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15 Questions to Yolanda Kondonassis

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I’m great, thanks! I’m currently at a music festival in Staunton, Virginia.  

What’s on your schedule right now?

After this, I head back to Cleveland to start my school year of teaching at Oberlin Conservatory and the Cleveland Institute of Music. My immediate performance activities include several recitals on the east coast, a concerto performance with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, recording sessions for an upocoming Telarc album, and lots of chamber music.

If you hadn’t chosen music, what do you think you would do right now?
I’ve always loved to write, so I would probably be a starving writer somewhere.

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist? 
That’s a tough question since there have been so many different artistic influences in my life. When I was a kid, my heroes were the great pianists like Horowitz and Cliburn. As I grew older, I began to find that there is musical impulse in absolutely every art form, so I take inspiration from just about everywhere! 

What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best? 
I suppose the hardest part about being a musician is staying fresh. It’s so very clear when a player has lost their inspiration and doesn’t care as deeply any more. Keeping the passion alive is key, but it has to be a conscious process sometimes. Oddly enough, I often find that a day of teaching will re-ignite my fire, even if I’ve been traveling non-stop and want nothing more than a vacation! The best part about being a musician is definitely the creative process – the way I feel when I’ve really been transported by what I’m doing. There are times when it’s almost as if I go somewhere deep inside the music, and then come back to reality when I’m done. 

What’s your view on the classical music scene at present? Is there a crisis? 

I think it’s very easy for some people to say, “Classical music is dying! It’s over!” but I think it’s just changing. Change is always hard and particularly so when it’s is driven, at least in large part, by the dollar. Audiences are changing, technology is rapidly changing, budgets are shrinking, and managers in most presenting sectors are becoming less willing to take risks. All of these issues are related, but in my opinion, the decreased willingness to take artistic risks is the most troubling issue of all and is the one thing that threatens the future of classical music the most. 

Some feel there is no need to record classical music any more, that it’s all been done before. What do you tell them? 

First, I don’t really believe it’s all been done before. There is always a new way to do an old thing – whether it’s through interpretation or instrumentation. And as a harpist who records a lot, I feel that there's always new ground to cover and finding interesting ways to do it is half the battle. 

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage? 
A great live performance should be like watching a painter paint. It should be a dynamic experience where it’s obvious that something new is occurring – and not just an admirable reading of a work. I suppose my approach to performing has always been to lay it all out there and see what happens. I’ve never been one for a careful approach. “Careful” doesn’t really keep me interested  

What does the word “interpretation” mean to you? 
Interpretation is the syntax, the painter’s stroke, the choice of color, the subtext, and the heart of any performance. There's no performance without it. 

True or false: It is the duty of an artist to put his personal emotions into the music he plays. 
True, but emotions can’t just be added to music like salt and pepper. It has to come from a deep place inside and it has to make sense in relation to the music. There is nothing worse than hearing random emotion poured all over a piece of music like maple syrup on eggs. 

True or false: “Music is my first love” 
Yes, probably true. But my childhood stuffed elephant might have actually come first. 

True or false: People need to be educated about classical music, before they can really appreciate it. 
False. Good music satisfies on a level that goes way beyond education. I think you can experience great pleasure without understanding classical music, but of course - as with anything - education can intensify one’s experience. 

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season? 
I would plan it with variety as the theme of every concert. Too many times, programming is about playing it safe with audiences. I think you can afford to stretch audiences consistently if you give them some of what they crave and expect along with new flavors and textures. When the new accompanies the traditional, it becomes a point of conversation and excitement, rather than an over-challenging element. (And of course, there would be plenty of harp....)  

What’s your favourite classical CD at the moment? 
My husband’s new CD, Live from Severance Hall – A Trumpet and Organ Recital. I like listening to it when I’m away – it makes me feel closer. 

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it? 

I started my musical life on the piano and was very serious about it through high school. I did study the guitar at one point and was fairly miserable at it - couldn’t seem to get anywhere with growing my right hand fingernails. My husband has also tried to show me how to play the trumpet once or twice and I have nearly passed out each time.

Mozart: Concertos for Flute and Harp (Channel Classics)
Donald Erb: Sunlit Peaks and Dark Valleys (New World Records)
Scintillation (Telarc)
A New Baroque (Telarc)
Sky Music (Telarc)
Dream Season (Telarc)
Pictures of the Floating World (Telarc)
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Telarc)
Music of Hovhaness (Telarc)
Quietude (Telarc)
The Romantic Harp (Telarc)
Debussy's Harp (Telarc)

Yolanda Kondonassis

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