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Meet the Musicians

From Counting Cubes to Center Stage: Q&A with Grace Roepke

Grace Roepke with harp
Grace Roepke | Photo by Agnes Szlapka

Musicians come from all over the world to perform at Orchestra Hall, but harpist Grace Roepke’s story started a mere 20 miles away. On June 8 and 9, the Chanhassen native debuts with the Minnesota Orchestra in Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto. Learn about her first memories of the Hall (counting the ceiling cubes at a Young People’s Concert), the difficulties of “schlepping” around a large instrument and why the Ginastera Concerto is one of her favorite pieces to perform.

As a native Minnesotan, what were your first experiences at Orchestra Hall, and what does it mean for you to perform with the Minnesota Orchestra?

My first memories associated with the Minnesota Orchestra are attending Young People’s Concerts with my elementary school. I remember being taken aback by the sheer size of the hall, and of course, trying to count all of the iconic cubes! It also left a huge impression on me, and was one of my inspirations for pursuing a career in music. Before attending those concerts, I really had no idea that you could have a career performing in an orchestra. When I was in high school, I had the privilege of performing in Orchestra Hall with the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphony and Minnesota Youth Symphonies. I never thought I would get to perform in Orchestra Hall again, so getting to perform with the Minnesota Orchestra, especially as a soloist, is quite literally a dream come true!

Can you describe the Ginastera concerto you’ll be playing, and what you enjoy about it?

The Ginastera Harp Concerto is one of the most substantial works in our repertoire, and one of my personal favorite pieces to perform. One thing I enjoy the most about this work is how well it is orchestrated. I feel that Ginastera really highlights the idea of the harp as a percussion instrument, both literally, such as when I physically hit the soundboard of the harp, and texturally, melding our similar timbres together. I also enjoy the solo cadenza that occurs at the beginning of the third movement. Ginastera uses many extended techniques to create an array of different sounds and colors, demonstrating the extent of what the harp is capable of as a solo instrument.

How did you get started on the harp, and did you ever consider other instruments?

I’m actually a third-generation harpist, so while I was growing up we always had a small troubadour harp in our house that my grandmother brought over after I was born. Every year my parents asked if I wanted to take lessons, and the answer was always “no,” until I was 6 and said “yes” for whatever reason. I remember wanting to additionally play the cello, but my parents figured one large instrument was enough for me!

With the harp being one of the larger instruments, do you have any memorable stories about moving yours around?

I think a common mantra among harpists is “have harp, will travel.” At this point, I’m used to schlepping my harp through just about anything: icy sidewalks, stairs, incredibly low ceilings, the list goes on. One memory that sticks out to me is when I had to bring my harp to a chamber music rehearsal at a church I had never been to before. I asked all the standard questions, and was told the rehearsal room had “a few” stairs I’d have to tackle. Once I arrived, I realized our definitions of “a few” were vastly different, and I had to drag my harp up about 30 stairs. Needless to say, we had the rest of our rehearsals at a different location!

What sorts of things do you enjoy spending time on outside of your performing?

When I’m not performing, I always make time to keep up with my Minnesota sports teams. (SKOL Vikings!) Additionally, I enjoy being active, particularly through running, yoga or bike riding, as well as cooking and learning about different cultures through their respective cuisines.

Do you have any advice for young people interested in pursuing a career as a musician?

No dreams are ever too big! With lots of hard work and persistence, you can achieve just about anything.

Hear Grace Roepke perform Ginastera’s Harp Concerto on June 8 and 9 in concerts led by Miguel Harth-Bedoya in a program that also includes two works by Zoltán Kodály and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Capriccio italien.