Amandine Carbuccia has been brought into the international spotlight following her recent victory in the Dutch Harp Competition. Her sensitive and compelling performance throughout all three rounds of the competition earned her the First Prize, as well as the Fiordifrutta Audience Award and the Omroep MAX Award. The talented French harpist managed to accomplish all of this at the young age of 21, while simultaneously juggling studies for her master’s degree, an Erasmus exchange in Frankfurt, and an apprenticeship with the Münster Symphony Orchestra. Who is this newly discovered talent? How did she reach this point? In the following interview, Amandine reveals her preparation strategy for the competition, shares stories about her experience during the competition, and ponders the effect it all has had on her life.
Elizabeth Jaxon: What made you originally decide to participate in the Dutch Harp Competition?
Amandine Carbuccia: I decided to do the competition last summer. I wanted to do a competition, because I like having a goal in my practicing, and the Dutch Harp Competition was happening in March, which was perfect to begin the first part of the year. I chose this competition because the program instantly attracted me; I like the idea of having a first round of required repertoire and free choice for the second round. This allows us to choose a program which we particularly like and to present ourselves as individual artists. And then the prospect of playing the Aranjuez concerto [by Joaquín Rodrigo] with an orchestra in the Finals, that was motivating!
EJ: How did you approach the process of preparing for this competition?
AC: I would say that I proceeded in the order of competition rounds. I started out by practicing the CPE Bach Sonate, because I had to record one movement, as well as a Posse etude, for the preliminary round. Next, I set in on the second round, putting the CPE Bach Sonate aside to rest for a couple months. I constructed a program essentially on a theme of French music, with works by Renié, Cras, and Grandjany. I really like to play this music, and it enables me to best express my personality. There was just one odd piece out – Scarlatti – but I have some Italian heritage as well! And finally, I started the concerto, around Christmas time. For Rodrigo, I practiced a lot with the CD. I listened to it very often and listened to many different interpretations and therefore different styles, but always the [original] guitar version. In the beginning of March, I started rehearsing the concerto with a piano accompanist from our class, which was very useful for me. I also got some advice from a Spanish friend of mine, which helped a lot for the style.
Of course, I prepared the entire program with my teacher in Frankfurt, Françoise Friedrich, where I am doing a one-year Erasmus exchange. I also went to Lyon to play my program for my teacher at the CNSM, Fabrice Pierre. It’s funny because two weeks before the competition my former teacher from Nice, Michelle Vuillaume, came and gave a masterclass at the Hochschule in Frankfurt, so I also had the chance to work with her again. I believe I worked on my competition program with all of my teachers! The help and support from my teachers was indispensable. They were really very invested and believed in me throughout the process of preparation, which is very important.
The amount of time which I devoted to the competition was not always the same. I made sure to have everything ready about three weeks in advance, at which point I did many run-throughs, concerts, etc. I tried to run though my first round cold every morning, without having warmed up, and in the afternoon I played either the second round or the Rodrigo – I would alternate. After each run-through I would work in detail on whatever hadn’t gone well. Before arriving at the period of run-throughs, I practiced about four hours per day, but this is an approximation: it depended on the day. I was also starting my praktikum with the Münster Orchestra in January, so I didn’t always have a lot of time to practice, but I did a lot of mental practicing with the scores in the train. However, my work with the orchestra also helped me keep my mind clear, especially in the week leading up to the competition. I was always busy with orchestra – I was still in rehearsals the day before the first round – and this distracted me from thinking too much about the competition or stressing out. To boost my confidence, I would tell myself: “You have done the maximum, you are ready, and now have fun playing and give everything.” Beyond that, what the jury will think is another story!
EJ: Is there any special strategy you have for remaining focused during the competition week itself?
AC: First of all, I didn’t have a choice! When you find out that you’re in the next round, there’s nothing to do but to remain concentrated. Once I was at the competition, therefore, I was already concentrated and in a “bubble”. The concentration became more difficult to maintain towards the end of the week, because I began to get tired. I also didn’t go to all the evening concerts, in order to stay concentrated on the competition. It’s too bad, because they seemed interesting, but I thought it was more serious to reread my scores and go to bed early.
Nonetheless, I admit that I wasn’t concentrated 24/7. I also took advantage of my free time to take walks in Utrecht or to spend time with the other competitors and relax. Every evening, I would always look over the scores for the next round. I always do that – it reassures me and refocuses my concentration on the competition.
EJ: What was your favorite aspect of the competition week?
AC: To sum it up in a word, I would say the ambiance. Each round felt to me like a real concert. Of course, I was nervous waiting to play (and actually really nervous before the first round!), but once I walked on stage all the pressure decreased – there was a warm feeling in the hall which put me at ease. I was able to share my music with the audience each round, without thinking of the competition itself.
