The Oklahoma City Philharmonic welcomes Grammy-nominated harpist Yolanda Kondonassis to perform Mozart’s “Concerto for Flute and Harp in C Major” with flutist Marina Piccinini this Saturday as part of the Mozart & Mahler concert. The orchestra, under the direction of Joel Levine, will also be performing Mahler’s triumphant “Symphony No. 1.”
“Concerto for Flute and Harp in C Major” was written by 22-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for one of his prize harp students and her father, a French nobleman who played the flute.
“It’s said that Mozart was in love with the young student, which may explain why there’s some question as to whether or not he was ever paid for composing the work,” Kondonassis said. “The thing in this piece that I try to channel is the lightness and sheer joy in the writing. I also read a slight melancholy in the beautiful second movement, which has a very special undercurrent of hope that speaks to me.”
Kondonassis has worked to dispel stereotypes that surround the harp.
“Somewhere along the way, I appointed myself as an ambassador for the instrument and try to share it in a way that feels less rarified, less about angels and more about making meaningful and interesting music that defies category,” she said.
Because of the difficulty in transporting such a large instrument, Kondonassis plays dozens of different harps every concert season, each with its own set of challenges.
“Sometimes it feels like being on a reality show,” she said. “I once used a harp in Europe that had a pedal that wouldn’t move properly. I took the base apart and dug out a rat skeleton and several other goodies blocking the mechanism. This is where my Oklahoma childhood comes in handy. I did a lot of digging in the dirt as a kid, so nothing much fazes me.”
A native of Norman, Kondonassis began studying piano at age 3 and took up the harp at age 9 after seeing a display of harps in a store window in Chicago.
“It seemed like such a special and exotic instrument to me then,” she said.
The discipline she acquired playing piano paid off. Nine years later, she made her debut with the New York Philharmonic. She has gone on to become one of the world’s preeminent and most-recorded harpists.
“I’m proud of having the opportunity to record as I have and to have had a part in numerous new works written for the harp,” she said.
She said that, like most folks who devote their lives to an art form, you just want to leave the world a little better than you found it.
For Kondonassis, that sense of gratitude and good will tie directly back to her Oklahoma roots.
“I was born and raised here, and it’s the place where I formed my values,” she said. “I’m proud of Oklahoma, and I love every opportunity to come back, especially when I get to share a little of what I do.”