Harpist Yolanda Kondonassis's recital at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on Wednesday evening evolved like a master class: She introduced each of seven idiomatic works for the harp and highlighted many of the instrument's special musical effects. In a sonata by Basque composer and harp pioneer Carlos Salzedo, she explained the work by focusing on the instrument's unique effects: the glissando (a fast stroke across the strings), the "nail" glissando (an icier effect done with the fingernails), various percussive techniques and the "xylophone" effect (a slightly thumped and damped sound).
A second work by Salzedo included yet another special effect, one used by Puccini in "Turandot": weaving a narrow strip of paper between the upper register strings. The sound reminded one of childhood days, happily riding a bicycle with baseball cards stuck in the spokes, snapping, crackling.
The harp is an instrument with many possibilities, yet there remain big gaps in the repertoire for the instrument. Kondonassis put it succinctly: "We are playing about 75 percent of the original harp and piano repertoire tonight."
Kondonassis's remarks brought a pleasant informality to the concert, heard in the museum's attractive auditorium. Also on the program were two of her own transcriptions, the Scarlatti harpsichord sonata in A, K. 208, and an adaption of Gershwin's Prelude No. 2. In the Gershwin she created a bluesy sound with the "pedal glissando" effect. She demonstrated it "badly played," then correctly, "so you'll know I meant to do that!"
Played sixth on the concert was Toshi Ichiyanagi's "Flowers Blooming in Summer." Kondonassis explained the work as a musical form of "abstract art" representing the full process of a blooming flower. This bloom, however, seemed under-watered and too lightly sunned.