by Mike Telin
Music from the Classical era will be on tap when guest conductor Jane Glover makes a return visit to Severance Hall. On Thursday, April 14 at 7:30 pm, she will lead The Cleveland Orchestra in performances of Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 6 (“Le Matin”) and Wolfgang Amadè Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp and Symphony No. 39.
Mozart’s pieces will be featured during the Orchestra’s Fridays@7 Series on April 15, and the full program will be repeated on Saturday, April 16 at 8:00 pm. On Sunday, April 17 the Orchestra will travel to Finney Chapel for a 4:00 performance on the Oberlin Artist Recital Series.
Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp holds the distinction of being the only work the composer ever wrote that included the harp. “Mozart was so ahead of his time that he wrote a piece that could not have been easily played in his own time. To be honest, it’s not easily played now,” said harpist Yolanda Kondonassis, who will join TCO principal flute Joshua Smith as the featured soloists.
In addition to a busy solo and recording career, Yolanda Kondonassis also serves on the faculties of the Oberlin Conservatory and the Cleveland Institute of Music.
“Mozart wrote for the harp as if it were a piano,” the harpist explained. “This concerto is very pianistic, which makes it both wonderful and very difficult, because a harp is not a piano. It requires a lot of facility, strength, endurance, and control.”
Mozart composed the concerto in April of 1778 as a commission from Adrien-Louis de Bonnières, Duc de Guînes, himself a flutist, and his daughter Marie-Louise-Philippine, a harpist, who was studying composition with Mozart.
The harp, like most instruments, has evolved over time. From a mechanical standpoint, by the early 1800s the instrument had become far more flexible than its earlier siblings that only had a limited number of strings. “Then came the hook and lever system that allowed players to raise the pitch by a half step,” Kondonassis said. “I believe that this piece was most likely played on a very early single-action pedal harp. That means the pedals were there, but they could only be moved once, so if you needed to go from a flat to a natural, you would first tune the string to a flat and with the pedal change it to a natural.”
Although not perfect, the single-action pedal harp caught the attention of a number of early and mid-Classical composers. Jean-Baptiste Krumpholz and Louis Spohr both wrote concertos for the instrument, although Mozart’s is by far the most iconic. Today, harpists play on double-action pedal harps which allows players to perform music in any key. “I do believe there were some double-action instruments floating around during Mozart’s time, but they really were not in wide use until Sébastien Érard made a business of it.”
Érard’s double-action, seven-pedal system, patented in the summer of 1810, was so popular that he sold £25,000 worth of harps during the first year the new instrument was available for purchase.
Even with the advanced technology, Kondonassis said that Mozart’s concerto can be intimidating with all of its hand configurations and non-stop notes. One attempt to make the work less intimidating to players was that of the great harpist and teacher Carlos Salzedo. “I still use that edition as a base. Of course I own the Bärenreiter score, and I do return to the original configurations during a number of spots. But what I think Salzedo did was to sort through that forest of notes and figure out a lot of things. His fingerings alone are invaluable — and he was a master of fingerings.”
As with most of his concertos, Mozart did not include a cadenza. “We are going to use the Reinecke. I’ve tried at least six different cadenzas but I keep coming back to the Reinecke because it’s fun to play. Both instruments have solos that sparkle. I think that’s what this piece needs, and audiences tend to like it.”
Yolanda Kondonassis and Joshua Smith both recorded Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp in the mid-1990s, she with the English Chamber Orchestra, and he with The Cleveland Orchestra. “Josh and I were rehearsing yesterday, and we were both saying how much we have changed since that time — as people, as players — and how different this performance with be from either of our recordings. But we’re having a lot of fun. It’s nice to play with someone like Josh who is creative, always has great ideas, and is willing to try a lot of different things.”
Published on ClevelandClassical.com April 11, 2016.
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