MUSOs of the ASO: Suzanne Handel, Principal Harp

22 Jun 2020
  • Musician Spotlight
by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
MUSOs of the ASO: Suzanne Handel, Principal Harp

Principal Harp Suzanne Handel has been playing with the ASO for 27 years and there was never any doubt she’d make a career in music. She describes music as being “the language I speak the most fluently”. While in isolation Suzanne has been enjoying arranging music for the harp and taking some time to get to know her carbon fibre purple lever harp! The ASO’s beautiful gold concert harp is surely feeling lonely without her and she can’t wait to get back into Grainger Studio to continue making music with colleagues.

Read on to learn Suzanne’s most memorable ASO moments, quirky unknown facts and more.

Hometown: Too many places to list, but all in the USA and New York for a big chunk of it.

If you weren’t a professional musician you’d be: 
It’s very hard to imagine…I would have loved to be somebody who spends the whole day outside in a forest…a forest ranger or hiking guide maybe! Or an environmentalist, but let’s face it, I don’t have a scientific brain.

How did you choose the harp?
I played the piano since I could sit up and when my parents put a harp in front of me when I was six, I thought it was much more interesting than the piano!

Is there anything special about your harp/does it have a name/any quirks? 
My heart belongs to my old harp. Unfortunately, harps don’t have a long life, so it has long since bitten the dust. My new harp now has a tough act to follow, but it’s doing pretty well. I call it Jane after one of my first teachers.

Who has influenced you most as a musician?
My dad, who always made sure I had great music to listen to as a child; my early teachers, and just life itself.

If you could play a different instrument, which would you choose?
Guitar! I would be the most fabulous Flamenco guitarist! Especially if I were Spanish, which I’m not.

Which solo or moment in the harp orchestral repertoire is your favourite?
I love playing the Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th (which we sadly had to abandon in March). Other than that, anything that has a great harp part with lots of big arpeggios, and with a great conductor conducting it!

My most memorable performance with the ASO:
I loved playing at Carnegie Hall for G’day USA. My best friends from New York were there and it was so much fun!

What was your first orchestral concert memory? 
I remember doing a concerto with an orchestra when I was 11. The conductor walked on and lifted his hand and I started playing till I noticed that nobody else was playing–I didn’t realize that he was just asking the orchestra to start tuning! I remember ending my opening phrase with a very graceful flourish.

COVID-19 has put a hold over ASO concerts, what do you miss the most about not being able to perform?
I miss seeing all my colleagues. I miss the beautiful ASO gold harp. I am sure it feels rejected and lonely without me!

Despite not being able to perform in concerts you still have to remain fit to play for when concerts resume? How many hours a day are you practising, and what repertoire are you selecting? Where in the house do you practise?
For once, I get to play stuff that I want to play, not that I have to play. I like arranging great old songs for harp, so I’ve been doing that. Also, I have a custom made carbon fibre purple lever harp (that’s a small Celtic type harp, with no pedals) and I’m learning how to play it. Same technique with fingers, but vastly different in approach because you are so limited with the accidentals. My house is a big open shed so I practice right in the middle, under my huge ficus tree!

When you’re not performing or practising, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Hiking, walking the dog, playing the ukulele and going to the gym, which isn’t happening now.

When I’m not listening to classical music what do you listen to?
I only listen to classical music when it’s something I’m going to be playing soon. I like fun, happy, silly stuff, most of which is too embarrassing to tell you about!

Name three pieces of music you love, and why?
1. Mahler 5 because it’s the most gorgeous thing ever written.
2. Ravel’s Introduction et Allegro because it’s so French and fabulous and I have lots of great memories of playing it.
3. Suzanne’s Animal Music because it’s a harp suite my dad composed for me when I was a kid.

Do you come from a musical family?
Yes, my dad was a music theory professor and a composer, and my mother was a pianist.

Name three things people may not know about you?
1. I was the only girl in my school who won the Presidential Physical Fitness Award when I was about 13 (my proudest achievement to this day!)
2. I have perfect pitch, which really only makes my life miserable.
3. I can’t work technology.

What’s your idea of a perfect day in Adelaide? 
It’s about 32 degrees and a rare humid day. I’ve caught up with some friends for lunch in a cafe, followed by the beach at sunset with my dog and my partner.

If you could ask one composer one question what would it be? 
Richard Wagner, WHY did you write that ridiculous and completely impossible Magic Fire Music harp part in Die Walküre? WHY????

What’s your favourite type of food?
I love Indian and Thai, and I especially love all the vegetables from my garden.

What’s the weirdest thing in your fridge/pantry? 
A hemp falafel mix I haven’t gotten around to making.

What books are on your nightstand? 
Nicholas Braithwaite’s So What Does A Conductor Do, and various workout at home books.

Do you speak any other languages? 
I can sort of get by in Spanish.

Do you follow any blogs?
What’s a blog?


Recording courtesy of ABC Classic

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