Yolanda Kondonassis, Harpist, Composer and Arranger


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.

She 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.”

Kondonassis then 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.

One 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 arts.)

Her 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.

Cleveland Arts Prize
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