A Night of Wind and Dissonance at the NY Philharmonic
Bing and Ruth Return to Brooklyn's Littlefield

Jason Vieaux and Yolanda Kondonassis at 92Y

by Robert Leeper


The first question that may come to mind when considering the possibility of a guitar/harp duo is: is there any actual repertoire for that? Answer: not really—but anyone curious about the pairing need only look as far as guitarist Jason Vieaux and harpist Yolanda Kondonassis’ performance at the 92nd Street Y last week.

The two faculty members at the esteemed Cleveland Institute of Music are on a mission to present new repertoire for this unusual instrumentation and, on a greater level, challenge the view in popular culture of both instruments. Despite becoming a core tenant of the orchestra, the harp still largely exists in our collective imaginations as the chosen instrument of painted cherubs and Harpo Marx. The guitar, meanwhile, tends to be associated with the likes of Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix, rather than Andres Segovia.

Despite the program being designed to demonstrate just how sympathetic the two stringed instruments can be to each other, each performer also played a solo piece—Vieaux played Roland Dyens' arrangement of A Felicidade by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Kondonassis played Carlos Salzedo's Chanson dans la nuit. Displaying an expert's control of the harp's cloudy resonance in favor of discernible melodic outlines in Maximo Diego Pujol’s Suite Magica, she brought a special tone and touch, explicating the rhythmic vitality of the work.

The coloristic possibilities of both instruments were most apparent in Keith Fitch’s Knock on Wood. The piece features a relentless momentum, deploying a rhythmic fervor through the wooden bodies of the instruments, as well as through a host of effects that serve as an exploration of the effects available to both instruments. The deep, resonant chordal progression that opens the work is contrasted with sharp rhythmic articulations in the guitar.

Gary Shocker’s Hypnosis takes inspiration from diverse textures made possible by pairing a string instrument capable of using vibrato with one that is not. The two exchange melody and harmony freely, evoking the sound of a single instrument. Mr. Vieaux’s effortless tone were most felt in rich melodies played on the bass strings, with Kondonassis' shimmering harp in contrapuntal harmony.

Most important to the effort of any performing group are pieces that leverage the unique sounds and colors between the instruments. Transcriptions often force this synergy, if it's there at all. The works for this duo - much like the Bang on a Can All-Stars' commissioning project- were designed specifically for this instrumentation, serving as a reminder of the value of bespoke music.

This concert was a part of 92Y's the Art of the Guitar series—the next in this series will be March 28th at 8:00pm. Tickets and info here