Hilary Purrington & JIJI

Harp of Nerves is a bold, ambitious work that delivers a compelling musical narrative over three movements written by Hilary Purrington for amplified classical guitar and orchestra. Commissioned in 2019 by American Composers Orchestra, Purrington wrote the piece for virtuoso guitarist JIJI.

Purrington composed Harp of Nerves over the course of eighteen months. Before writing a single note, she carefully considered the relationship between the solo guitar and the larger ensemble, knowing that this decision would determine much of the work’s musical and dramatic content. Throughout the concerto’s three movements, the orchestra serves as an extension of the guitar. This relationship inspired the work’s distinctive title—the entire ensemble becomes a kind of nervous system with the soloist acting as its control center, tethered to all members of the orchestra.

Throughout the work, there are many moments when the guitarist appears to “activate” another part of the orchestra.

“Sometimes a note or chord that originates from the guitar will radiate outwards into the ensemble, and often the guitarist is the driving force within a passage,” explains Purrington. “In the opening lines, for example, the soloist’s repeated notes activate the texture and push the music forward. And throughout the work, other instruments in the ensemble extend the guitar’s sound palette—an example of this is in the second movement, when the vibraphone doubles the guitar line and creates a new color.”

JIJI was blown away with Purrington’s concept and the mothership (orchestra) that became an extension of her. “I would play a motive and everything is connected to what I was playing. It definitely is a wild experience playing this piece,” she describes. “I love all the details that she carefully thought of regarding what the guitar can do and the way the orchestra responds, supports and becomes an extension of my instrument.”

Harp of Nerves also allowed longtime friends Purrington and JIJI to pursue a long-anticipated collaboration. Their friendship extends back to their graduate school years—while studying at Yale, the two lived together in a wacky pink Victorian house with seven other friends, a place JIJI describes as “bananas and also a paradise,” adding that “it was literally the best chaos I’ve ever been in.” The two shared the top floor and recall many magical nights, including rager parties, elaborate dinners, and even a traditional supra with a Georgian men’s choir that happened to be in town.

Both American Composers Orchestra and JIJI inspired Harp of Nerves, and it wouldn’t exist without their enthusiasm, encouragement and confidence in Purrington’s artistic voice and abilities.


IMAGES: To download, click above. Image one: Hilary Purrington by Ramuel Galarza. Image two: JIJI by Marty Bra.


Hilary Purrington