The American harpsit, Yolanda Kondonassis, turned to music early, starting piano at the age of 3. This was a matter of family talent coming down to her; Yolanda's mother was also a pianist and carefully watched her development. On a trip to Chicago at the age of 9, Yolanda saw the window display of the Lyon & Healy music store, one of the world's leading manufacturers of harps. The loveliness of the display appealed to her, and she asked for harp lessons as well. She did not give up piano, but studied both instruments through high school. She says the piano was "neck and neck" with the harp as her ultimate choice. The choice was made by a several factors. One was that she had a facility for developing the particular muscles that are used in harp playing (and virtually nothing else). Another was that she loved the sensation of creating the music directly by her own fingers on the strings. And she felt that she could contribute more as a harpist. At age 14, she began boarding at the Interlochen Arts Academy. Her higher education was at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Her teacher there was Alice Chalifoux, the principal harpist of the Cleveland Orchestra. She obtained both her bachelor's and master's degrees at Curtis.
A competition win gained her a young artists' debut prize at age 18 as a soloist with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. She obtained regular employment as an orchestral harpist (and has held this job with the Cleveland Orchestra, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra). In 1987 she won the top prize in the Affiliate Artists National Auditions, which enabled her to tour for five years. She developed a type of program she called "informances," where she plays music, makes light commentary, and also interacts with the audience.
Hailed by the New York Times as a harpist with “powerful playing and musicianly energy,” Yolanda Kondonassis is recognized as one of the world’s foremost harpists today, performing both as a concerto soloist and recitalist throughout the USA, Far East and Europe. She has appeared as soloist with numerous major orchestras such as the Cleveland Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, New York Chamber Symphony, Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfonica de Puerto Rico, Phoenix Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, New World Symphony Orchestra, Florida Orchestra and Hong Kong Philharmonic, to name a few. Other solo appearances include engagements at Lincoln Center, the 92nd Street Y and Taiwan’s National Concert Hall. Highlights of upcoming seasons include the world premiere of Bright Sheng’s Concerto for Harp and Orchestra. Composed for Kondonasssis, the concerto is underwritten by the San Diego Symphony, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Grand Rapids Symphony and Oberlin Conservatory of Music for a premiere season in 2008-2009 with Kondonassis as soloist.
A devoted chamber musician, Yolanda Kondonassis has performed at the Marlboro, Spoleto, Tanglewood, Vail, Bay Chamber, Strings in the Mountains, Innsbrook, and Mainly Mozart Festivals. She has collaborated with members of the Alban Berg, Guarneri, Shanghai, and Vermeer string quartets. She also appears regularly in concert with the Rossetti String Quartet, violinist Chee-Yun, and flutist and CBS commentator, Eugenia Zukerman. As an orchestral harpist, she has performed, recorded and toured as guest harpist with the Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
Yolanda Kondonassis has also made transcriptions (including one of Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons), commissioned new works, and has begun to compose in her own right. Among the composers who have written music for her are George Rochberg and Donald Erb. She is interested in contradicting the stereotyped idea of the harp as an "angelic," "heavenly," or "impressionistic" instrument; one of the movements of the sonata Erb wrote for her is called Dirty Rotten Scherzo.
Yolanda Kondonassis plays all the regular harp repertory, and has recorded much of it. Her Sky Music CD was one of the Ten Best Classical CDs of 1996 in the estimation of the New York Daily News. Her recording of the W.A. Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto with with flutist Renée Krimsier and the English Chamber Orchestra, was released on the Channel Classics label in 1997. As a Telarc recording artist, praised by Gramophone magazine for the “clarity, colour, and rhythmic vitality of [her] playing”, she has won universal critical acclaim for her 13 discs, which include much of the standard repertoire, major 20th century works featuring the harp by Salzedo, Alberto Ginastera, Miyagi, and Hovhaness, as well as her own transcriptions and compositions for harp. With over 100,000 albums sold worldwide, her latest recording, Salzedo’s Harp: Music of Carlos Salzedo was released in 2007. Considered one of the world’s preeminent performers of the works of Carlos Salzedo, she presents an authentic and exciting glimpse of Salzedo’s genius in this new collection. Other recordings include Debussy’s Harp, The Romantic Harp, her own (and the first-ever) harp transcription of A. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with the Orchestra of Flanders, an all-Hovhaness album, featuring the world premiere recording of his Spirit of Trees, Quietude, A New Baroque, Pictures of the Floating World, Dream Season, Sky Music, and her debut album, Scintillation.
Yolanda Kondonassis’ first book, On Playing the Harp, a comprehensive guide to harp technique and methodology, was published in 2003 and has quickly become a bestselling addition to the harp pedagogy literature. Her second book, The Yolanda Kondonassis Collection, is a compilation of her many original transcriptions, arrangements and compositions for the harp. Her latest publication, The Yolanda Kondonassis Christmas Collection, features her most popular arrangements from her highly acclaimed CD, Dream Season: The Christmas Harp. Her works are published by Carl Fischer.
In addition to her active performing and recording schedule, Yolanda Kondonassis also has an academic career, and is now the head of the harp departments at both the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Oberlin College Conservatory, and has presented master-classes around the world.. She is married to Michael Sachs, the trumpet soloist of the Cleveland Orchestra.
Yolanda Kondonassis’ long list of national and international honours includes top prizes in the Affiliate Artists National Auditions in New York and the Maria Korchinska International Harp Competition in Great Britain. The first harpist to receive the Darius Milhaud Prize, she is committed to the advancement of contemporary music, and has premiered several works composed expressly for her, including Donald Erb’s Sonata for Solo Harp, which she recorded for the New World label. The recipient of two Solo Recitalists Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, she has been featured on CNN and PBS television as well as National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and Performance Today.