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EXCLUSIVE: Guitarist Jason Vieaux, Harpist Yolanda Kondonassis Talk 92nd Street Y Recital, Performing 'Together' and the Plight of Plucked Strings

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Feb 26, 2015 01:31 AM EST

One of the most unique duos in classical Christendom, the pairing of Grammy-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux with Grammy-nominated harpist Yolanda Kondonassis is no accident.

Of course, their recently released LP for Azica, Together, is hardly a standard marriage; no, there's much more that lies beneath the strings.

As part of the 92nd Street Y's "Art of the Guitar" series, Vieaux and Kondonassis will be performing that album, in its entirety, this Saturday, Feb. 28 at 8 p.m. The program strictly follows the recorded disc, all the while bringing unique insights into two instruments that don't normally sit together on the stage.

"The timing of this recital was just really fortunate because it occurs within the month of the release of our new album," says Yolanda Kondonassis, over the phone.

"We kind of started small. It was a very organic genesis of this duo," she notes further. "It wasn't a management pairing or anything like that. We just did one performance of a single piece a few years ago, and we decided it's a great combination between the harp and guitar."

Yes, their kind of combo results in a special strain--a near percussive fusion. It's a timbral strata not lost on Kondonassis.

She continues: "That fusion is really kind of addictive, especially for two plucked instruments. I think that's where the specialness comes from. I'm either playing with a flute or a string quartet of sorts--you know, sustained instruments--so the 'pluckedness' of the harp, that unique texture in the mix, is interesting."

"I think having two plucked instruments is quite resonate," Kondonassis says, "capable of so many special effects."

OK, but what about the rep? It's not like there's a ton of literature for harp and guitar.

Just as Sharon Isbin's found her own commissioning process to be difficult, Jason Vieaux admits that he, too, can sometimes get discouraged.

"That's been my experience, as well," he chimes in. "But solo harp," Vieaux admits, "may have it even worse."

Surprisingly, he says it's not so much a problem for the two of them--guitar and harp, that is.

"[Guitar and harp] aren't a regular piece of an ensemble, but they are considered more 'unique.' We would never step into these chamber music festivals because we are more 'exotic' instruments."

Vieaux adds: "Sharon Isbin is someone who has done a lot of great work in that area. It's kind of like she used her stage as a classical guitarist to touch upon that very issue. I really think that's something I'd like to do more of, too. If I can."

Indeed, together, they have.

Just look at their program: studded with works by Xavier Montsalvatge (Fantasia), Gary Shocker (Hypnotized), Máximo Diego Pujol (Suite Magica). It's a running order that came about organically, sprung out of happenstance and intrigue.

According to Yolanda, "What really draws Jason and me to this combination, this repertoire is how different it is."

She talks also on the importance of mutual communication--how the precision of their plucking can easily fall apart if the timing isn't there.

Jason, for his part, just laughs: "Yolanda called me up and said, 'We should form a duo.' And I said, 'you know, sure.'"

He speaks further on their overall energy--how it isn't simply a concert for an audience but an experience they share, well, together.

"Ultimately," Vieaux interrupts one final time, "any collaboration should be about fun."

Get your 92Y tickets here, and do be on the lookout for what's sounding next from this plucky duo.

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TagsYolanda Kondonassis, Jason Vieaux, 92Y, Art of the Guitar, Together, 2015 Grammys, Xavier Montsalvatge, Fantasia, Gary Shocker, Hypnotized, EXCLUSIVE