THE Harp on Wight festival celebrated its fifth birthday in triumphant fashion with a series of dazzling and well attended concerts and informative teaching workshops.

After the traditional Thursday (October 25) dinner at Michelangelo's, Ryde, where the harpist was Bethan Watson from Wales, the concert programme started at All Saints Church the following evening.

Following a welcoming speech by the Ryde mayor, Cllr Malcom Ross, harpist and judge Fran Barsby began by announcing — and then performing — the winning pieces in the festival's 2018 composition competition.

The senior competition winner was Mera Royle, from the Isle of Man, and the junior winner was Megan Collyer.

There followed a concert by contemporary quartet The Hermes Experiment featuring Harp on Wight patron, Anne Denholm.

It was fascinating to see how the ensemble deconstructed Bach Preludes, then rebuilt them in an innovative way using soprano Heloise Warner's voice as an instrument alongside the harp, clarinet and double bass.

The Saturday afternoon Performance Platform concert is always a popular feature of the festival. It provides an opportunity for the winner and runners up in a prestigious competition, organised at the North London Festival in May by the French harp makers Camac, to play at Harp on Wight.

This year saw two performances by students from the Royal Academy of Music in London — Milo Harper, from the UK, and Nicolette Chin from Singapore.

Their technical prowess was outstanding. Nicolette gave an atmospheric rendition of Le Jardin Mouille by Fresle, whilst Milo imitated the sound of a woodpecker tapping on wood in Couperin's Le-Tic-Toc-Choc au Les Maillotins.

A highlight of the festival was the peerless performance by American harpist Lily Neill in the Saturday evening concert.

Lily is popular with Isle of Wight audiences, having played here seven times before, and she took the capacity audience on a real international journey, performing pieces from Finland, Irish tunes by O' Carolan, American ragtime and even early music written by William Byrd.

It was beautifully sensitive and one of the best concerts in the festival's history.

Dutch harpist Anouk Platenkamp delivered a restful and relaxing hour of European music on Sunday afternoon, before a major departure for the festival in the evening to celebrate its fifth birthday.

Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee, from India, is arguably the best sitar player in the world. He was joined by tabla player Soumen Nandy and together they delivered a breathtaking show.

The intensity and speed of the playing, together with the wonderful empathy between the two musicians, was amazing to witness. They received a deserved standing ovation.

Brittany harpist Nikolaz Cadoret, making only his second UK appearance, maintained the very high standard in the Monday evening concert. In the first half he played the acoustic lever harp with some lively Breton dance tunes, longer, jazzier pieces with dramatic flourishes and a beautifully sensitive Breton lament.

In complete contrast, in the second half he played the electro-harp and incorporated a range of looping effects with lots of delay and sustain. The looped notes echoed around Ryde Methodist Church, producing an out-of-this-world effect.

Nikolaz certainly takes the harp into new unexplored territory.

Tuesday saw the two final concerts. Island harpists presented The Magic Island during the afternoon — a happy hour-long combination of music and storytelling for all who are children at heart.

It was then left to Paraguayan brothers Sixto and Juanjo Corbalan to close the festival. They had received a standing ovation on their last visit to Ryde two years ago and another awaited here. As well as traditional Paraguayan tunes, there were jazzier pieces played with a colourful and resonant Latin American flourish.

Finally, throughout the five days, the exhibition of harps in the methodist church made by national manufacturers was a popular feature.

Over the five years the festival has built a respected reputation for bringing together a diverse range of outstanding international harpists, and this years concert programme was probably the strongest yet in that respect.