The extraordinary harpist Maria Christina Cleary from Ireland, “a pioneer of period harp practice” has been described as “a true virtuoso”, and a “brilliant player”. She is noted for her improvisatory skills and ingenious continuo playing, combined with a particular care to creating a beautiful sound on a perilous instrument.
Specialising in historical harps, Maria is part of a rare breed of harpist who performs on medieval harps, the Italian arpa doppia, the Spanish arpa de dos ordenes and the 18th century harpe organisée. She promotes a pedal technique that was exclusively used on harps with a single-action pedal mechanism. She has developed several innovative tunings for performing medieval and renaissance music, which can heard on recordings with Ensemble Tetraktys.
She has performed as soloist with, among others, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, American Bach Soloists, Bayerische Staatsoper, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Arion Ensemble Montreal and the RTE Concert Orchestra. In 2014, Maria was invited to perform a Concerto by J. B. Krumpholtz with the Orchestra of the Antipodes at the The World Harp Congress in Sydney. This was the first time the harpe organisée was featured at the Congress. Maria performs regularly with Davide Monti under the name Arparla, a violin and harp duo specialising in repertoire from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
Her recordings include So mach’ die Augen zu, the first ever CD of Louis Spohr’s music using original instruments and historical performing practices. Other solo recordings of works by Frescobaldi, Merula, Uccellini and Rossi can be found in Arparla's CDs: Le Grazie del Violino, Uccellini Op 5, Uccellini Op 4. Le Grazie del Violino is the first ever CD using the harp exclusively as an accompanying and solo instrument.
She has been prizewinner at the following competitions as soloist: Utrecht Early Music Competition (First Prize ex-aequo, 1997), Nippon International Harp Competition (sixth prize, 1996), Dutch National Harp Competition (second prize, 1997). As an orchestral player she has worked as Principal Harpist in the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest Amsterdam and further held the position of harpist of the RTE Concert Orchestra Dublin. Maria has worked for years in the area of contemporary music, with MusikFabrik Köln and Remix Ensemble Porto. She has premièred over fifty pieces for solo harp and harp in ensemble, including Arc Song by T. Hosakawa at the Darmstadt Festival in 2002 with Peter Veale (oboe).
Maria holds Bachelor and Master's degrees from Dublin, London, Den Haag and Bruxelles, where she studied with Susanna Mildonian. She is currently completing an artistic Ph.D. at Leiden University, The Netherlands.
Maria teaches historical styles, improvisation and chamber music to both modern and historical harpists. She has taught at the Guildhall School of Music London, Conservatories of Singapore, Brisbane, Venice, Padova (2005-2008), Krakow Academy of Music, Sibelius Academy Helsinki and the Haute École de Musique de Genève. She holds the position of historical harp professor in Verona Conservatory, Italy. In 2016 she will join the renowned team of teachers at Urbino Summer Music course and will give a masterclass at the Juilliard School of Music New York.