Native of Ireland, Maria holds degrees from Dublin (ARIAM: Teaching Diploma), London (LTCL: Performance Diploma), Den Haag (UM: Soloist Degree, AKM: Masters in Chamber Music) and Bruxelles (Masters in Performance). She studied harp with Susanna Mildonian and Andrew Lawrence-King.
She has been prize winner at the following competitions as soloist: Utrecht Early Music Competition in 1997 (First Prize ex-aequo), Nippon International Harp Competition in 1996 (sixth prize), Dutch National Harp Competition in 1997 (second prize). She has participated at the International Harp Competitions in Israel, Geneve, Bruxelles and Madrid. 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 Ireland and worked in numerous orchestras in The Netherlands and Germany.
Maria was the harpist of MusikFabrik Koln, a contemporary music ensemble for five years and also worked with Remix Ensemble Porto and Ensemble Prometheus Belgium. She has premièred more than 30 new pieces for ensemble. As soloist she has premièred pieces by D. Dennehy, J. Friedlin, R. Ayres, R. Sims, F. Devresse. With Peter Veale (oboe) she premièred Arc Song by T. Hosakawa at Darmstadt Festival in 2002.
Specialising in historical harps, Maria owns an original classical harp from 1780, arpa doppia, arpa de dos ordenes and many medieval harps. She has developed a chromatic medieval harp where she plays repertoire from the 13th to the 15th century. She has used this instrument on recordings with Tetraktys.
She has performed as soloist with the Portland Baroque Orchestra, Arion Ensemble Montreal and the RTE Concert Orchestra and in 2012 with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. Maria performs regularly with Davide Monti under the name, Arparla, a violin/harp duo specialising in the repertoire from the 17th century to the 19th century. Arparla has recorded their two Duo CDs, So mach’ die Augen zu, of the music of Louis Spohr for violin & harp. This is the first CD of Spohr’s music using historical instruments and historical performing practices. The second CD, Le Grazie del Violino, is Italian music of the 17th century, violin Sonatas and solo pieces for harp. Apralra toured Australia this year to launch their new CD.
Maria has been guest teacher at the Koninklijk Conservatorium The Hague, Guildhall School of Music London, Singapore Conservatory, Brisbane Conservatory, Krakow Academy of Music, and held a teaching post at the Conservatory of Music in Padova from 2005-2008.
She is currently completing a Ph.D in Performing at Leiden University and the Orpheus Instituut Ghent, working on the Krumpholtz family of harpists and composers.
Concert for the festival “Primavera in Musica” in Verona
“The harp, as basso continuo, was more than a simple accompaniment: it sparkled with a soloist’s personality, perfect in articulation and phrasing for a concert that was really well balanced with infinite lyrical possibilities. And the “Toccata” by Georg Muffat contributed to put Cleary on the same level as the violin at every moment, not missing any possibility to interpret this indisputable emotive piece”.
Recording of the CD “So mach’ die Augen zu, Allora chiudi gli occhi” by L. Spohr
“The harp playing is flexible throughout and much more closely approximates the spirit of 19th-century style.”
Clive Brown, Early Music 2010
“…both the Fantasie and The Variations come over as really beautiful in these sensitive performances.”
Newsletter 145 (09/4) The Spohr Society of Great Britain, Dec.’09
“It comes then, as a real joy to hear this recording. Not only is the instrumentation well balanced and completely appropriate, but both players have developed a unified ‘accent’, that rare musical unity bordering on telepathy, that one feels must have existed between the original performers.”
“The power and control of Monti’s violin is more than equalled by Cleary’s elegant, precise and poised command of the harp. Her virtuosic performance couples navigation of some fiendishly difficult pedalling with finger work of enviable tone and power, never sacrificing musical line to technical demand or velocity.”
“The Fantasie (Op. 35)…. due to the combination of the right instrument and Cleary’s insightful performance, the improvisatory nature of the piece revealed, with changes of mood rendered in tones of light and shade of great subtlety and nuance.”
“Here, both instruments show lightness, crispness, sweetness and power in equal measure. Lines are separate, yet intertwined, subtle and flexible as living vines twisting around each other without losing their own identity, but making much more than the sum of the parts.”
Recording of Concerti Op. VI by Dall’Abaco: Il Tempio Armonico
“Also the continuo realisation is highly convincing, where the harp is a featured instrument in six Concerts… (and also is soloist in a short, but emotive Largo of Concerto No. 1 in C major).”
Soloist with Portland Baroque Orchestra , Duo Monica Huggett
“ ….PBO’s special guest for the series was extraordinary Irish harpist Maria Cleary, who plays on modern instruments — she has served as principal harpist of the renowned Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra — and is also a pioneer of period harp practice.
As such, she’s a rare breed: The powerful tension of all those strings has a tendency to turn wood-framed harps into lumber after a century or so.
For these performances, …. the 1808 instrument,…. rang like a bell, hummed and sang with Cleary’s deft, varied touch. Cleary and Huggett made an impressive duet in the Spohr.”
The Oregonian, USA 10.5.2006
La Stagione Armonico l’ Amfiparnaso by Orazio Vecchi
“…Balestracci made a clean sweep of any possible instrumental weight by limiting the “accompaniment” to solo Harp (the brilliant Maria Cristina Cleary).”
La Natione Arezzo, Italy 28.08.2005
Il Tempio Armonico
“…the pages of Giovanni Paolo Cima, Salomone Rossi, Marco Uccellini, Biagio Marini and Tarquinio Merula were also used as a pretext to appreciate the extraordinary interpretative and instrumental skills of the performers: the extremely difficult Toccata Cromatica by Merula came easily to Cleary, a true virtuoso on a perilous instrument. “
L’Arena Verona, Italy 22.09.2004
EnsembleTetraktys Polifona Festival Antwerp
Jill Feldman (soprano), Maria Christina Cleary (harp), Jane Achtman (viol) &
Kees Boeke (recorders & viol)
“….This group’s hour of experimental 14 C music, given in the Elzenveld chapel, was for us the high spot of the whole Polifonia Italiana Festival.”
Academy of Ancient Music, Cecilia Bartoli: Haydn’s Orfeo
“……..(Did) the harp , accompanying Orfeo’s recitativo at the end of the First Act, ever sound so sparkling, clear like water and yet warm?”
NCR Handelsblad The Netherlands 23.1.2001