The difficulty of transporting a 50-kilogram instrument hasn't deterred musicians from across Israel from traveling to Tel Aviv this week to meet with Renzo Ferazzino, an Italian whose current trip to Israel makes him the only professional harp technician in the country. Here through Monday's final round of the triennial International Harp Competition, Ferazzino is filling a great void for Israeli harp players, who under normal circumstances must leave the country to get their instruments fixed.
Ferazzino has traveled to Israel for the last two harp competitions as well, servicing not only competitors' harps but also those of local amateurs.
A trained oboist and teacher of the instrument, Ferazzino says he found the world of the harp by chance. "A friend introduced me to the harp manufacturer Salvi, and the rest is history," he said, speaking in Tel Aviv earlier this week with the help of a translator. "Now I have been working with harps for the past eight years."
A worldwide dearth of harp technicians has made Ferazzino a commodity in his profession, with the Italian musician traveling all over Europe as part of his work. The Salvi harp factory itself has only five technicians, he says. "It is very hard to be a technician," he notes, identifying the harp's unique design as a challenge for his would-be colleagues. "It's not like a piano," he says.
Started in 1959, Israel's International Harp Competition is considered one of the most prestigious. "This is the most difficult and oldest competition in the world," says Giuliano Mattioli, a competitor from Milan who made it to the second round. Some 23 competitors and 10 judges arrived in Israel for this year's competition, with the more than 15 countries represented including South Korea, Mexico, Japan and nations across western Europe.
Ferazzino will have worked on more than 30 harps by the end of his 20-day stay in Israel. Each harp requires three to four hours of attention, he says, with the customers seeking his help ranging from amateurs to members of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Ferazzino begins his work by examining the felt pads that cover the seven pedals at the base of the harp. A sensitive part of the instrument, the pedals are used to change the instrument's pitch by changing the tension of the strings. Worn-out felt pads make noise when they come into contact with the harp's wooden base, and can affect the musician's ability to control the instrument's pitch.
After completing a general check-up on each instrument by examining the small discs located at the top of each string, Ferazzino speaks with his customers about concerns they have about their individual instruments. "Often the musicians will say they are having a specific problem or that they don't like something, and I will work on it with them," he says.
"It's often a team effort to get [the instrument] perfect," Mattioli adds.
The fact that Ferazzino is not a harpist himself doesn't impede his ability to work with the instrument. "It's just a matter of [technical] expertise and knowledge," he says. Being a musician does help him, he says, by allowing him to understand problems with performing, intonation and other issues.
He says he's enjoying his current trip and has been impressed with the community of local harp lovers. "Musically, the level here is very high," he says. "I love the passion of Israeli musicians and their love of music. For me, music is a universal need [that] can help people deal with problems and bring them together."
He has three more days of the harp competition to attend, with the semi-finals scheduled to take place today and Friday at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the final set for late Monday afternoon at the Jerusalem Theater. The winner of the competition will receive a gold-plated harp worth $55,000.
Between tune-ups, Ferazzino explains that one of the major challenges facing harp technicians is the instrument's constant evolution and the creation of new models. "You always have to get updated," he says.