Kondonassis pushes the boundaries of the harp at Spivey Hall

By Joel Hall


Forty-seven strings, seven pedals, and three pitch settings for each string. Any concert harpist has his or her hands -- and feet -- full. But Yolanda Kondonassis, an assistant professor at both the Oberlin Conservatory and the Cleveland Institute of Music, handles the instrument with ease and imagination.

She will perform a concert of traditional, modern, and commissioned works for harp on Sunday, Nov. 4 at 3 p.m., in Spivey Hall. The performance, her second appearance at Spivey, comes in the wake of her thirteenth CD release on the Telarc music label, entitled, "Salzedo's Harp: The Music of Carlos Salzedo," which was released on Oct. 23.

"It's great to have a venue like this that is committed, offering a lot of different types of music," said Kondonassis. "There's a good amount of harp repertoire out there, a lot more than people realize."

Kondonassis said she will perform a program that will "demonstrate the evolution of the harp," starting with one of the most famous harp pieces from the Baroque period, "Handel Concerto in B flat for Solo Harp."

The second piece in the program will be "Fantasie on a Theme by Haydn," composed by early 20th century French harpist, Marcel Grandjany.

"It's an interesting piece to put on this program," said Kondonassis. "The classical composers skipped harp altogether. It's interesting that a French composer basically decided to rewrite history."

The third piece in the program will be "Sonata for Solo Harp," a piece by American composer, Donald Erb, which Kondonassis commissioned in 1995. The late 20th century work pushes the harp to the edge of its natural abilities.

The first movement, entitled, "Round and Round the Wind," is a tonal piece which imitates the sounds of the wind. The second movement, "Song for Sarah Gooder," is inspired by the real-life testimony of Sarah Gooder, an 8-year-old girl who worked in the English coal mining industry during the Industrial Revolution.

The third movement, entitled, "Dirty Rotten Scherzo," takes "the harp in a new direction," according to Kondonassis. "You won't hear something like it in other harp concerts. It's very assertive. It's got kind of a lazy, drunken swagger at times. [Erb] doesn't shy away from using the volume of the harp, because a lot of people don't realize that the harp can be quite a loud instrument."

The second half of the concert will be dedicated to the Carlos Salzedo pedagogue of the "Salzedo School" of harp playing, Kondonassis said.

"Carlos Salzedo was a tremendous innovator of the harp," she said. "The second half takes something from each of his compositional stages." Selections taken from her CD will include, "Sonata for Harp and Piano," and "Chanson dans la nuit" (Song of the night)," and "Variations sur un theme dans le style ancien" (Variations on a theme in ancient style).

Sam Dixon, executive and artistic director of Spivey Hall, said that Kondonassis' playing is an aural and visual experience.

"[Kondonassis'] is really imaginative in her approach to the instrument," said Dixon. "The pedaling is like choreography ... it's like a sitting dance. She has a wonderful range of color and character to her playing."

Tickets for Sunday's concert are $35. For more information, contact Spivey Hall at (678) 466-4200.