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World Harp Festival comes to Vancouver

Deep Cove resident Elizabeth Volpé Bligh has been the principal harpist of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra since 1982, but for the past four years she has had to become an event planner and business administrator extraordinaire

Well, sort of.

Bligh is the chairwoman of the World Harp Congress host committee and she has been the key figure in bringing the World Harp Festival to Vancouver this summer. Bligh will readily admit that when she began the project she had no idea what she was getting herself into.

"A local harpist took me out for coffee one day and buttered me up and asked if I would mind taking over the World Harp Festival for Vancouver," Bligh said while laughing. "I didn't really know what I was agreeing to, and then in 2008 I went to my first one in Amsterdam and realized what I had committed to. But once I say I am going to do something, I do it."

The World Harp Festival is an event that occurs every three years and is usually hosted in a European city. The last time it was in North America was in 1996 in Tacoma, Wash. The festival attracts internationally renowned harpists from the across the world. In Vancouver these musicians will perform solo pieces, along with performances done in conjunction with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

The seven-day event, running from July 24 to 30, will include workshops, panel discussions, lectures and three VSO concerts, two of which will be held at the Orpheum.

Everything will be held in the heart of Vancouver's downtown core, as Bligh wanted each event to be within walking distance of the festival's congress center at the Sheraton Wall Centre. It is here that Bligh will be spending most of her time, and where harp enthusiasts will be able to purchase harps, strings and accessories.

With the festival only a week away everything seems to be coming into place, but Bligh relates that in the formative stages, four years ago, planning the festival seemed like an insurmountable task.

"I have learned so much in four years. It has been a huge, steep learning curve for me," said Bligh. "When I started off I was just groping in the dark. Just learning how to use an Excel spreadsheet was something I never knew before."

For all of the difficulty it entailed, Bligh said the process has been incredibly rewarding and she is thrilled that Vancouver is getting the chance to host the festival, as it will be a once in a lifetime event.

"I am very excited about next week, when I look at the people that are coming I pinch myself," she said.

"They are the top of the top and the fact that they are willing to come play (in Vancouver) just floors me."

Bligh, herself, will not be performing. She said that the amount of time she has had to spend organizing has prevented her from practising her music sufficiently. Luckily for Bligh, event organizers are guaranteed a spot in the next World Harp Festival. That one will be in Australia in 2014.

Bligh said she will be there, and is looking forward to worrying about her harp and not Excel spreadsheets.

For more information about the World Harp Festival, visit www.worldharpcongress2011. com.

dfenton@nsnews.com