The ambience [of the festival] in general was also really nice, thanks to the impeccable organization by a team of really awesome people! I also have some really nice memories of the other finalists. We didn’t know each other at all before the competition, but the three of us got along really well and shared plenty of good moments (like our photo shoot, or evening meals together). We supported each other until the very end, and that’s extraordinary!
EJ: What was the most challenging aspect for you?
AC: The speech I had to give in English at the beginning of the second round, because I don’t have a good mastery of the language. I was worried no one would understand me.
I also have an awful memory of the train ride from Utrecht to Münster which I took at the beginning of the competition so that I could be back in Münster for an orchestra rehearsal. There was a whole succession of incredible incidents: after an accident on the tracks, I had to take several busses and finally a taxi to get back to my place, all of this in the middle of the night, with all the announcements in Dutch, and just one day before the first round! But I figured that, after all of that, I must have a bit a luck.
EJ: What are your plans now, for after the competition?
AC: First of all, I’m going to return to France next year, to the CNSMD in Lyon, to finish my master’s degree, because this year I did an Erasmus exchange in Frankfurt, Germany. I am also going to try to enter the CA program (two years of study at the CNSM to become a certified teacher), so I’ll do auditions in Lyon and Paris in September. I have always wanted to teach, so I hope I get into this program; I know that it’s not easy. But I also want to come back to Germany afterward to do some orchestra auditions. I am doing a praktikum (apprenticeship) in an orchestra this year, in Münster, where I am seeing what it’s like to be in a professional orchestra, and it makes me want to continue on this path. The ideal thing would be to teach and play in an orchestra, both at once!
I’m also very interested in music therapy, and I’ve been involved with the Live Music Now foundation in Frankfurt since October 2011. The foundation’s mission is to bring music to people who cannot otherwise access it – for example people in retirement homes, hospices, prisons, etc. – and each concert is an unforgettable experience.
EJ: Has winning First Prize changed anything for you?
AC: Now I have to do interviews!! But seriously, I would say primarily that it has brought me a lot of self confidence. It’s a huge personal satisfaction to have won the first prize. I see the future now with much more optimism.
EJ: Part of the First Prize award is that you will be invited for the Dutch Harp Tour in 2013. Do you think you will perform the same repertoire in 2013 that you did for the competition, or do you have other repertoire in mind that you want to present?
AC: I will of course present new pieces, but also keep some from the competition. There are certain pieces that I just have to play in concerts, like the Rhapsodie by Marcel Grandjany – it’s my signature piece, and I never program a concert that doesn’t include it! There’s also the Tango by Jean-Michel Damase; I adore playing that piece, so it will surely be on the program. But most of the pieces will be new. I’m already planning out the program, with the help of Remy (the wonderful competition organizer!). It’s a bit early, because the tour isn’t until February 2013, but it’s good because I can program lots of new pieces and I have almost a year to organize my practicing. The next year will be busy, because I will also be giving my master’s recital, in June, 2013. The earlier I plan my programs, the better!
Born August 9th, 1990, in Nice, Amandine Carbuccia began studying both harp and violin at the age of 7. Her first teacher on harp was Michelle Vuillaume, who introduced her to all the richness of the instrument and who inspired her to continue her studies to an advanced level. Amandine completed her pre-college studies with Ms. Vuillaume at the Regional National Conservatory (CNR) of Nice in June, 2007, earning a premier prix and an honorable mention. The following year, she was admitted unanimously into the class of Fabrice Pierre and the Superior National Conservatory (CNSM) in Lyon, where she completed a bachlor’s degree.
Currently in her first year of master’s degree studies, Amandine is regularly invited to play with orchestras such as the Lyon Opera, the Saint-Etienne Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of Cannes, Provence, Alpes, Côte d’Azur, and the Bratislava Orchestra. She was principal harpist of the Mediterranean Youth Orchestra in 2008, the Netherlands Youth Orchestra in 2010, and the Berlin Youth Symphony in 2011. In January of 2012, she won the coveted apprenticeship position with the Münster Symphony Orchestra, where she will play second harp until the end of the season.
Having studied jazz harp with Park Stickney and Baroque repertoire with Sylvain Blassel, Amandine distinguishes herself by her eclecticism and her openness to contemporary music. This lead her to perform, in June 2009, with the Folk Songs of Berio, in the Grand Auditorium of Barcelona.
Already a veteran of competitions, Amandine’s victories previous to the Dutch Harp Competition include First Prize in the supérieure category of the 2006 UFAM competition and, in 2009, First Prize in the 3rd International Harp Competition in Nice, as well as a special prize for the best performance of the contemporary work.
During the current academic year, she is studying at the Hochscule fur Musik in Frankfort sur le Main, with François Friedrich, thanks to the support of the Erasmus exchange program. Amandine has also been giving community outreach concerts with the association Live Music Now since 2011.