L.A. Studio Legends: JoAnn Turovsky

Photo © Colburn Faculty

Harpist extraordinaire talks her career both as a classical musician and studio recording artist, including her many collaborations with John Williams on such scores as Angela’s Ashes, A.I. Artificial Intelligence and The Book Thief

Hosted by Maurizio Caschetto

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Harp is an instrument very dear to John Williams as it’s often prominently featured in a lot of his film and concert music. Harpist extraordinaire JoAnn Turovsky has possibly the longest and most impressive track record of playing a lot of John Williams’ harp parts over the last three decades as his favoured principal harp for studio recordings in Los Angeles. Turovsky is heard playing exquisite harp solos on some of the composer’s most lyrical and haunting film scores including Angela’s Ashes, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Munich and The Book Thief. Turovsky’s impeccable playing can be appreciated even when not playing a solo part, but when accompanying and enriching the orchestral texture, as the harp is used by Williams like a master orchestrator would do.

JoAnn Turovsky playing during a film session (photo courtesy of Dan Goldwasser/ScoringSessions.com)

JoAnn Turovksy is one of the most accomplished and talented harpists in the world. She is Principal Harp of several Los Angeles-based orchestras: the L.A. Opera orchestra, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. In a career spanning now four decades, Turovsky has been lauded and revered with many accolades: she is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the American Harp Society; Turovsky’s numerous awards and citations include first prize in the American Harp Society National Competition (Young Professional Division), the first prize in the Coleman Competition for Chamber Music, prizewinner at the Fifth International Harp Competition in Jerusalem, Israel, an award from the Young Musicians Foundation and the Schoenfeld Artist/Teacher award in harp from the California Chapter of the American String Teachers’ Association. She is also chair of the American Harp Society National Competition.

In addition to her classical career, JoAnn Turovsky has performed in hundreds of film and television assignments, often in the role of principal harp. Her work includes recording film scores with some of the most famous composers in the industry including John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Alan Silvestri, Bruce Broughton, Randy Newman, James Newton Howard among many others. Beyond her above-mentioned work for John Williams, she can be heard playing solos on such scores as Avatar, Karate Kid, Toy Story, The Kite Runner.

JoAnn Turovsky playing during a film session (photo courtesy of Dan Goldwasser/ScoringSessions.com)

JoAnn Turovsky inherited first chair on film soundtracks from some of the most talented harpists of all time that became legends of their own: Dorothy Remsen, Catherine Gotthoffer and Ann Stockton. Between the 1940s and the 1980s, these three women have played in literally thousands of film and television projects for all the greatest composers, including some of the world’s most successful films; and in addition to that, they performed as classical artists for some of the 20th century icons who were living in Los Angeles at the time including Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg. The legacy of these harpists continue to live through the magnificent playing of musicians like JoAnn Turovsky, who started to play for John Williams after Dorothy Remsen and Ann Stockton (both favourite performers for Williams) retired. Turovsky’s first assignments were on such scores as Sabrina, Nixon and Seven Years in Tibet, but the first major work for John Williams arrived in 1999, when she was prominently featured as soloist on the score for Angela’s Ashes, the drama directed by Alan Parker based on Frank McCourt’s best-selling novel. Turovksy’s harp is heard playing in delicate chamber-like duet, trio and quartet together with piano (Randy Kerber), cello (Steve Erdody) and oboe (John Ellis), but it’s also featured in a huge unaccompained solo piece (“The Lanes of Limerick”) that subsequently became a true staple for harpists around the world, being also used as a piece for international harp competitions.

Yo-Yo Ma, Steve Erdody and JoAnn Turovsky playing a chamber session with John Williams for Memoirs of a Geisha at UCLA’s Royce Hall, Los Angeles (2005)

Turovsky has also been prominently featured on A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), Catch Me If You Can (2002), The Terminal (2004), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Munich (2005) and also had prominent solos on The Book Thief (2013) and The BFG (2016). She also played principal harp on all three Star Wars sequels by John Williams recorded in Los Angeles.

JoAnn has also been a professor of harp at the USC Thornton School of Music for the past three decades and sits on the faculty of the Colburn Conservatory of Music and the Colburn School of Performing Arts, teaching the next generation of harpists. “First and foremost, we are all musicians and unique individuals. I strive to encourage, guide, mentor, and prepare young harpists for success in a rapidly changing world.” said Turovsky about her teaching philosophy.

JoAnn Turovsky playing during a film session (photo courtesy of Dan Goldwasser/ScoringSessions.com)

In this conversation, JoAnn Turovsky talks about her impressive career as a classical and studio musician, remembering her many experiences playing for John Williams, including her solo work for Angela’s Ashes and The Book Thief, but also illuminating on the composer’s use of harp and how he let the instrument shine within the orchestral palette.

List of musical excerpts featured in the episode

. Maurice Ravel, Le Tombeau de Couperin, III. Minuet (Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jaime Martìn – Live recording at Alex Theatre, Los Angeles, November 2019)
. “The Beginning of a Friendship” from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
. “(In The) Moonlight” from Sabrina (1995)
. “The Lanes of Limerick” from Angela’s Ashes (1999)
. “Avner and Daphna” from Munich (2005)
. “A New Name… A New Life” from Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
. “Bonding” from Munich (2005)
. “Obi-Wan” from Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022)
. “Gupta’s Deliverance” and “A Happy Navorski Ending” from The Terminal (2004)
. “Jellyfish” from The Book Thief (2013)
. Excerpt from “Happy Birthday Variations” (recorded in 2002 at Sony Scoring Stage)
. “The Specialist Visits” from A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
. “Sophie’s Future” from The BFG (2016)
. “Ilsa’s Library” from The Book Thief (2013)
. “My Mother Begging” from Angela’s Ashes (1999)