On July 26, 2020, Patrick Kersalé was invited by H.E. Phoeurng Sackona, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts of Cambodia to guide Her to the Angkor temples, accompanied by H.E. Hang Peou, Deputy Director General of the APSARA National Authority and a delegation of officials and archaeologists. The program presented “About Angkorian music and dance”. Visit to Angkor Wat, Preah Khan and Bayon.
The return of the Khmer harp to the Royal Ballet of Cambodia is a major cultural event in the country's musical history. In the 12th-13th centuries, the court orchestra of King Jayavarman VII was composed of harps. The bas-reliefs of this period are an indisputable proof of this. However, this instrument gradually disappeared from the 14th-15th centuries, only to reappear in Cambodia in 2012 under the initiative of the French ethnomusicologist Patrick Kersalé.
In December 2018, Her Royal Highness Princess Norodom Buppha Devi informed Patrick Kersalé of her wish to highlight the Khmer harp in the actual work "Dance Apsara" which would be performed in the presence of His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni at the Elephant Terrace as part of the 25th anniversary of the CIC Angkor. But two disparate harps, with no symbolic relationship with those of the ancient courts, were loaned for the occasion by the Royal University of Fine Arts. In order to reintegrate the harp into the Royal Ballet in a sustainable and consistent manner, Sounds of Angkor took the initiative of proposing to endow the Royal Ballet with two exceptional harps reconstructed according to its most recent research.
So, as part of its know-how and its mission to promote the musical culture of Cambodia, Sounds of Angkor proposed in March 2019 to the late Royal Highness Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, Director of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia (UNESCO Heritage), to donate two exceptional Khmer harps. This proposal was immediately accepted by the Princess.
In addition to making a donation to the Royal Ballet, other objectives are being pursued:
Sounds of Angkor opted for two harps with Garuda heads, inspired by the bas-reliefs of the Bayon and the Elephant Terrace (early 13th century). About their technological characteristics:
These two harps are the most prestigious ever made in Cambodia since the re-creation of the instrument in 2012.
The instruments were entirely made in Siem Reap by several Cambodian and French craftsmen:
Making of the harps of the Royal Ballet.
The donation was held at the Sofitel Phokeethra in Siem Reap under the chairmanship of the Alliance Française and its Director Serge Bellini, in the presence of His Royal Highness Prince Sisowath Tesso and the dance master Madame Luong Sok Kam.
We owe the success of this evening to several actors and sponsors: Sofitel Phokeethra, Emeritus Master Yun Long Zi, Chef Eric Berrigaud, musicians Pon Pong & Sor Sophany, Painter Hay Choeum, Dancer Sok Pheak, the donor Christian Didier Michel.
The Royal Harp, made by the team of Sounds of Angkor and Prestige Khmer Art, was acquired and presented by Cambodian Living Art to His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni on November 22, 2019 at the Chaktomuk Theatre in Phnom Penh at the end of the last performance of the multimedia opera Bangsokol. The logo of Cambodian Living Arts represents a Khmer harp and an elegantly Khmer hand. The choice of the harp to mark the 20 years of creation of Cambodian Living Arts is therefore a strong symbol. Not only has Cambodian Living Arts been working for two decades to heal the stigmata left by the Khmer Rouge revolution, but it is now restoring to the Khmer Royalty a harp that has been missing for half a millennium!
The Royal Harp combines sobriety and nobility, rough wood and gold leaf, a choice made on the advice of someone close to His Majesty.
Several symbols, visible or not, are hidden in this instrument. We do not reveal them all, but here are a few. First of all, Garuda's head. The Garuda is, in Brahmanism, the vehicle of the god Vishnu, and in Buddhism, the guardian of the teachings. Thus, the Royal Harp embraces the two religions of which the Royal Court of Cambodia is the heir.
The mother string of the harp, the lowest one, has nineteen strands and the soundbox is nineteen centimeters wide. The number nineteen refers to the nineteen souls or vital principles (pralung) of the Khmers... It is the animist part of the Royal Harp without which it would not be totally Khmer!
A Franco-Khmer team of six people based in Siem Reap made the Royal Harp: