Siobhán Armstrong is one of Europe’s foremost historical harpists, playing copies of single and multi-row European harps from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the baroque era. With eclectic interests, she is equally at home playing 17th-century Italian opera in some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses, performing as a soloist on Hollywood film soundtracks, and gigging at the world’s biggest traditional music festivals.
was born in Dublin and, from an early age, studied modern harps, piano and voice. While reading Music at Trinity College Dublin, she directed Trinity College Singers, the university’s chamber choir. She also worked professionally as a choral singer, singing with Ireland’s only professional choir, the RTE Chamber Choir, before she specialized in historical harps.
As an Irish harpist, Siobhán is particularly interested in encouraging the revival of the early Irish harp. Strung with wire and played in Ireland from at least 1000, it died out in the early 19th century. To this end, she founded and chairsThe Historical Harp Society of Ireland and is the director of the Society’s annual Scoil na gCláirseach-Summer School of Early Irish Harp. She plays a copy of the late medieval Trinity College or Brian Boru harp - the national emblem of Ireland - strung in brass and 18-carat gold. Her solo recording on this instrument, Cláirseach na hÉireann: The Harp of Ireland, was released in 2004.
Alongside her solo work, Siobhán performs and records 15th- to 18th-century music with many of Europe’s most prestigious historical musicians. She particularly enjoys accompanying vocal music: from plainchant to polyphony to sean-nós song to early opera and chamber music. The latter allows her to practise the art of continuo playing i.e. the art of improvising vocal or instrumental accompaniment from a bass line: a performance idiom found in baroque music. She regularly does this in period instrument productions of 17th-century operas and chamber music by Monteverdi, Rossi and Cavalli, among others, in the main opera houses in Europe and the U.S.A.
Siobhán Armstrong performs with some of the most prestigious soloists, period-instrument ensembles, and conductors in the field of early music such as William Christie & Les Arts Florissants, Erin Headley & Atalante, Christian Curnyn & The Early Opera Company, and Jonathan Cohen & Arcangelo. With these, and other ensembles, she records with Deutsche Grammophon, Sony, Teldec, Virgin Classics, Erato and Dorian. Playing her arpa doppia, she is also a soloist on the soundtrack of MGM’s film, The Merchant of Venice, on Decca.
Siobhan also collaborates with some of the foremost musicians in the Gaelic tradition including, in Ireland: with uilleann piper Ronan Browne and sean-nós singer Róisín Elsafty, in the trio Elsafty, Armstrong & Browne, and in Scotland: with Highland and triple piper Barnaby Brown and sean-nós singer Griogair Labhruidh, in the trio Coracle.
Recent engagements have included an invitation to the Perm State Opera and Ballet in Russia to take part in Peter Sellar’s recent new production of Purcell’s Indian Queen. In 2015 she also participated in the Royal Opera House London’s acclaimed production of Cavalli’s Ormindo at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and represented Ireland at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival, the world’s biggest annual harp event. She has also embarked on a ground-breaking project to produce five CDs documenting musical practice in Ireland 1500 to 1800 with her group, The Irish Consort. Music of Ireland Vol. I: The Kingdom of Ireland 1500-1600 will appear in 2016. This project is kindly funded by the Arts Council Music Recording Scheme, managed by Music Network, and by generous private supporters.
In 2014, Middlesex University, London, awarded her a three-year post-graduate research bursary to pursue PhD studies in early Irish harp performance practice. Siobhán lectures at universities and conservatories in Ireland, the UK and the USA as well as at early music events and harp festivals internationally. She particularly enjoys teaching and coaching harpists (beginners to professionals), singers and instrumentalists, in both Gaelic and European music.
Visit Siobhan’s website for photos, discography, music downloads and more information.