Magazine article American Harp Journal

Ann Hobson Pilot's Continuing Legacy

Magazine article American Harp Journal

Ann Hobson Pilot's Continuing Legacy

Article excerpt

HER daily warm-ups no longer include orchestral excerpts. The Waltz of the Flowers cadenza no longer resonates through her studio. But Ann Hobson Pilot's stellar career is far from over. Now when she plays with an orchestra, she sits in front, in the place of honor, as soloist, as she performs as guest artist with orchestras across the country. Her other favorite seat is beside the next generation of harpists as Pilot continues to teach, a vocation almost as dear to her heart as performing.

In 2009, Ann Hobson Pilot retired from the Boston Symphony Orchestra after forty years with the orchestra. To honor her, the symphony commissioned Oscar-winning composer John Williams to write a new harp concerto, On Willows and Birches, which received its premier in the fall of 2009, with performances in both Boston's Symphony Hall and also at the BSO's opening Carnegie Hall concert in October, with Pilot performing to great critical acclaim the work written in her honor.

Since its premier, Pilot has been asked to perform the two-movement work with orchestras both large and small across the country. As principal harpist first with the Boston Pops and then with the Boston Symphony, Pilot has often performed concerti. She has always enjoyed being the soloist, although she notes that an orchestral harpist is always a soloist, whether sitting up front or back with the other members of the orchestra.

This new career move has been both a surprise and a pleasure. At a time in her life when many are content to relax, Pilot now finds herself listed with a management agent, Michael Aiken of Spring LCC in New York, something orchestra members may dream of but rarely achieve. While she has performed the Ginastera Concerto, the Mozart Concerto for flute and harp, the Debussy Danses and the Ravel Introduction and Allegro as well as Grant Still's Ennanga, she especially enjoys performing the Williams piece written for her. In her typical modest and understated fashion, she speaks of performing the difficult Williams piece as an opportunity to "showcase the Williams Concerto," and is thrilled that On Willows and Birches has been chosen as the concerto in the next Israel competition.

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In 2010, Ann Hobson Pilot was the subject of a thirty-minute documentary, produced by Susan Dangel, and available for viewing through the stations of APT (American Public Television), entitled A Harpist's Legacy--Ann Hobson Pilot and the Sound of Change. The film traces Pilot's career from age fourteen when she switched from piano to harp lessons in her hometown of Philadelphia, to her principal harp positions, first in Washington with the National Symphony and then in Boston. As the film clearly shows, Pilot's professional achievements were not simply personal but rather achievements which, in the words of the film, "broke the color barrier and the gender barrier," as she became the first African American woman ever to hold a principal position in an American orchestra.

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Actually, this is the second made-for-TV documentary about Pilot. The first, Ann Hobson Pilot: A Musical Journey, was filmed in the late 1990's and aired over US Public Television. It followed Pilot as she soloed with the National Symphony of Johannesburg and then journeyed with her husband, Prentice, into the bush of Namibia to explore the origins of the harp in Africa.

The new documentary celebrates Pilot's career. John Williams, as conductor of the Boston Pops, worked with Pilot for over thirty years. In the film, he says, "She is a magician in the harp world. …

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