CULTURE

Giorgos Koumentakis and holy minimalism in music

Over the last few years Giorgos Koumentakis has been residing on Tinos, where the island?s less frenetic rhythms coupled with his mellow mood has led him into a particularly productive and creative period. Given the composer?s honesty, spontaneity, directness and realism, the ensuing interview felt like a psychotherapy session, especially given its rhythm, tempo and volume.

Born in Rethymnon, Crete, in 1959, Koumentakis started composing at the age of 15. Amid his rich oeuvre, comprising over 70 works, are his compositions for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games ceremonies.

Two of Koumentakis?s works, namely ?Typewriter Tune? and ?Isokratima enos mesilika? (loosely translated, ?The Holding of a Single Note by a Middle-Aged Man?), will be performed by the Camerata Orchestra and various soloists at the Athens Concert Hall on Thursday, February 10.

Before the performance you will be present the evening?s works to the audience. Why do it before the concert, as opposed to afterward, which is more usual?

It will prepare them for what they are going to hear. I like this documentary perception where people get into art, if they so wish of course. Talking about the works enables people to understand them better. This is particularly true of pieces which are being performed for the first time. I don?t even know what the work is all about myself. It?s very attractive to discover the work?s content along with everyone else.

You selected the works for the rest of the concert?s program, just like a DJ would at a nightclub. What are you more nervous about, the lecture or the concert itself?

I?m anxious about the concert, but everything makes me nervous. I can never get used to it. The exposure is so tremendous that my anxiety reaches a climax. After the concert the agony crumbles to pieces, along with parts of myself. I?m calm only when the work is actually being performed. If the timing is good with the audience I slowly find some peace of mind. Everything else, however, is very difficult.

Does your psychology change when it comes to past works being performed?

The audience is not the same. But as far as I?m concerned, every single performance means going back to the very beginning. If it?s not the work?s premiere, I try to avoid going altogether. Sometimes the communication aspect can be very painful.

You work closely with the Camerata, an ensemble which has changed over the years. How would you describe your collaboration?

I?ve been collaborating with the orchestra for a number of years. I?ve changed and so has the Camerata. The core, however, remains unaltered: There is a relationship, an intense friendship. We?ve been working together for many years now and the bonds created are very strong. The ensemble might have its ups and downs, but when I attend concerts featuring my works, I never see any of this. Rehearsals are a very important part of the music process — it?s when you cleanse the material — and it?s terrific when musicians ungrudgingly offer what on other occasions they might give you with great difficulty. The relationship with the musicians is a very lively one.

Beside your works, why did you pick pieces by Arvo Part, Gerardo di Giusto and Giya Kancheli for the upcoming concert?

Above all because of the way in which we deal with traditional elements. Our musical thinking does not unfold irrespectively of traditional music identity. Overall, the trend is that of a holy minimalism, a sense of simplicity, without repetition, a rather metaphysical mood. The material has a sort of metaphysical attraction. All the works follow the notion of the Byzantine isokratima (sustaining a single note in Byzantine choral works), which provides a strong basis for the creation of a music universe. All four works have a hypnotizing quality, they are works of peaceful simplicity.

Do they perhaps evoke a feeling of deep sadness?

It?s not sad music; it might even be considered upbeat. This is because it does not spring from an inward-looking pain. We are ?slow art? fans. We are not interested in the kind of tunes which say, ?Listen to me,? but instead those that invite you to slowly get into the mood. Not everything has to be carried out at great speed. In this case, it?s as if time is standing still. When you don?t follow a kind of special-effects process you, show the public greater respect. It?s the exact opposite of image. Ears are invited to maintain their own rhythm.

How did ?Typerwriter Tune? and ?Isokratima enos mesilika? come about?

The former was written a couple of years ago and was performed by a saxophone quartet. It?s a series of works inspired by tradition, a type of correspondence I forward to various recipients, ranging from people to natural phenomena. In this case, the recipient was John Cassavetes?s 1968 ?Faces.? The latter is a self-portrait about entering middle age and includes all the different facets: the harshness, the beauty of realizing that you have a new maturity, going backward as well as a more substantial recording of your experiences. You make your peace with time — with sounds, in my case — with life and the way you perceive nature.

Athens Concert Hall, 1 Kokkali