Yolanda Kondonassis Performs Jennifer Higdon’s Harp Concerto for Live Recording

Yolanda Kondonassis, Jennifer Hidgon

Yolanda Kondonassis, Jennifer Hidgon

Internationally acclaimed harpist Yolanda Kondonassis returns to the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra for encore performances of Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon’s Harp Concerto on Thursday, September 20, and Saturday, September 22, in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre (26 Gibbs Street, Rochester).

The program also includes Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1 in One Movement, Op. 9; Patrick Harlin’s Rapture; Aaron Copland’s Suite from Rodeo; and, in honor of Leonard Bernstein’s centennial, his Divertimento. Led by Music Director Ward Stare, the Higdon and other works from the performances will be recorded live for a 2019 CD release on Azica Records.

Of the world premiere performance in May 2018, Rochester City Paper notes, “Higdon was keen to showcase the harp's naturally rich harmonic colors, and there was something prayerful about Kondonassis' playing, particularly in the quieter moments,” and “Sonically, the presence of Kondonassis’ harp seemed to signify magic at work, in the throes of a hectic and sobering reality, as played by the orchestra . . . The vibraphone and bells reinforced the divine character of Kondonassis' tone, and something akin to Renaissance song in Higdon’s melodies only heightened the mystery.” In the final movement, the critic observes, “The previously conventional concerto acquired a welcome avant-garde, dance-like quality.” 

Higdon, one of the greatest musical voices of our time, wrote and dedicated her Harp Concerto to Kondonassis. Higdon says, “I love writing concerti because it gives me a chance to not only explore the different instruments’ qualities but also because I get to experience the joy of the performer in displaying those qualities. Yolanda Kondonassis’ enthusiasm for her instrument is infectious.”

Kondonassis echoes, “I have been looking forward to bringing a harp concerto by Jennifer Higdon to life for close to ten years. Her originality and ability to resonate with listeners on so many levels made her the perfect choice for this much-needed addition to the harp repertoire.”

Jennifer Higdon’s Harp Concerto is a consortium commission from the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra, Lansing Symphony Orchestra, and the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra, with performances scheduled throughout the 2018- 2019 season. Kondonassis shares one of her missions with the project by saying, "We tried to aim for a wide geographical swath of America for the premiere series of concerts - the midwest, the south, the north, the southeast, and the northeast - and target areas where music is important, but not taken for granted. It is such an honor to be the first to perform what I know will become an iconic concerto for my instrument, and to bring it to a premiere series of audiences who will truly share in the thrill.”

Kondonassis is celebrated as one of the world’s premier solo harpists and is widely regarded as today’s most recorded classical harpist. With “a range of colour that’s breathtaking” (Gramophone), she has been hailed as “a brilliant and expressive player” (Dallas Morning News), with “a dazzling technique unfailingly governed by impeccable musical judgment” (Detroit News). She has appeared around the globe as a concerto soloist and in recital, bringing her unique brand of musicianship and warm artistry to an ever-increasing audience. Also a published author, speaker, professor of harp, and environmental activist, her many passions are woven into a vibrant and multi-faceted career.

With hundreds of thousands of discs and downloads sold worldwide, Kondonassis’ extensive discography includes twenty titles and her 2008 release, Air (Telarc), was nominated for a Grammy Award. Her latest album, Ginastera: One Hundred, celebrates Ginastera's 2016 centennial and was released in October 2016 on Oberlin Music. Her many albums have earned universal critical praise as she continues to be a pioneering force in the harp world, striving to push the boundaries of what listeners expect of the harp.

The recipient of two Solo Recitalists Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and a 2011 recipient of the Cleveland Arts Prize, Kondonassis has been featured on CNN and PBS as well as Sirius/XM Radio’s Symphony Hall, NPR’s All Things Considered and Tiny Desk ConcertsSt. Paul Sunday Morning, and Performance Today. In addition to her active solo, chamber music and recording schedule, Kondonassis heads the harp departments at Oberlin Conservatory of Music and The Cleveland Institute of Music, and presents masterclasses around the world. For more information, visit Kondonassis’s website.

Higdon, Pulitzer Prize and two-time Grammy winner, is one of the most performed living American composers working today. She is a major figure in contemporary Classical music, receiving the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, a 2010 Grammy for her Percussion Concerto and a 2018 Grammy for her Viola Concerto. Most recently, Higdon received the prestigious Nemmers Prize from Northwestern University which is given to contemporary classical composers of exceptional achievement who have significantly influenced the field of composition. She has also been the recipient of a Guggenheim, Koussevitzky, and Pew Fellowships, as well as two awards from the American Academy of Arts & Letters. Higdon enjoys several hundred performances a year of her works, and blue cathedral is one of today’s most performed contemporary orchestral works, with more than 600 performances worldwide. Her works have been recorded on more than sixty CDs. Higdon’s first opera, Cold Mountain, won the prestigious International Opera Award for Best World Premiere and the opera recording was nominated for 2 Grammy awards. Dr. Higdon holds the Rock Chair in Composition at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Her music is published exclusively by Lawdon Press. For more information, visit Higdon’s website.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) has been committed to enriching and inspiring our community through the art of music since its founding in 1922. The RPO presents approximately 150 concerts and broadcasts a year, serving up to 170,000 people – 34,000 of them youngsters – through ticketed events, education and community engagement activities, and concerts in schools and community centers throughout the region. Music Director Ward Stare joins the ranks of former notable RPO music directors, including Eugene Goossens, José Iturbi, Erich Leinsdorf, David Zinman and Conductor Laureate Christopher Seaman. Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik has earned a national reputation for excellence in pops programming during his 25-year tenure with the RPO. The RPO reaches almost 17,000 children through its specific programs for school-aged children. For more information and tickets, visit the RPO’s website.