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Kernersville native Taylor Fleshman makes history with “lost” work by Russian composer on harp
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Kernersville native Taylor Fleshman makes history with “lost” work by Russian composer on harp

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Taylor Ann

March 2015

In January 2019, when harpist Taylor Fleshman’s big day arrived to travel from the United States to Russia to perform as a soloist on a recording session with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, a winter storm was dumping snow in parts of the West, Midwest and Northeast.

At the time, Fleshman was a student at Indiana University and wasn’t sure what to do because her airplane flight had been canceled.

“I was on the phone with the Moscow people, and they were like ‘No, you have to be here,’” she said. “By the time I would have landed in Moscow, the recording session was in less than 24 hours, so I couldn’t wait one day, even to fly in.”

Luckily, she was able to book another flight to Moscow.

In less than 24 hours, she was in a recording studio and recording Alexander Mosolov’s “lost” Concerto for Harp and Orchestra with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.

“Without any rehearsal, we just went straight into recording,” Fleshman said.

On Dec. 4, the Moscow Symphony Orchestra made history with the release of rare works by composer Alexander Mosolov on CD. Mosolov was one of the foremost composers of the Russian avant-garde during the 1920s. Available on the Naxos label, the CD features Mosolov’s Symphony No. 5, as well as his “lost” Concerto for Harp and Orchestra.

Mosolov’s Concerto for Harp and Orchestra premiered in December 1939 but had never been completely performed.

Fleshman, 24, started playing the piano when she was 5, then began harp lessons when she was 7.

She said her father asked if she would like to play the instrument one day on their way home from church.

“At the age of 7, I hardly knew anything about the instrument, except for the fact that David played the harp in the Bible,” Fleshman said.

A native of Kernersville, Fleshman now lives in New York state where she holds the principal harp position for The Orchestra Now.

She graduated from high school at the UNC School of the Arts. She earned a bachelor of music degree, concentrating in harp performance, from the University of Cincinnati; and a master of music degree, concentrating in harp performance, as the Jacob’s School of Music Harp Fellow at Indiana University.

The opportunity to perform with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra started when she attended the PRISMA Music Festival in British Columbia, Canada, in 2018 and won the festival’s concerto competition. While there, she met Arthur Arnold, conductor of Moscow Symphony Orchestra and co-founder and music director of PRISMA, who invited her to Moscow.

Initially, she thought she would be part of Moscow Symphony Orchestra and play in the back, but then Arnold contacted her about the Naxos recording and later asked her about being the soloist for Moscolov’s “lost” Concerto for Harp and Orchestra and recording the CD.

“I said yes, immediately,” Fleshman said. “I don’t think it really hit me until a few days later of like what I’d just committed to. That’s, like, a really big deal in classical music, and it was a harp concerto that had never been recorded before.”

Q: How would you describe your art?

Answer: There’s nothing quite like playing the harp. The range of music the instrument can make is endless from jazz improvisation to virtuosic classical pieces to pop accompaniment. It can be gentle; for example, it is used for healing and soothing both physical and emotional problems in people that are in retirement homes or intensive care units. Or, the harp can be very aggressive and demand a commanding presence like performing in front of an entire orchestra.

It has a larger range than most instruments. The concert grand harp, which is the biggest and the standard size for professional harpists, is six and a half octaves. Many people believe that it is one of the most difficult instruments to play because, in addition to reading two staves like pianists, there are seven pedals and three positions for each pedal that the feet must press. It is no doubt a formidable instrument, but once you learn it, it is very versatile and rewarding.

Q: How have you evolved as an artist?

Answer: I started out as a 7-year-old kid playing for my own enjoyment in church and school. Later, I started entering competitions through my elementary school and eventually joined the high school program at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

During my secondary schooling, I came to the realization that I enjoyed this instrument not only because it brought personal gratification when playing in a group but also because of the reaction it could evoke from people when they listen to it.

From there, my life as an artist changed. I started taking professional symphony gigs and doing state, national and international competitions. Traveling around opened up an international perspective for me, culturally and musically. I started off as a kid who liked playing for fun, and now I sit down for hours a day physically playing and mentally studying my scores wondering what the composer wanted and how to shape phrases.

Q: Who has influenced your art?

Answer: Throughout the course of my studies, my harp teachers, Florence Sitruk, Gillian Sella and Jacquelyn Bartlett have greatly influenced me. I always admired their creativity and hard work. The biggest take-away I received from them was to believe in myself (Sitruk), to find the strategy to play clean and near perfect (Sella), and to not make any excuses in your field (Bartlett).

Additionally, my parents influenced me greatly. After all they were the ones who suggested the instrument. I hardly knew what a harp was at the age of 7 except for the fact that David played the harp in the Bible. My parents did not play or read music like many other classical musicians’ parents did, but they were my biggest supporters and taught me exceptional time-management and focus habits.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

Answer: One of my biggest challenges is trying not to compare myself to other colleagues in my field. There will always be someone better than you out there, an opportunity that you were dying for but someone else obtained, or a specific path that many other people are following. That can build up a lot of pressure creating so much inner turmoil. I keep reminding myself along the way that my path can look different yet still be rewarding and successful. There is not a cookie cutter path in the music field or the arts in general.

Q: What does art do for you?

Answer: Playing the harp used to relax me as a child. Now, it keeps my brain constantly working while giving me a creative outlet. It has given me full tuition to college and allowed me to travel the world, which I am very thankful for. I have lived in four states and performed in 15 countries on four continents. It has opened up a world of opportunities.

It keeps me on my toes at all times because the venues, the repertoire and the people are always changing. Sometimes you get performances months out, or you will get a random call to cover for someone in two days. Sometimes you get a week packed full of rehearsals and concerts where you barely have time to eat and sleep, then other weeks where you are completely free so you can go visit your parents. This art brings me joy with its fast-paced, ever changing lifestyle.

Q: Any advice for other artists?

Answer: I have two pieces of advice. The first is to keep pushing yourself even when it gets tough or when you fail. It is inevitable that you are going to fail along the way, or you are going to be faced with difficult decisions to make. But the most important part is that you get back up and try again. The second is to remain positive and remind yourself that you can do it. Trust the process and have faith in yourself.

Contact Fran Daniel at 336-727-7366 or fdaniel@wsjournal.com.

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