Alexander Lipay’s solo flute rang out from the back of the orchestra Friday night and while its crystalline notes still hung in the air, harpist Yolanda Kondonassis answered.
She strummed the strings of her behemoth instrument, leaning lightly on her chest, with balletic grace and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra strings answered with equally sublime restraint.
A few moments later, the brass chimed in with decisive blasts punctuated by the percussion and restrained by the strings. Kondonassis’s angelic motions took on rock-star energy as the world-class harpist let her fingers run a marathon along the strings.
She strummed and plucked, her fingers flying across and up and down, in graceful circles and mad sprints. It was a beautiful mess of organized chaos that at times left us breathless.
Right then and there, any notion the audience of nearly 1,200 at Tucson Music Hall held of the harp as an instrument of calm and serenity was pleasantly shattered.
There are arguably few harpists out there with the connection to Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera’s rhythmic concerto. Kondonassis has performed it more than 200 times and counting, by her own estimates, and each time she said she discovers something new.
We’re wondering if the new thing she discovered Friday night with the TSO was the piece’s mambo-like flourishes and energy, a underlying spirit that toggled between the classical music of Brahms — whose Symphony No. 1 was the highlight of the concert’s second half — and the contemporary delightful dissonance of Evancio Castellanos’s “El Rio de las Siete Estrellas,” which opened the concert.
Lipay’s solo flute that opened the work snuck back in throughout the 25-minute performance. Gentle harp passages were interrupted by energetic spasms of percussion and brass reinforced by the strings often playing frenzied pizzicato and adding another percussive dynamic.
Early in the second movement, Kondonassis hit the pause button long enough to lull us into thinking that Ginastera was just messing with us. But then the brass came in and percussion broke its silence and Kondonassis returned to the frenetic whirlwind of fingers flying to create Ginastera’s terrific melody.
The TSO kicked off the concert with an orchestra premiere of Castellanos’s spirited “El Rio,” a work that opens with a flutter of stirring strings frustrated by rolling percussion and the distinctively Latin accents of tambourine and trumpet. The piece, among the contemporary Latin works championed by TSO Conductor Jose Luis Gomez, was alternately folky and funky, with delightful contrasts of dissonance and anthemic glory coming together in the final moments.