Composers tend to write works for the musical forces available to them at a given time. During a six-month sojourn to Paris in 1778, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed a concerto for a duke, who played the flute, and the duke's daughter, a harpist.
Stories abound about Mozart's alleged dislike for the flute, but if that were the case, it seems unlikely he would have composed two concertos for the instrument. As for the harp, only one of Mozart's 600-plus compositions features that instrument.
For the Oklahoma City Philharmonic's upcoming classics concert, harpist Yolanda Kondonassis and flutist Marina Piccinini will be the featured soloists in Mozart's “Concerto for Flute and Harp, K. 299.” The concert, subtitled “Mozart and Mahler,” also will feature Mahler's “Symphony No. 1 in D Major.” Joel Levine will conduct.
“With any kind of double concerto, the soloists have to be functioning as one organism, or it just does not work,” said Kondonassis, a Norman native who teaches harp at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
“I've worked with Marina several times, and it's always been an absolute pleasure. She plays the flute like that blending organism. The first time we played together, it was like getting in a Ferrari and pushing the pedal.”
Mozart's “Concerto for Flute and Harp” showcases its soloists throughout, individually and in tandem. And, as is common in any concerto by the Austrian master, the transparency of the musical textures presents any number of challenges for the soloists.
“I think anybody will tell you that Mozart is the easiest and the most difficult to play,” Piccinini said. “This concerto is in essence an operatic work. There's a stroke of genius in the combination of a wind instrument and a plucked instrument. The precision, perfection, elegance and poise required are just extraordinary.”
In much the same way that five pianists will offer five different readings of the same piano concerto, Mozart's “Concerto for Flute and Harp” affords its soloists numerous opportunities to put their unique interpretive stamp on the work.
“I don't think you can find two instruments that could vary so much from one player to another,” Kondonassis remarked. “The flute can sound like a different instrument in the hands of two flutists. With the harp, everything is manual. Finger texture can make it sound like everything from a lute to a piano.