Artist Interview: Sivan Magen, harp

By Jessica Wolford on April 4, 2017

On Friday, April 21, world-renowned harpist Sivan Magen joins PCMS favorite ECCO for a unique program that features the Philadelphia premiere of Christopher Theofanidis's A Thousand Cranes. Mr. Magen graciously spoke with me about his musical upbringing, his collaboration with ECCO, his upcoming projects, and his prize harp.

Jessica Wolford: You come from a musical family. Could you talk about your upbringing and how it influenced you?

Sivan Magen: Both my parents are cellists. While my mother has also concentrated in other areas of the arts (dance and sculpture), my father's playing is present in my memories from a very young age. I remember waking up to him practicing the Bach Suites, hearing his students learn the great cello concertos, and more than anything accompanying him to his own concerts, through which I discovered the great chamber repertoire of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Shostakovitch, Ravel, and many others. I think that my father's love for music and music making was clearly the root of my own love for music, and especially chamber music. As a harpist, whose core repertoire is quite limited, I discovered my love for music in large part through listening to my father, playing with him, with my mother, and with my brother, and occasionally accompanying his students on the piano. To this day we have very lively conversations at home about music, music making, and teaching. 

JW: What drew you to the harp? When did you begin playing?

SM: I'm not sure what initially drew me to the harp. I think I had an image of a "magical" instrument (and one which was different enough from what my parents and brothers played to keep it my own thing). I originally asked to play it when I was seven, but my parents were (wrongly) told that it was too early and that I should start the piano first. Eventually I started playing the harp when I was 12. 

JW: How did your collaboration with ECCO come about?

SM: My collaboration with ECCO was originally the (brilliant) idea of Seth Knopp, who is the director of both the Yellow Barn Festival in Vermont and the Soundings New Music series at the Nasher Museum in Dallas. The Soundings series commissioned A Thousand Cranes from Chris Theofanidis, and Seth made the connection with ECCO and with me, separately. We all had a great time playing together and so decided to continue the collaboration in this coming tour. This time we're also collaborating in Conte Fantastique by Andre Caplet (based on E. A. Poe's The Mask of the Red Death), a piece which is one of the cornerstones of the harp solo/chamber repertoire, but which is usually played in its version for harp and string quartet, and here will be played by harp and string orchestra. This is my first time playing it in this version, and I'm quite excited for it!

JW: Could you tell us more about Theofanidis's A Thousand Cranes

SM: A Thousand Cranes is a symphony for strings and harp based on the story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. It tells of a young girl, Sadako, who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and is trying to survive the ensuing leukemia by folding a thousand paper cranes. She believes that if she can fold a thousand cranes, she will survive, but the disease claims her before she is finished. Christopher Theofanidis wrote a soaring, emotional piece, with a very personal sound world, which was very warmly received by the public in the premiere performances. 

JW: Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?

SM: Next year I will return to PCMS with my trio Tre Voci (with flutist Marina Piccinini and violist Kim Kashkashian), and we will play the US premiere of a new trio by the celebrated Japanese composer Toshio Hosokowa (we will later play it also in a European tour, culminating at Wigmore Hall).

Tre Voci [Marina Piccinini, flute; Kim Kashkashian, viola; Sivan Magen, harp]

I am currently spending a very rewarding semester in Paris, teaching the wonderful harp class at the Paris Conservatory, and I'm looking forward to my upcoming performances in the next few months in New York (with the Israeli Chamber Project, playing an exciting program including my new arrangement of the Mozart G Minor piano quartet as a "harp quartet"), and in festivals in Italy, the Netherlands, and the US (returning to the Marlboro festival, among others).

JW: Our audience loves to hear about the instruments that our artists play. Could you tell us about your harp?

SM: My harp is a special model Lyon & Healy style 23 Gold. It was given to me as part of the First Prize which I won at the International Harp Contest in Israel in 2006. 

Sivan Magen appears in concert with ECCO on Friday, April 21 at 8pm at the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater. For tickets and information, visit the concert page

For more information on Mr. Magen, please visit his website.