Helena Ricci, harpist & creative entrepreneur

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

If I had to pinpoint the moment when I decided to pursue music professionally… I remember attending a solo concert by legendary harpist Xavier de Maistre in my hometown Saint-Prex, Switzerland. It’s a small village so finding this concert listed on his website was surreal. He played Handel’s concerto which I was practising at the time. I hadn’t realised until then that you could pursue a career as a solo harpist so this moment was a real turning point in my teenage years in realising that this path could be possible.

My biggest support throughout my journey is undoubtedly my family. They have always supported me in pursuing music, despite that no one was involved in music at all. My parents put everything in place so that I could develop as a musician, so I would never be there if it hadn’t been for their continuous support and that of my teachers from that early stage. It really takes a village.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The pandemic was a pretty grim time, professionally. I had just graduated from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, had concerts and an exciting project with visuals scheduled as well as a wide repertoire on my fingertips ready to play. Like so many of my colleagues, everything was cancelled overnight without real support in place. It was especially destabilising as I had just entered the professional musical world so there was always the question hanging “what if it never picks up and that’s it, you’re done?”.

At the same time, this period allowed me to develop other interests such as photography and filming and explore a lot of repertoire such a music by Philip Glass, Joep Beving and Henriette Renie’s rarely heard yet stunning Concerto in C minor. Looking back it made me realise that to me music transcends our inherent human condition of being alone. That’s a beautiful experience to share and communicate with an audience and this thought gave me a deep intrinsic motivation boost especially during these uncertain times.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Two live performances come to mind, firstly playing Ravel’s Introduction & Allegro at Wigmore Hall with Guildhall musicians. This is such a mythical venue that I thought I would be nervous, yet I felt comfortable and there was a deep sense of flow with everyone in the chamber ensemble and the audience.

Another defining moment was my first solo concert as a new graduate in Autumn 2019 at St James’s Piccadilly Church. I felt such freedom and exhilaration for being the artist I wanted to be in that very moment. You can watch the encore I played, I am sure you will recognise this piece.

Otherwise I am very proud of the first single I distributed online “Rameau: Le Rappel des Oiseaux”. This transcription I did of this charming piece with bird-like melodies echoing one another evoked my grandparents which I couldn’t see or hug during the pandemic, so it felt a testimony to their mutual love and like a musical hug to them. It was selected on the Spotify New Classical Releases too so a happy moment.

You can listen to it here:

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?

I’m known for being a communicative, energetic yet delicate and detailed player. I have a deep fascination for the work of Henriette Renie, the harmonies and stories she tells with the music are incredible, it is pure poetry in sound. Pieces that are always very impactful include my own transcriptions of J.S Bach and Philip Glass. Generally I am drawn to music in minor keys with patterns or counterpoint, they are the most natural for me to learn and convey emotions with.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I believe that everything I live through in my personal life will somehow infuse my music to a variable degree. My appeal for meditative neoclassical works was clearly a reflection of my own personal life during the pandemic, a search for meaning. Interacting with friends and other artists, cultivating a practice of art beyond music are all essential to my artistic growth.

I am a keen photographer and fun story: while walking during the pandemic with my camera I filmed a hurt butterfly landing on my arm. Taking part in the global “Mixing Colours” competition among two thousands photographers, my video ended up being chosen as the official film for Brian and Roger Eno’s Cerulean Blue released on the Deutsche Grammophon YouTube Channel:

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

My programmes are chosen from the music I love playing and want to share with others. From the core piece(s) I then find a theme or thread to link the whole programme together.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Every venue in which an audience is attentive, receptive and open is a dream venue. The people make the places memorable.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

When we think about it, many are those who listen to classical music, film soundtracks, for its intellectual aspect or as a relaxation or concentration boost. However they wouldn’t feel inclined to go to a live classical concert. So growing audiences would be about opening the doors to classical music through innovative concert formats that feel inviting to the audience. For me as a performer this means communicating with my audience directly, incorporating other art forms, making a concert feel more immersive and visually mesmerising, like stepping into a magical world. It’s about going to others not expecting them to come to me.

My long-term artistic project MUSILUX, merging classical music and light, aims to present mesmerising concert experiences with digital arts live. I want my audience to have that wow feeling of being transported to a deeper dimension both musically and visually. From research and development residencies that I led during the pandemic I am now in the next phase to present this project live.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Not a classical one but attending the Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria at the Royal Albert Hall for my tenth birthday with my dad. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage and felt transported to a different world. Truly magical.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

On a purely practical level success to me is about being able to make a decent living through my musical work, as well as creating opportunities for others to thrive. On a deeper level, success is linked to my artistic growth and realising that my music and art have a positive impact on other people’s lives, that we feel connected as human beings through shared emotions even if only for a fleeting moment while experiencing music together. I wish my playing to feel like a musical hug for the soul.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?

I am still a young musician so it feels quite presumptuous to give such advice. However I would always encourage someone to pursue what makes them unique and special. Consistency, persistence. When it fails, try again. And stick to one’s values.

What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?

I wish there would be more transparency about salaries and fees throughout the classical industry at every level. A lack of transparency or custom prices make it very difficult to empower artists and everyone in the industry to ask for a fairer pay. Money still feels like a taboo subject, I wish this wouldn’t be the case.

What’s next?

I am thrilled to be a City Music Foundation Artist so this will lead to meaningful projects and collaborations for the upcoming years. I have also just won an artistic residency for my MUSILUX project – I can’t write more about yet but exciting developments to come!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

This is a very deep question! Happiness is being with the people I love and care about, being valued and respected for who I am.

What is your most treasured possession?

My harp. It’s a red David harp from Switzerland in the same small region where luxury watches are made. It sounds, looks and smells amazing!

Originally from Switzerland and now based in London (UK) Helena Ricci is rapidly gaining reputation as a virtuoso harpist with a unique creative and free spirit, praised for her insightful, memorable playing, communication on and off stage and engaging personality. A fervent believer in carving her own path as an entrepreneurial musician outside of the traditional competition one, Ricci is a trailblazing ambassador of the harp as a solo instrument. Through her project MUSILUX she is redefining classical concerts as immersive experiences. Helena Ricci is a Hattori Foundation Senior Awardee 2022DEBUT Horizon artist and City Music Foundation Artist 2022.

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City Music Foundation Artist profile

Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega