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For Nakahara, it’s best of both worlds

Harpist Yolanda Kondonassis performs this weekend.  Courtesy of Spokane Symphony (Courtesy of Spokane Symphony)
Harpist Yolanda Kondonassis performs this weekend. Courtesy of Spokane Symphony (Courtesy of Spokane Symphony)

Resident conductor leads favorite works, as well as harpist Yolanda Kondonassis

Conductors on the rise have their lists of works they would like to conduct and soloists they’d like to work with.

Getting those works and the soloists on concert programs typically takes years of planning. Sometimes, though, everything just falls into place.

This weekend, Morihiko Nakahara, the Spokane Symphony’s resident conductor, leads a program of three works on his “to do” list, featuring a soloist he has anticipated: harpist Yolanda Kondonassis.

Saturday and Sunday’s classics concerts at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox will include Zoltán Kodály’s “Dances of Galánta” and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 2. Kondonassis will play Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto.

“I love Kodály’s music,” Nakahara says, “but I have never conducted any of it before, not even ‘Háry János,’ his most famous orchestra piece.

“ ‘The Galánta Dances’ I knew from having studied the clarinet cadenza back in my clarinet-playing days. But the dances go back to Kodály’s childhood when he heard a famous gypsy band at Galánta, a Hungarian market town where his father was railroad station master.

“Some of those gypsy melodies were published in a books he ran across when he was much older. Kodály’s orchestration really takes us back to those gypsies.”

Folk music from Argentina was a part of the inspiration for Ginastera’s Harp Concerto.

“But Ginastera was not aiming for the kind of Argentine nationalism here as in some of this other music,” Nakahara says. “He was a very sophisticated composer who knew the music of Bartók and Stravinsky just as well as the folk music of Argentina.”

Harpist Kondonassis was born in Norman, Okla., where her father was a professor of economics at Oklahoma University.

She began studying the piano with her mother when she was 3, but a family vacation to Chicago shifted her interest to the harp. She was awed by a display in the store window of Lyon & Healy, one of the world’s outstanding builders of harps.

Kondonassis attended high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and took her college training at the Cleveland Institute of Music where she studied with Alice Chalifoux, a legendary harpist and teacher.

After a developing career as a soloist and orchestral harpist, Kondonassis succeeded the retired Chaifoux as head of the harp departments at the Cleveland Institute and at the Oberlin College-Conservatory.

She has recorded 15 CDs of harp music ranging from the baroque ear to modern composers such as Donald Erb and Bright Sheng, both of whom have written major works for her.

Nakahara will close this weekend’s concerts with Schumann’s Symphony No. 2.

“Some conductors and some listeners don’t like Schumann’s symphonies because they don’t think they are well orchestrated,” Nakahara says. “But they are beautiful, and the Second is my favorite.

“Schumann did overwork the woodwind players, who play almost all the time, usually doubled by the strings. Even the brass are playing a lot.

“He seemed to be afraid that his melodies wouldn’t be heard or that the climaxes wouldn’t have enough intensity. So a conductor has to be very careful with balances so things are clear and all those doublings don’t muddy thing up.”

Nakahara and Kondonassis will discuss the music on the program in a pre-concert talk one hour before concert time each day.

Sunday’s performance is also part of Symphony YES series, with greatly reduced tickets for young people ages 8-14 and the adults that accompany them. Symphony YES tickets are only available through the symphony ticket office at (509) 624-1200.

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