CULTURE

The Megaron celebrates ten years of existence

No matter who one talks to and how many disagreements arise, it is rare to find anyone who will disagree with one plain fact – that the creation of the Athens Concert Hall was revolutionary, not simply in terms of music, but as far as the broader cultural life of the country is concerned. The dark days when this country was, possibly, the only country in eastern and western Europe lacking a proper concert hall, are not that long ago – it has been precisely 10 years since the Athens Concert Hall first began operating, in October 1991. In the last few weeks, the Concert Hall has been in a festive mood, offering two ambitious concerts in order to celebrate a decade of exceptional organization, productive work and significant successes, though not without its fair share of doubts, carping and even sharp criticism. The Athens Concert Hall’s heart and soul is Christos Lambrakis, president of the board of directors. He is the pioneer of the revolution. The flattering term of ‘pioneer’ is not appropriate, since the Hall has numerous activities which are planned by the board of directors, by its advisory committee – which consists of leading personalities from a variety of cultural disciplines – by its artistic director, and by special collaborators as the need arises. As for the Hall’s role in Greece, I believe that first of all, it has turned out to be a useful educational tool (with entertainment playing a secondary role) in a country in need of such sources of cultural activity. Let me remind you that the ‘Friends of Music Hall’ in Vienna was constructed with funding by Doumbas, a Greek merchant, in the 19th century. The Hall has set an example in organization by preparing its programs one or even two years in advance; it has contributed, among others, to the creation of the Thessaloniki Concert Hall, the Musical July events in Ancient Epidaurus, the Camerata Friends of Music Orchestra and a network taking culture to the rest of Greece; it offered the Athens State Orchestra and fellow orchestras a proper setting for their concerts, while the Grand Music Library will be able to complete its educational mission once it moves to new premises, currently under construction. Finally, it has given the opportunity to dozens of Greek artists, composers, choreographers and interpreters to present their work properly, while thousands of young people, from Athens and the rest of the country, have come into contact with cultural events which up to now have been unknown or inaccessible. Do you believe that the Concert Hall has delivered? Are you satisfied with all that it has accomplished during this first decade? The Concert Hall found its way gradually. Don’t you find this a normal outcome in a country which prior to 1990 didn’t have a single hall with satisfactory acoustics? The truth is that the initial concept was based solely round the concert halls. But there was also a need to educate a public which was largely ignorant of the great landmarks of international music, whether contemporary or classical. This dictated broadening the programming to include other stage productions, exhibitions, dance productions and other events. As for being satisfied, the cycle of experimentation and exploration is not yet complete. After all, Greece waited for such a hall for a century and a half. And this one here has been operating only in the last decade, while as far as construction goes, it will be fully completed next year. Allow some time, therefore, before reaching a final conclusion… Do you consider the 2.1 million tickets sold at the box office for the approximately 2,000 Concert Hall productions a satisfactory figure? This question ought to be addressed to a theater producer. The Concert Hall’s determining factor cannot possibly be the number of tickets sold – just consider that many young people come to the events, and not only the purely educational ones, for free. On the other hand, a number of productions which were initially labeled difficult demonstrated that both the Athenian public, as well as those of other cities, welcome these cultural challenges with interest and enthusiasm. Perhaps these kinds of experiments are of even greater value than queuing to buy tickets for a star performer. There are those who talk about the Concert Hall having an initiated or even socialite public. Are they justified in saying this, or is it that, on the contrary, the Athens Concert Hall’s public is a varied one, young and diverse, as much as it can be? Is it true that there is still talk out there about the Hall’s supposedly socialite public? Even after 10 years of witnessing the contrary? I can only imagine that these kinds of definitions belong to those who have never set foot in the Hall’s concerts – whether popular or classical – or been to the exhibitions, plays and lectures, but are nevertheless frequently seen at charity events, which are by definition social events. Let’s get serious, however: The Hall does not have a public, but rather numerous publics who choose to attend the various events, some of which are entertaining, others of a more educational nature. The Hall’s central role is to suggest the broadest series of events as possible, within the framework set by the advisory committee. And