Ten years ago, Leni Konialidis brought together a group of young Greek and Turkish musicians on the conviction that longstanding rivalries could be overcome and friendship could flourish through music.
At the beginning of this month the Greek-Turkish Youth Orchestra (GTYO) traveled around Greece on its 10th annual tour as a paradigm of intercultural dialogue that builds bridges of communication across the Aegean Sea.
From September 1 to 8, the 60-member ensemble, comprising an equal number of Greek and Turkish young artists, held five concerts in Rhodes, Crete, Elefsina and Athens, spreading a message of peaceful coexistence and cooperation.
Shortly before the closing performance at Zappeion Hall in the Greek capital, Xinhua spoke to the GTYO founder and president, as well as with this season’s conductor, Zoe Zeniodi, and the young musicians about how music brings people closer together.
“I believe music is a universal language that allows people to communicate without their own language and nationality. It is very beautiful to see in this Greek-Turkish orchestra how the musicians have occasions to meet each other, to make friendships through music, and all boundaries are forgotten,” said Konialidis.
A mother of three, Konialidis noticed how all her children stopped fighting as soon as they started playing music together. Music also helped her children integrate while the family was living in Uruguay.
She said music has the power to change relationships and foster understanding between people from different backgrounds.
“I think this is very important for the future, the world we are living in. Maybe it is not a solution for everything, but it is a beautiful thing for young people,” she said.
The members of the GTYO are chosen each year by the maestro through video recordings. They meet for the first time in rehearsals about a week before the first concert. After performing in Greece or Turkey, they return home.
When it comes to how the cultural experience affected the youngsters, Konialidis said they went away with new friendships, good memories and a new perspective on each other’s nations.
“I think it affects them enormously. First of all, Greeks and Turks do not often have the occasion to meet. So just the fact of meeting, they discover other cultures, other countries,” she said.
Cellist Gokce Bahar Oytun, 27, was one of the soloists on this year’s tour. She joined the GTYO four years ago on an invitation by Turkish maestro Cem Mansur, who was the conductor of the ensemble at the time.
She said music promoted unity and helped make differences disappear. “When we are playing in the orchestra, we just want to share music and do our best for music. So it is just about being one.”
Timoleon Kimon Anastasiadis, 25, plays the violin, and joined the GTYO for first time this year. He said of the long-held prejudices on both sides of the Aegean that when he returned to Cologne to continue his studies, he hoped that he had helped a little to break them.
“It was a very beautiful experience, because you can see how many things we have in common with the Turkish people after all,” the Greek musician told Xinhua. “Indeed, there is nothing dividing us. The beautiful thing is that this also stands for the Turks. They also see us like brothers.”
Zeniodi said she felt lucky to have the chance to see it happening at the GTYO, witnessing the striking difference between the young people who meet each other on the first day and how they embrace each other pledging to keep in touch at the end.
“Prejudices? Yes, it is possible for some people, depending on how they were brought up and based on what we are hearing,” she commented. “Music cannot fix everything. We need other things as well. We can do this – concerts, rehearsals, working together – so that we can take the world a few steps forward.” [Xinhua]