Harp duo at Festival of Chichester

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Fiona Hosford has checked and double-checked the maths. 94 Strings really will be offering 162 Strings on a Sunday Afternoon for this year’s Festival of Chichester.

Harp duo Alex King and Fiona will both be playing 47-string harps: “But we are also taking two smaller Celtic harps that have 34 strings.” Tot it all up, and you get 162 – unless, of course, one of the strings breaks in which case it will be 161 Strings on a Sunday Afternoon, Fiona laughs.

The performance will be on July 9 at The New Park Centre from 3-4pm (tickets from the Chichester Box Office at the Novium or on 01243 816525), bringing together Hailsham-based Fiona and Shoreham-based Alex. With decades of experience between them, they explore all kinds of music on both the concert and Celtic harps. Fiona and Alex met in 2014, bonding over a mutual appreciation of harp repertoire, cats and gin. Both had been playing for weddings, concerts and other events throughout the UK and abroad for years.

“I remember our first meeting was in a pub in Lewes,” Fiona says. “Whenever there is someone new about, I always like to say hi and let’s meet up for a cup of coffee. I just said to her ‘Do you fancy doing something for the Brighton Festival, a duet or something?’ I said ‘You don’t have to say yes right away!’ And Alex said she thought it was a good idea, and so we just took it from there.

“I think we complement each other in our playing and our approaches. Alex likes to stick to the score, so to speak. She is extremely good at counting and working out odd rhythms. I will just do it and follow the music and then go off on one to do something a bit different. I have always done that. I always like to improvise, but I have had to tone down my improvising a bit for this – or my faffing around as one of my students calls it. Alex calls me the Rick Wakeman of the harp. I am not sure whether that is a good thing or not!

“But it is great to have different ideas. There are no superegos. You could say we are competing with each other, but we are not. It just works really nicely between us, and we usually have a good laugh as well.”

Fiona began her studies on the harp whilst studying the violin and piano, aged just six. Since then she has performed all over the UK and abroad.

Quite why she started on the harp is a story which will rob her of what little street cred she has, she confesses.

“I don’t really come from a musical background. I came along and I am a bit more creative. I did an art degree as well as doing the harp. But really the reason is that when I was six, I was heavily into the Smurfs. One day, I had a Smurf sticker. It had Smurfette on it and a harp. She was the only female Smurf, and she was playing the harp… and it all started with that!”

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