although the nature of the auditoriums favors classical symphony music and chamber music, right from the start the Concert Hall’s programs included jazz, musical theater, contemporary music, popular and folk music, among others. The aim of this broad programming was to reach out to people who didn’t necessarily relate to classical music. At the same time, it was also about offering a chance for the classical music audience to get to know other kinds of music, presented in the best possible way. As far as the initiated public is concerned, it is clear that an evening of German non-commercial song, for instance, is aiming at a rather small audience. Yet this kind of event must have a proper home, so that even the uninitiated can get a chance to see it. That is why a number of events are accompanied by lectures and courses as well as the publication of educational material. Of course, bringing in the public is one of the principal aims and priorities; it is an ongoing task. Take for instance, the new schedule of the Camerata Orchestra, which will be announced shortly. It includes the orchestra’s systematically venturing out to a large number of municipalities in the Attica region. What is currently under construction, not just behind, but also next to the existing building? Was it all part of the initial plans or was it developed along the way? What is being constructed next to the Concert Hall? Well, the last section, exactly as announced in the past. It includes underground areas for cultural and conference activities; underground exhibition and restaurant areas; an underground car park and a Grand Music Library. Apart from a small part above the surface, the complex will be situated underneath a park, complete with trees and running water. It’s an achievement… As for the Vassilisis Sophias pit, it will recover its previous appearance, only now it will cover the underground link between the Metro and the Hall. It is not uncommon for the world’s greatest cultural institutions to have a central figure who forges policy. Do you ever consider how the Hall’s smooth operations and creativity will be affected when this person leaves? The Athens Concert Hall is a special case. On the one hand, it was the most successful and productive collaboration between the State and the private sector, the Association of the Friends of Music that is, while on the other, there were many creative elements in Greek society who constantly and lovingly supported its activities. All these people, from the highest to the lowest, provide the guarantee for its smooth functioning. This, of course, provided that the State’s willingness to put it to good use does not diminish. As far as the central figures are concerned, bear in mind that no one is irreplaceable. The role (and pay) of foreign artists A few years ago, we witnessed the Hall’s efforts to collaborate with foreign cultural institutions in co-productions of original works, linking Greek and foreign artists. Though only a limited number of works were produced, the efforts proved successful. More recently, however, these efforts, instead of being encouraged, seem to be fading. Why is that? The co-productions of musical works between the Athens Concert Hall and opera houses abroad proved much harder than we had imagined, due to technical reasons. Despite this, however, the production of Gluck’s Orpheus, staged in the smaller Dimitris Mitropoulos hall, traveled abroad, while Mikis Theodorakis’s Lysistrata will be translated so that it can be staged abroad. Furthermore, the Concert Hall is a member of ECHO, an international network of concert halls promoting international collaborations. One of these is Rising Stars, a program aiding talented young artists to perform in leading concert halls around the world. Bob Wilson’s recent production of Prometheus, with music by Xenakis, was staged in New York before going on tour. More international collaborations are being planned for the 2002-2004 period, among others, a new version of Xenakis’s Oresteia (for German theaters); a co-production with the Netherlands Dance Theater, as well as a fresh version of Brecht’s Mother Courage. A number of Greek artists collaborating with the Hall complain of unfair treatment over payment. The general impression is that foreign artists are paid generously as opposed to the local ones. Institutions such as the Concert Hall are obliged to follow the rules of the international market. If the Greek public is to be introduced to some of the greatest contemporary artists, we have to respect these rules. And contrary to the practice of other Greek cultural organizations (which are often criticized by the Greek press), no artist has ever been paid more by the Hall than by other European concert halls. At the same time, perhaps you have noticed that certain artists who are well known for the exorbitant amount of money they charge, unjustifiably (various famous, mature tenors, for instance) never appear at the Hall. It is a matter of principle. On the other hand, as far as Greek artists are concerned, there is no issue of monopoly treatment as there are other institutions which evaluate and pay Greek artists, such as the Athens Festival, the National Opera and the state orchestras, among others. The Hall follows the rules in force.