in The Hague and Brussels(Susanna Mildonian). During her studies, her mind was opened to many types of music: contemporary, electronic, jazz and Informed Practices, experimental music with non-tonal and micro-tonal tuning systems.
In 2016, she was awarded a PhD, carried out in-and-through artistic practice from The Academy of Creative and Performing Arts (ACPA), Leiden University. The title of her thesis, “Harpe Organisée, 1720-1840: Rediscovering the lost pedal techniques on harps with a single-action pedal mechanism”, is the first ever monograph on pedalling techniques in the world.
Specialising in historical harps, she performs on one-rowed medieval harps, Italian (arpa doppia), Spanish (arpa de dos ordenes), German (Davidsharffe) and Welsh Baroque chromatic harps, 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 of which can heard on recordings with Ensemble Tetraktys on the Olive Music label.
She performs as soloist with orchestras including the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, American Bach Soloists, Bayerische Staatsoper, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Arion Ensemble Montreal and the RTE Concert Orchestra. She was a featured soloist at The World Harp Congress in Cardiff in 2020 and in Sydney in 2014, performing premiere performances of concertos by Krumpholtz, Handel, Hasse and Alberti. 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. In the 1990’s, Maria performed at the Playboy Mansion in LA and, even though she lives near Milan for the last 15 years, she has never played at La Scala.
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 later 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 in 2017.
Partners for over fifteen years, 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. Their recordings include two CDs So mach’ die Augen zu (2010), the first ever CD of Louis Spohr’s music using original instruments and historical performing practices, and 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 (2015) and Uccellini Op. 4 (2020). 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.
Maria teaches harp, improvisation and chamber music to all instrumentalists in seminars, masterclasses and artist residencies all over the world, including 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.
She has published for Early Music, Basler Jahrbuch, and the American Harp Journal and has forthcoming publications coming in the near future.
Click HERE for Maria's personal thoughts on teaching.