Harpist amused by ‘angelic’ stereotype

Heidi Van Hoesen Gorton is the principal harpist for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. She listens to Metallica.

“I work all day playing classical music, and I study it for work, and when I get off and go home I need an antidote,” she says, with a laugh. “Metallica is my favourite band, but I also listen to crappy pop music, anything.

“I listen to Katy Perry, Beyonce — I wouldn’t say crappy, but that’s the stigma.”

Sitting backstage at Roy Thomson Hall after a long rehearsal, the Juilliard School of Music alumna muses that she likes breaking the “angelic” stereotype associated with her instrument, laughing while turning her back to show off the angel wings on her shirt.

How the St. Clair and Bathurst area resident planned to do that was with her recent performance in the TSO’s Mendelssohn Scottish Symphony.

She performed Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto, Op. 25, which challenges the traditional sounds of the harp, and even has the harpist taking on the role of percussionist during the performance.

“Actually, one of the great things about the Ginastera piece I’m playing is that it really shatters the stereotype that harpists are angelic, and that we play delicately,” she offers. “It’s very angular and rhythmic, and at times harsh — very beautiful all the way through.”

The first and third movements, Van Hoesen Gorton says, are based on malambo dance performed by Argentine cowboys.

“It’s very declamatory, rhythmic and punctuated, and often times multiple rhythms are fighting with each other between me and the orchestra.”

A native of Pittsburgh, the 27-year-old comes from a long line of orchestra musicians.

She is a granddaughter of legendary bassoonist K. David Van Hoesen, who is professor emeritus at the University of Rochester, Eastman School of Music.

Parents Gretchen Van Hoesen and James Gorton, are also well known orchestra denizens. Her mother plays the harp and her father the oboe for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Van Hoesen Gorton’s parents bought her first harp — a much smaller, troubadour model — when she was 7.

“I would hear my mom practising, rehearsing, teaching in our house all the time, and I fell in love with the sound,” she recalls.

Eighteen years later, in 2011, Van Hoesen Gorton won her post at the TSO after a gruelling eight-month audition.

As for her transition from Steeltown to Hogtown, via the Big Apple?


“I love it,” she declares. “Toronto is such an amazing city.

“As a musician you don’t get to choose where you live. It’s whoever wants you, hires you (and) that’s where you live.”

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Posted: Jun 23 2014 10:22 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto