Karen Vaughan

Head of Harp


Harp - Head of Harp

Former Co-principal Harp of the London Symphony Orchestra

Coach at major festivals

Associate Artistic Director, World Harp Congress

Founder member of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Studied at the Royal Academy of Music; Head of Harp since 2010

Karen Vaughan was a founder member of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and often appeared as a concerto soloist. She was then principal harp of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for six years before her return to London in 1984, when she was appointed co-principal harp of the London Symphony Orchestra, a position she held for over thirty years. She played with the LSO under the baton of such eminent conductors as Abbado, Tilson Thomas, Bernstein, Boulez, Haitink, Sir Colin Davis and Gergiev, and collaborated on projects with Sir Paul McCartney, John Williams and Elvis Costello. She can be heard on numerous classical and crossover recordings with the LSO and on the soundtracks for films such as Star Wars, Braveheart, The Queen and Harry Potter.

From 1999 to 2008 she was Professor of Pedal Harp at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama and she has also taught at The Purcell School for musically gifted children. She served on the jury for the 7th USA International Harp Competition in Bloomington in 2007 and for the first European Lyon & Healy Awards, held in Cardiff in 2013. She was President of the jury for the Slovenian Harp Competition held in Belgrade in 2016 and the Chamber Music with Harp Competition in Poland in 2017. She also served on the panel for the Chief Musician category in the 4th Wales International Music Festival in 2018.

She has coached the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, the Pacific Youth Orchestra and the National Youth Orchestra of Spain and has given masterclasses in China, Japan, Portugal and Thailand as well as the UK. She co-founded the HarpMasters Summer Academy FUTURES in Switzerland and the Hong Kong Harpy Summer Academy.

A participant in all the World Harp Congresses since 2002 - in Geneva, Dublin, Amsterdam, Vancouver, Sydney and Hong Kong - Karen serves on the Corporation and Board of Directors of the WHC and is its Associate Artistic Director. The next one will be in the UK for the first time - Cardiff 2020 - and Karen is on the Artistic Committee.

Karen studied piano, flute and harp at the Academy, where she held the Baume (Manx) Scholarship and twice won the Julia Leney Prize for Harp. After she graduated she continued her studies with the great Russian harpist Maria Korchinska and took an active part in the International Harpweeks held in Holland.

Her past pupils have had considerable success in national and international competitions and hold orchestral and teaching positions worldwide. Anne Denholm, the former Official Harpist to The Prince of Wales, is an Academy student of hers.

Personal philosophy of teaching

Alongside my performing career of over forty years I have always loved to teach and being head of a relatively small department means I really get to know every student. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a wonderful team of experts who deliver specialist classes in orchestral playing, contemporary techniques, sight reading, jazz, technique, opera and early harp. Our aim is to prepare students for the many-faceted life of a professional musician by providing them with the skills to tackle anything they are asked to take on! We encourage the initiative and creativity necessary for a portfolio career in music and our alumni are a testament to the success of their years at the Academy.

Selected recordings

I have been an orchestral player for forty-five years, starting my career in Scotland with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra and then moving back to London, where I played with the London Symphony Orchestra from 1984 to 2015. I have covered a tremendous variety of genres such as ballet, opera, symphonic repertoire, light music and film sessions and can be heard on numerous classical and crossover recordings, mostly with the LSO.

Candide conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Deutsche Grammophon

Elvis Costello’s ballet Il Sogno conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas

Debussy works for LSO Live conducted by Valery Gergiev

Paul McCartney’s Standing Stone. EMI

Puccini’s La Rondine conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano. EMI Classics

Christmas with You with Natalie Cole. Hallmark

Smetana’s Vyšehrad from Má Vlast for LSO Live under Sir Colin Davis

Film soundtrack for The Queen by Alexandre Desplat

Ridout’s Concerto for Flute, Harp and Strings with Paul Edmund-Davies

Harp masterclasses for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra in 2008 and 2010

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