Born: August 1st in San Francisco, CA
Resides in: San Francisco
Favorite Food: Believe it, or not… hot dogs & root beer floats!
Favorite Book: Film history books
Favorite Composers: Astor Piazzolla, Joaquin Rodrigo, Manuel De Falla, Prokofiev, Ravel… I have so many favorites.
Relationship Status/Children: One son
When did you hear the harp for the first time? I was 5 years old… I remember the exact day I decided I wanted to play the harp. My parents were both musicians, so we were raised listening to classical music. They had on a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet and as a 5 year old, I put my ear to the speaker and listened to the beautiful harp solo… over and over… and over again! It was entrancing and magical… I couldn’t get enough of it! I begged my parents for two years to play the harp and finally started lessons when I was 7 years old.
There are different kinds of harp, what kind of harp do you play? I perform on a Concert Grand Pedal harp. I have several harps, each one is unique in its tone and character. I have an incredible Art Deco Lyon & Healy Salzedo model that was the showcase harp for the National Conference of the American Harp Society, it was originally purchased by the harpist with the SF Ballet, but he passed away soon after. It is the most fantastic harp and cuts through an entire orchestra. I feel very blessed in many ways to be its owner. I was renting it for a while and when his sister offered it to me, it was the day after that we all realized it was on his birthday that it all came to be. I have a one-of-a-kind Horngacher Harp from Germany, that belonged to the Sydney Opera harpist. It has a special 8th dampening pedal and pick-ups built into the sounding board. Another harp was given to me by a college as they wanted it to be played on and not gathering dust…it’s a beautiful refurbished gold harp from the 1920’s. The other 2 were my first harps that I owned, a custom built Lyon & Heal #23 & and a #15 (a student harp that I’m renting out).
What did you listen to as a teenager? Beatles, Michael Jackson, Earth, Wind & Fire, Journey, Oldies Rock & Roll, Styx, The Cars
What do you listen to now? Classical & Tango
What is your musical training? I studied at the SF Conservatory of Music, Notre Dame de Namur University. My teachers were Efrat Zaklad (at the Conservatory), Marjorie Chauvel at Notre Dame and Stanford, and privately with Doug Rioth with the SF Symphony, and Alice Chalifoux (Salzedo Harp Colony in Maine).
If you’re not listening to classical music, what are you listening to? Tango, Movie Soundtracks, Old 40's, Swing, 50's, 60's, Christian Music and Catholic Radio.
Is there music you listen to that might surprise us? I have a CD of “Spy” music that I just love to listen to with the music from the great spy TV shows and movies…Mission Impossible, James Bond movies, The Avengers, Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest, etc. I have it in the car to play automatically when I get in! My son and I have a lot of fun with that one!
Why do you think classical music endures? Good music transcends time. I believe that we are connecting with true human emotions that all mankind, human beings have felt since the beginning of time. No barriers of time. It's as if time stops and we are in the eternal “Now.” Composers have the gift of translating their emotions into a language that can be understood by all. There are no racial barriers when it comes to classical music. When we listen to good classical music, it touches our emotions and we are connected with the composer. I feel that we, as musicians, are the interpreters. We are connecting the composer's emotions, joining it with our own and adding our human life experiences to it and then presenting it to the listener. The listener then relates these emotions to their own human experience. Music can take us to a deeper level of emotion that we might not ever be able to experience without it. We connect with the listener in a very spiritual way through music. I also think it connects us to God. I believe music is truly a gift from Heaven.
Where did you go to school? I went to Mercy High School in San Francisco and for a brief time at San Francisco State University.
Have your tastes in music changed as you get older? Absolutely! I would not have been able to handle listening to 20th century music when I was young, but now I really enjoy the sound of dissonance and how it can be manipulated musically by the great 20th century composers. I remember studying a Ravel's Introduction and Allegro when I was in high school and thought it was boring. I can't believe that I could be so narrow minded. I play it now and it's one of my most favorite pieces of all…such elegant, sophisticated layers. I would struggle with understanding Mahler, and thought his music was too heavy, but now I can appreciate the depth of his music and always find new insights to his music. Hindemith & Ginastera would have been above my head, but now I enjoy the unpredictable!
What is on the program for October’s Vallejo Symphony concert at The Empress Theatre? The orchestra will be perform a Mozart Overture, I will be performing a Tango Suite by Piazzolla, Ziegler and Binelli; and then a Mendlessohn Symphony for the 2nd half of the program.
You’ve released two Christmas CD’s, and it’s October, so it’s not too early to start thinking about Christmas! What’s your favorite Christmas song? I love all Christmas music, its a time of joy and celebration, but also of deep introspection, and the music reflects all of that… it's difficult to choose, but if I have to it would be a toss up between “O Holy Night,” “Carol of the Bells,” and “Mary Did You Know?”
Besides soloing with orchestras like the Vallejo Symphony, what other musical projects are you involved in? I have a national touring group: Tango del Cielo (Tango from Heaven). It consists of harp, violin, cello, percussion with Tango and Flamenco dance. It is a multi-media production with film art, lighting, scenery, props, vignettes… a unique theatrical music and dance program full of surprises. It starts out as a traditional musical concert but stretches the envelope as each piece progresses. It explores the relationship between music and dance and how music "inspires" the dance. It is not your normal music concert or dance production. All members perform in a different interactive manner. I also get up and dance with a surprise tango partner. I created the concept and am happy it has become a success. We have an agent who books us around the country. We won a featured showcase spot at a recent national conference for presenters, agents, and managers. I was also invited to audition with my group for the America's Got Talent Television show. An orchestra in Florida is interested in doing my Tango del Cielo show with a full orchestra. We are exploring that idea at the moment. There is a film company that has been filming the "Harp Tango" project and it's progress with the goal of creating a documentary.
For those of us that don’t know, what makes tango music tango music? The rhythm is the most important element in tango music. It is full of syncopations and accents in very specific places to inspire and accompany the dance. It has a long history with rhythmic roots in Africa, then brought over to South America in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Popular at first in the "Red Light" districts of Argentina, but tango eventually made its way to European high society. Traditional tangos were strictly enforced in Argentina and Piazzolla was not welcomed by his own country. He stretched the limits for tango form. He was born in Argentina, lived in NY next to the jazz clubs, studied composition with Ginastera and Nadia Boulanger and incorporated 20th century elements.
Anna Maria Mendieta will be performing Astor Piazzolla’s “Tango Suite” with the Vallejo Symphony at The Empress Theatre in Vallejo on Saturday, October 20, 2012.