HANCOCK — In coming days, the harp’s delicate, distinctive sound will fill the air at the Monteux Music School and Festival campus, where 11 harpists will sharpen their technical skills and exercise their creativity in the serene, woodland setting overlooking Taunton Bay to the east and the Skillings River to the west.
Starting Wednesday, Aug. 3, students in the newly established Maine Coast Harp Institute’s inaugural session will dive into hours of daily work at the Monteux School, which was founded by French-born conductor Pierre Monteux in 1943. The week-long session for harpists and educators, will feature a public concert by award-winning harpist Juan Riveros at 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12, at the Monteux Forest Studio. The session wraps up Saturday, Aug. 13.
“That incredibly deep, intensive retreat is what all artists need,” the institute’s founder Yolanda Kondonassis said recently. Globally known, the eminent solo harpist is a former Monteux student. “Certainly students, trying to decide what kind of artist to be and to get the technical skills to do that, need that space.”
The multiple Grammy-nominated musician, herself, benefited from more than a dozen summers at the late acclaimed harpist Carlos Salzedo’s summer program in Camden.
“It completely affected the type of person I was,” the harpist recalled, referring to the former Salzedo Harp Colony.
The Salzedo Harp Colony, Kondonassis remembered, did “give people space to stop and think — who they want to be both artistically and personally. I guess the goal is to pay that forward and to see if I can give that to the next generation of young players.”
“It’s just going to be them and their harps and learning and thinking about how to be a little bit better,” she continued.
Kondonassis made her debut at age 18 with the New York Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta. The Norman, Okla., native has appeared as a soloist with major orchestras in the United States and abroad including the Cleveland Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony, NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic (Poland), Orquesta Sinfonica de Puerto Rico, Odessa Philharmonic (Ukraine) and New World Symphony to name a few.
Kondonassis says musicians need to love what they do.
“That’s the first ingredient of being great at what you do,” she said. “You can be good at it if you don’t love it, but you can’t be great. I think you need to remind people on a regular basis of why they love it.”
The musician, who has been featured on CNN, NPR, PBS and Sirius XM, started out her young musical life as a pianist.
“My mom was a piano teacher,” she said. “When I was about 9, I took up the harp. I thought it was cool. Because I had so much piano training, the harp was relatively easy at first. It’s actually a difficult instrument. Lucky for me, I was hooked long before it got hard.”
As a performer and soloist, Kondonassis says much of her career has been spent educating people about the harp.
“I really feel the harp has always had a little bit of an image problem,” she said. “That angelic idea, the heavenly stuff, the light and airy impression people get from the harp — it all depends on the harpist and the setting.”
The harpist has strived to expand people’s perceptions and enable them to regard it as a powerful concert instrument.
“Part of my life’s work has also been commissioning new original works for the harp,” she said. “As time goes on, larger audiences are seeing the harp in a much more substantial light. Great players are the way to help that cause.”
Kondonassis credited Monteux School President Philip Devenish for helping to bring the institute to life and further her vision.
“When you’re gathering a bunch of harpists in the woods,” she said, “there are many angles to address, and he’s been a wonderful collaborator.”
Devenish sees the institute as a vehicle for shaping the next generation of orchestral harpists.
“Yolanda is on a mission, and the Monteux School and Music Festival could not be more proud of its role in supporting it,” he said.
Aged 14 to 24, the Maine Coast Harp Institute’s inaugural students hail from all corners of the United States and Canada. They will take have private lessons with Kondonassis as well as participate in discussion groups and projects.
The institute will host a teachers’ forum, in person and virtually on Saturday, Aug. 13, in which harp instructors and professors from the U.S. and South America will converge for a day of discussion on the art of teaching the harp.
The student session will conclude with a recital by Juan Riveros, a former student of Kondonassis, at 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12, at the Monteux campus located at 42 Melody Lane in Hancock. The program will include harp repertoire favorites and music of Latin and South America.