CULTURE

Estoudiantina’s musical revival

Just a year ago, few knew of their existence. But after last June, when they appeared at the Herod Atticus Theater alongside George Dalaras, people started talking about the Estoudiantina from Nea Ionia; even more so when their first album, «Smyrne,» was released. An intriguing contemporary music orchestra, the Estoudiantina follows in the footsteps of orchestras which once flourished in Asia Minor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In an age when the clarinet and the bouzouki, together with the majority of traditional instruments, receive scant attention from the State, a group of musicians from Volos started making noteworthy efforts in order to revive this musical genre. Since 1998, the year it was established, the orchestra has appeared in 150 performances. This week, the Estoudiantina is scheduled to return to Athens with two performances at the capital’s Gagarin 205 (March 12 and 13), where they will perform together with vocalists Eleni Vitali, Christos Tsiamoulis, Lizeta Kalimeri, Sophia Papazoglou, fresh talent Panayiotis Lalezas, Petros Gaitanos and Chronis Aidonidis. They will interpret Cafe Aman and Cafe Santan songs. It was collector Panayiotis Kounakis who made the first attempts to reintroduce the era’s repertoire by putting together various orchestras in the Estoudiantina manner. Andreas Katsiyiannis, today artistic director of the Nea Ionia Estoudiantina, participated in a few of these orchestras. «I thought about it very hard and I decided to make a proposal to the Nea Ionia Municipality in Magnesia,» says Katsiyiannis, a 27-year-old musician and composer. Aided by two prominent musicians, Andreas Tsekouras and Kyriakos Gouventas (and Christos Tsiamoulis later on), they began collecting and researching material. «What we really did was to begin gathering the area’s musicians, the young people, in order to establish some sort of school.» What exactly is the Estoudiantina? Essentially an orchestra boasting a rich history: First seen in France, in the early days the orchestra was based on the mandolin. As the musical genre flourished, it spread all the way to Asia Minor, where Estoudiantina orchestras became musical bridges between East and West. «This is why the mandolin featured in various orchestras from Smyrna to Constantinople; there were mandolin-guitar or mandolin-barrel organ combinations,» says Katsiyiannis. Derived from a Latin term for study, the Estoudiantina in Volos developed into a vocation. «Our efforts weren’t geared to turning professional,» says Katsiyannis. Could this be the reason behind their subsequent success? A group of 15- to 45-year-old musicians (public servants, teachers and conservatory professors, among others) also includes some amateurs. How did they manage to come together under the same banner? «On the one hand, we had a sort of beginner’s enthusiasm, while on the other, it was all about a professional’s seriousness and perfectionism. That is why in the end, we have both free and stylized sounds,» says Katsiyiannis. Given that the orchestra doesn’t have a maestro, the conductor’s role usually goes to an instrument or musician’s nods. «There are arrangements and different parts. All this is carried out in a balanced way, without someone specifically pointing out how. If it’s necessary, however, somebody picks up the baton.» Besides the repertoire stemming from Smyrna, the Estoudiantina is also looking to the Balkans, while preparing tributes to soloists and Mediterranean songs. «We are not reviving a style and a way of playing music,» says Katsiyiannis. «We are developing our own expression.»