Unique combination of harp and guitar to headline Strings Chamber Music concert Wednesday | SteamboatToday.com

Unique combination of harp and guitar to headline Strings Chamber Music concert Wednesday

— Not many harpists are know for a solo career, yet Yolanda Kondonassis sought to prove that assumption wrong.

Known as one of the world's premier solo harpists and regarded as today's most recorded classical harpist, she's performed around the world, bringing her captivating performance and unique talent.

On Wednesday, she will perform her Lyon & Healy Salzedo model harp at the Strings Music Pavilion with Grammy-winning guitar player Jason Vieaux for a combination of instruments seldom seen at a classical concert.

Since making her debut at age 18, Kondonassis has collected a long list of accomplishments, such as her experience performing with many of the world's most prominent orchestras — the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony and the Hong Kong Philharmonic, to name a few. She has also compiled a large repertoire of music, which can be found on her 10 CDs, and been featured on CNN and PBS television, as well as National Public Radio's All Things Considered, Performance Today and Tiny Desk Concerts.

Earlier this week, she spoke with Steamboat Today about her experiences as one of the few solo harpists and her inspiration for pursuing this career.

Steamboat Today: The harp is such a unique instrument to pursue a solo career with. What was it that drew you to pursue the harp?

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Yolanda Kondonassis: The piano was my first instrument, but when my family was visiting Chicago on a Valentine's Day weekend, I saw this display of harps in the music store. Now, the harp isn't really a popular instrument, but we decided to order a little one and go from there. I had so much piano training that the digital dexterity was similar, but the physical sound production is different between plucking a string and pressing a key. We pluck our instrument, and it's a percussive technique almost. We are in a strange category of our own, we harpists.

ST: What will it be like having a harp and a guitar in the same performance, because that's a really interesting partnership of instruments.

YK: Before the duo, I had been thinking what a perfect combination the two instruments are. People don't usually picture that together. And I probably thought the same thing until I had the opportunity to play with him (Vieaux) a few years ago. We thought to ourselves that, not only is it a cool instrumental combination, we thought is was untapped territory. We both approach music very similarly. What sealed the deal was finding out that it was such a great combination of sound and that the two of us are a really unique simpatico collaboration. Both Jason, the guitarist, and I use the instruments in ways that go beyond just plucking. It allows us to show our instruments with a lot of colorful variety. It's a magical combination when you have instruments that work well together and musicians who relate to each other.

ST: What has significantly influenced you musically and personally and has inspired you to pursue the harp and this career?

YK: If you really love music, it doesn't matter what instrument you play. It's a means of expression, and making music is a part of you. With the harp, I really enjoyed the unique talent of bringing in an instrument that isn't necessarily at the top of people's minds as a solo instrument. Within this strange niche of the harp, I wanted to do something stranger within that. I didn't want to be in an orchestra; I wanted to do what solo violinists and pianists do, which is tour the country and abroad with a solo career. I think if I had to nail it down, I would say the inspiration comes from the sound of the harp and being able to bring that unique sound to people who have never heard it in this context before. It is difficult to play, but whenever you choose a path that is not well trodden, it's going to be a challenge.

ST: What are some of the things you have learned touring as a solo harpist?

YK: Proving yourself and convincing folks that you are not a violinists or a pianist. Because before you even get on that stage, you have to convince people that they want to hear the harp. Then, after you've convinced them, it's like, ‘okay now that I've shown you how cool the harp is, let me show you what else it can do.’ Most people love the harp, and they have these ideas which are very positive and that is a plus, but sometimes those ideas can be fairly limited in thinking what the harp can do as far as its capabilities and its musical potential. That's where the challenge lies.

ST: What do you think this performance will add to the Strings Music Festival lineup for the summer?

YK: Watching my husband, Michael Sachs, assemble this first season, I think that he has put together such a creative variety of content, and this concert will be yet one more variety-driven element of the summer. He really strived to give audiences a real mix of cool things to show the range of color and character that is possible within classical music. The key in energizing a performance and lineup like this is to show audiences how much variety there really is.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@ExploreSteamboat.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1

If You Go…

What: Chamber Music with Harp and Guitar: Yolanda Kondonassis and Jason Vieaux

When: 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 5

Where: Strings Music Pavilion, 950 Strings Road.

Tickets start at $35 for adults and $5 for juniors