The International Harp Contest in Israel celebrates its fiftieth anniversary in October 2009. This prestigious Contest was the first in the world to showcase this time-old instrument, which originated in the ancient Middle East.
The Israeli government decided to name the Contest after its founder, Aharon Zvi Propes. While working in the Prime Minister’s office, Propes was among the planners of Israel’s 10th anniversary celebrations. He is also credited with initiating and heading the Zimriya (World Assembly of Choirs) and the Israel Festival until his death in 1978.
The harp is mentioned numerous times in the Bible. It was used by Priests, Levites and Prophets and was part of the rituals and ceremonies held in the Temple in Jerusalem. The oldest known harp, dating back to approximately 3000 BCE, is the “Ur of the Chaldees Harp”, located in a museum in Baghdad. There is an Egyptian harp dating from a similar period in the Louvre in Paris and an ivory engraving depicting a harpist found in Megiddo is displayed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
The double action "concert harp", which was first produced in France in the early 19th century, has 47 strings, seven double pedals and a sound box. Today, the harp is played in orchestras, chamber ensembles and solo performances. The Harp Contest in Israel has contributed greatly to the composition of harp music and each time the Contest is held, a prize is awarded for the best performance of an Israeli work.
Prize recipients from previous Contests, held in Israel every three years, currently hold senior positions in orchestras throughout the world and teach in the most renowned music schools. The harp is also currently used in light music and jazz.
The harp has inspired many artists, the most prominent of whom was Rembrandt. The tapestry by Marc Chagall that adorns the Knesset entry hall depicts King David playing the harp on his way to Jerusalem and the Israeli half-shekel coin features a harp from Bar Kochva’s era.
Since its inception in 1959, the Contest in Israel draws the greatest harpists, composers and musicians from around the world. Previous first prize winners will attend the 50th anniversary Contest, taking part in the gala opening concert and serving as members of the international jury panel, headed by Maestro Zubin Mehta.
The ancient harp played by King David has changed considerably through the ages, but thanks to the International Contest, the harp retains a central place in Israel's musical culture and focuses international attention on our country. We appreciate the efforts of those who have worked in the past and the present to achieve this goal.
Chairperson, The International Harp Contest In Israel