Yolanda Kondonassis, Harpist, Composer and Arranger
2011 Mid-Career award for Music
As a child in Norman, Oklahoma,Yolanda
Kondonassis was an exceptionally gifted musician facing a difficult
choice: Should she commit her studies to piano or harp? Today, we know
that harp won out, and her extensive dedication to mastering the
complex and enchanting instrument has made her one of the world’s
premier solo harpists who is widely regarded as today’s most recorded
harp soloist, with more than 100,000 albums sold worldwide.
still treasures the time she spent perfecting her harp playing at
Interlochen Arts Academy, where she attended high school. “I loved the
beauty of the lake and being able to walk through the woods for as long
as I liked,” she recalls. “But there was also something comforting
about the long winters, so that I didn’t mind the isolation of playing
in a practice room for many hours a day.”
enrolled in the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she earned her
bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She currently heads the harp
departments at the institute and at Oberlin Conservatory
and presents master classes around the world.
Since making her debut at age 18 with the New York Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta, Kondonassis
has appeared as soloist with numerous major orchestras in the U.S. and
abroad, including the Cleveland Orchestra, Houston Symphony, Detroit
Symphony, Dallas Symphony, San Diego Symphony, English Chamber
Orchestra and Hong Kong Philharmonic, to name only a few. Other solo
appearances include engagements at Lincoln Center, the 92nd Street Y
and Taiwan’s National Concert Hall.
Although her schedule is continually packed with travel, performance, recording and teaching duties, Kondonassis
has found a good way to maintain balance. “When I’m with my daughter,
I’m with my daughter 100 percent,” she says. “When I’m playing, I’m
playing. When I’m teaching, I’m fully engaged in teaching. I rarely do
anything with divided attention.”
Her 15th album, released on the Telarc label, features the world premiere recording of Bright Sheng’s Never Far Away: Concerto for Harp and Orchestra, which was written for and premiered by Kondonassis. Her earth-inspired Telarc recording, Air, featuring music of Debussy and Takemitsu, was nominated for a 2010 Grammy award.
of her goals, she says, is always to make her instrument more
accessible to audiences and push the boundaries of what listeners
expect of the harp. “Certainly, the harp can be heavenly—and should be
at times,”she told an interviewer . “But that’s only the tip of the
iceberg when it comes to this incredible instrument.”
Kondonassis’s own original transcriptions, arrangements and compositions for the harp have been published under the title The Yolanda Kondonassis Collection. Highlights include her
arrangements of Puccini’s “Quando men vo” from La Boheme and the Chinese
folksong, “Small River Flowing” and an original composition, Liquid Shadows. A second book, The Yolanda Kondonassis Christmas Collection, makes available to other harpists amateur and professional her most popular arrangements from her acclaimed disc, Dream Season: The Christmas Harp.
In addition to her gifts as a musician, Kondonassis has always had a special talent for writing. Her On Playing the Harp has already taken a prominent place in harp instruction literature. She has even found time to pen a children’s book, Our House is Round: A Kid’s Book About Why Protecting The Earth Matters, which was released on Earth Day 2010. (Kondonassis
also serves as founder and director of Earth at Heart, a nonprofit
organization devoted to earth literacy and inspiration through the
long list of
honors includes top prizes in the Affiliate Artists National Auditions
in New York and the Maria Korchinska International Harp Competition in
Great Britain. She has been the recipient of two Solo Recitalist
grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. The first harpist to
receive the Darius Milhaud Prize, Kondonassis is committed to the
advancement of contemporary music through both the performance and
commissioning of new works for the harp.
“After all the years of practice and study,” she confides, “playing
the harp is fairly easy at this point, and what I hear in my head
usually finds its way out without too much effort. But a day
rarely passes when I don’t feel a sincere sense of gratitude that I am
able to do this—and moreover—to share it.”
For a complete
discography of Yolanda Kondonassis visit www.yolandaharp.com.