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Celebrating Pat O'Brien: lute guru, guitar teacher, noted contributor to the revival of early harps, a founder member of The Harp Consort, a revered mentor and a dear friend.

Pat O’Brien, lute and guitar guru, was also a charismatic influence on the revival of historical harps. In 1986 he contributed to the pioneering Early Harp conference in Basel, and over the next few years taught at the influential Bremen Harps & Lutes events. He was a founder member of The Harp Consort, appearing in many concerts and on the CDs Luz y Norte, Carolan’s Harp and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. With the New York Continuo Collective he facilitated a creative dialogue between harpists, lutenists and singers. He also taught at the Julliard School.


Most of today’s leading early harpists and lutenists benefitted from Pat’s insightful and authoritative teaching. Many of us are privileged to have known him as a friend, a larger-than-life character whose powerful presence we sadly miss, even whilst the inspiration of his work lives on.


Pat's influence on the worlds of lute-, early guitar- and early harp-playing is beyond measure. But here is a story - amongst so many others - that will introduce you to one part of his legacy to Historically Informed Performance...


When we made the first recording with The Harp Consort, the Spanish and South American dance-music of Luz y norte, in 1994, it was Pat who solved the puzzle of the quartet of baroque guitars. It had long been known that multiple guitars were a feature of Spanish baroque music, and there is a famous description of how four guitarists, 'dressed in black, with cloaks and daggers in the Spanish manner, stood in front of the dancers and turned their backs to the audience' in order to accompany, perhaps even lead the performance, of a Spanish baile. But no-one had recreated this ensemble, let alone made it sound good.


It was Pat who realised that the four guitars must all be different sizes, tuned differently in soprano, alto, tenor and bass registers, just like any other renaissance consort. It's obvious once you see it, but it was Pat who saw it first. And of course, we see ensembles of multiple strummed instruments of various sizes throughout Central and South American folk traditions.


So the Luz y norte sound -now accepted as the typical sound of Spanish baroque continuo, with a Spanish harp at the centre of a consort of guitars at different pitches - was Pat's inspiration. I still remember the look on everyone's faces as we heard it for the first time in Xacaras.


And I remember Pat's huge laugh as we finished the winning take of Galliardas, strumming guitars in friendly competition and sparkling cross-rhythms. To make the story perfect, we managed to edit the laugh out of the take, and that's the take on the CD.


But if I close my eyes I will always hear his laugh...


 Vaya con Dios, Pat


Xacaras from Luz y norte

The Harp Consort directed by Andrew Lawrence-King (Spanish harp)

featuring Pat O'Brien

Galliardas from Luz y norte

The Harp Consort directed by Andrew Lawrence-King (Spanish harp)

featuring Pat O'Brien

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