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December 11, 2019

Yolanda Kondonassis Says Second Grammy Nomination is Just as Thrilling as Her First


Yolanda Kondonassis
Photo of Yolanda Kondonassis by Laura Watilo Blake

Critical acclaim follows Yolanda Kondonassis (BM ’86, MM ’89, Chalifoux) everywhere the world-renowned harpist performs – and rightly so.

Celebrated as one of the world’s premier solo harpists, Kondonassis, head of CIM’s harp department, has been nominated for a 2020 Grammy Award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo for her world premiere recording of Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Higdon’s Harp Concerto with the Rochester (NY) Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO). The RPO is led by Music Director Ward Stare.

The piece appears on the album American Rapture, recorded on the Cleveland-based Azica Records label and produced by CIM’s own Alan Bise (BM ’94, Knab), director of recording arts and services and mastered by Bruce Egre, head of the audio recording degree program. Bise and Egre are previous Grammy winners and Egre serves as Azica’s president and chief recording engineer. American Rapture was recorded live September 17-20, 2018 in Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theatre and released May 17, 2019.

Higdon’s concerto… is a delight… Throughout, Kondonassis’ playing is a delicious thrill. - Gramophone

This is Kondonassis’ second nomination. Her 2008 album of music by Takemitsu and Debussy, Air (Telarc) earned Kondonassis her first Grammy nod. She says that it is a special honor, especially to be nominated with other prominent classical artists in the category such as pianist Yuja Wang and violinists Tessa Lark and Nicola Benedetti.

“Honestly, this time is just as thrilling as the first time I was nominated,” Kondonassis said. “When you take a look at the first-round ballot and see all the hundreds of amazing artists and projects out there, it boggles the mind to realize how much great recorded music is produced every year in the classical music industry. So to make it into this last round of five nominees feels incredible.” 

Kondonassis sought out Higdon nearly 10 years ago and asked her if she would consider writing a harp concerto. Higdon said she would, but a packed schedule delayed the piece over the next several years. While she and Higdon continued their conversation during that time, Kondonassis also assembled a consortium of commissioning orchestras for the piece.

In addition to the RPO, the Harp Concerto is a co-commissioned by the Harrisburg (PA), Baton Rouge (LA), Fargo-Moorhead (ND) and Lansing (MI) symphony orchestras and the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra.

“Harp Concerto was commissioned by me, along with this consortium of six American orchestras,” Kondonassis said. “The idea was to gather together a collection of American orchestras over a wide geographical swath in places where classical music is important but not taken for granted. We really wanted each performance in the premiere series to be an event in its community. I’m so happy that every one of the initial performances of the concerto really did feel like a celebration of new American music.”

[Kondonassis] brings it all to life and commands attention with seemingly limitless vibrance and color. – The Plain Dealer

On January 26, 2020, the day the Grammys are being awarded, Kondonassis will be performing Higdon’s Harp Concerto with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra in Kansas. But she still plans to attend the festivities in Los Angeles with her daughter.

“I will hop on a plane immediately after the 3pm concert in Wichita to try to meet up with my daughter and catch the end of the after-party, which, as I remember from my last nomination, is quite an event,” Kondonassis said. “Let’s hope there isn’t a snowstorm that grounds air travel that day!”     

The Higdon Harp Concerto is a real find… [Higdon] outdoes herself here. For one thing, the harpist is Yolanda Kondonassis, for whom Higdon wrote the work; [Kondonassis] is an exceptional player, both charismatic and versatile… Cleveland’s small Azica label achieves world-class results at Rochester’s Kodak Hall. Recommended. – AllMusic

As for what’s next for the two-time Grammy nominee – in addition to her teaching duties at CIM and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music – Kondonassis says she’s in discussion with quite a few orchestras about programming the Higdon concerto, and has made plans to record with CIM faculty colleague Jason Vieaux, head of the classical guitar department, one of the world’s foremost classical guitarists and a Grammy winner himself.

“Jason and I are putting together a new harp/guitar program and recording for next season,” Kondonassis said, “and I have a couple of really interesting projects on the runway that will stay under wraps for now.”

Kondonassis has an even higher goal – as a touring solo harpist she wants to try and help expand the substantive concerto repertoire for her instrument.

“Jennifer Higdon’s Harp Concerto has been an amazing addition to that repertoire,” she said. “I am beyond thrilled to have been able to bring this work to life and watch it sprout legs!”

Harp Concerto is also nominated for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.

The Grammy Awards ceremony and telecast will be held on Sunday, January 26 on CBS.