Tsalahouris celebrates first 10 years

This year Philippos Tsalahouris celebrates 10 years of making music for the theater. Since November 15 he has been playing his own music in Lena Nikolopoulou’s production Stagona sta Gonata (Drop on the Knees) at the Hytirio Theater. If his past collaborations with the Theatro Technis, the National Theater and the State Theater of Northern Greece have made him widely known, then his especially rich body of work, which includes, among much more, symphonic music, masses, string quartet music and poetry set to music, shows another dimension of a multifaceted personality, something quite apparent in our conversation with him. Does working for the theater especially interest you, or did it happen by chance? I’ve always loved the theater a great deal. Ever since I was a student at the Conservatory, I’ve spent a lot of time following stage productions. I found myself teaching at the Theatro Technis when I was only 21 years old and this was a passport for me into the field. The Theatro Technis offered me my first commission for a score for a theatrical production. Since childhood I’ve been attracted to the atmosphere of the theater. I flirt with the stage and am interested in it for both its musical as well as its theatrical aspects. You have composed symphonies, concertos, masses, operas and ballets. Do you believe that these forms of music can survive; that they have a future? I would say that they can’t survive. But I work with them in order to find ways to make them survive. I’m very interested in the question of form. I believe that the study of form is an exercise in music itself. For many years we did not have strict musical form and I believe that this is the reason why no works remain from some eras. It is not by chance that many of the world’s composers return to form from a different perspective: Schnitke, Gubaidulina and Pert test themselves using form. I too am interested in giving meaning to conventional forms. I’m not trying to renew, but to be renewed through this quest for form. Were your larger works written on commission or were they composed regardless of whether there was a chance that they would be performed or not? I have written very little on commission. I write music so that I can become better both as a musician and as a person. Of course, I would like my work to be performed. I believe that when one composes on his own initiative then he is rewarded by life and music. Common sense says that no-one today is going to compose a large opera with many characters. Our self-interest says that one must adapt to the conditions of the day, however strange they might seem. I have different experiences. For example, when I was writing my second mass for a large choir, church organ and percussion, friends and colleagues tried to discourage me, saying that it would be difficult to perform such a work in Greece. Yet, chance had it that the mass was performed only a few months after its completion. Do politics have a place in your work? Man has a place in my work. Sometimes, with my romanticism and lyricism, I feel that I protest far too much. I feel that some of my songs, with lyrics by Lapithiotis or poets of the inter-war period, are a far greater form of resistance than if I was to go on a protest march. What is the relationship between the words and the music in your work? I believe, objectively speaking, that the greatest thing that Greece has produced in the 20th century is poetry. It is more important, then, for a composer to keep up with the poetry that is being written than to go to concerts. I believe that a good composer does not create music for poetry, he discovers it. A different kind of music emerges from the poetry of each era. A composer who is well aware of his role in his own time and is receptive can discover music through poetry. There is poetry that can be set to music and poetry that can’t be set to music. As I see it, Cavafy can’t be set to music as his strength lies in his language. A well-known Greek composer used to say music is one. What are your thoughts on this? I would say that certainly music is one because everything else is not music! Music, then, is not one, but the effect that it has on people is one. The need for music is one.

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