Legendary harpist talks her distinguished career as former Principal Harp for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops, including the many collaborations with John Williams and the premiere of the Harp Concerto On Willows and Birches, composed for her by the Maestro in 2009

Ann Hobson Pilot is one of the most talented women in the classical music who ever performed in United States and also a distinguished international soloist, teacher, mentor and moving force behind music educational programs for underserved minorities. She has been Principal Harp for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops for almost 30 years, from 1980 until his retirement in 2009. She joined the BSO in 1969 as Associate Principal Harp after stints in the Pittsburgh Symphony and Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra where he performed as Principal Harp for 3 years (1966-69). Ann has the distinguished credit of being the very first African-American woman to land a Principal role in an American orchestra, building herself a career through her talent and unique sensibility back in a time where the classical music scene was still a predominant white male-driven environment.

Ann Hobson Pilot started to perform for John Williams in 1980, when the Maestro accepted the post as Principal Conductor of the Boston Pops. After many years performing under former Pops’ music director Arthur Fiedler (who died in 1979), Ann immediately got in perfect harmony with Williams’ musicianship (“he brought a breath of fresh air”, she said) and his own fabulous music. She was frequently featured as soloist in concerts and recordings with the Boston Pops often performing many of the Maestro’s exquisite passages for harp, including music from Schindler’s List, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Harry Potter and Angela’s Ashes, all of which feature extensive writing for harp. Ann was also principal harp on the original soundtrack recording of Schindler’s List, where he performs in duet with violinist Itzhak Perlman.

When Pilot announced her retirement as BSO’s Principal Harp, Williams set to write a Concerto for Harp specifically for her, titled On Willows and Birches. The composer wrote the concerto during the spring and summer of 2009, and the piece was premiered on September 23, 2009, as part of the Opening Night of BSO’s annual subscription season.

In addition to her career as musician, Ann Hobson Pilot spent a lifetime devoted to teaching and mentoring young students in distinguished music schools and conservatories (including the New England Conservatory of Music and Boston University) and appearing in masterclasses and seminars at the Tanglewood Music Institute. She’s currently affiliated with the State College of Florida, in addition to the Tanglewood Music Center and the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. 

In this conversation, Ann talks about her incredible life and career as classical musician, her challenges and obstacles of being an African-American woman playing in an environment predominantly white and male-driven and her many collaborations with John Williams, including the thrill and the honour of having a concerto written for her by the Maestro. She also talks about the recording of the film score for Schindler’s List and many other favourite memories of working together with John Williams for almost 30 years.

For more information, visit https://thelegacyofjohnwilliams.com/2021/02/22/ann-hobson-pilot-podcast/

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