A multifaceted musician frees the spirit with Indian/Greek concert

Most concertgoers are used to seeing her in piano duets with Annie Totsiou in 20th century works by composers such as Satie, Shostakovich, Scriabin and Rachmaninov. Next Monday though, on April 5, renowned pianist Lola Totsiou will be revealing a different side of her personality to Athenian audiences with a concert at Club 22. Playing the piano and singing, as well as interpreting a composition of her own, Totsiou will perform works by contemporary Greek artists and ancient Indian bhajans. She will be joined on stage by Theophilos Sotiriadis on saxophone, Nikos Psofogiorgos on drums, Tassos Misrilis on cello, Yiannis Polymeneris on double bass, Costas Theodorou on the saroud and Takis Barbas on the tablas and Indian flute. What exactly are you planning for April 5? A program in which Indian bhajans will be intermixed with contemporary Greek works. I have selected music by Christos Samarras, Kyriakos Sfetsas, Thodoris Mirisklavos, Antonis Anisengos and Michalis Siganidis, as well as a piece of my own for three pianists… Two on the keys and one on the strings. What are bhajans? Bhajans are devotional pieces. The word means «bliss» and these are simple songs that date very far back in Indian tradition. Accompanied by a traditional Indian flute, the singer interprets simple melodies. Bhajans have always expressed the feelings of people toward God in the form of prayer or thanks. The lyrics are made up of mantras – a combination of sounds that help relax the body and free the spiritual self. Bhajans are very open to improvisation. The lyrics are fixed and there is a basic musical form by which one member of the group leads and the others repeat the mantra. This can go on for up to an hour. Let me also mention that bhajans are being written to this very day. Actually, one of the ones we will perform was written by George Harrison of the Beatles, who worked with Ravi Shankar. Basically, the program highlights the contrasts between a simple type of folk music that is open to a variety of interpretations and comes straight from the heart, to a part of contemporary Greek music that expresses the complexity of modern life and the variety of feelings of modern man. What attracts you to contemporary music? I have been very interested in it over the past few years. I am particularly interested in the music of Schnittke, Gubaidulina and Ustvolskaya, and, on the Greek scene, the work of many composers – including, of course, the ones we will be performing. I’m interested in them because I think contemporary works are not a transmutation of other things, as was the case with music in the past, but that they are an expression of things themselves. In other words, the way they express a feeling is direct, unpolished. Also, there is a great variety of emotions in each individual piece. In terms of form, I would say that in one single work, you can identify a few lyrical lines followed by a few lines that express complete desperation, then anger. You can observe very distinct mood changes that reflect the way we really are. You mentioned three contemporary Russian composers and you also have an album with works by older Russians. What attracts you to the Russians? The emotions just burst out of the music and are sincerely expressed. The expression is genuine and clear, and of course, musically potent. This is not a given, not even in contemporary music. Does contemporary music have a wide public appeal? Absolutely. I have seen it. The audience’s interest in concerts that include contemporary works is much greater and they attracted more people. For example, we did a concert in Edessa of works by Schubert and Schnittke. At first we thought it was the Schubert people would come for and we just kind of threw in Schnittke because we liked him. After the concert, I was surprised to hear people, people who did not have any particular musical education, telling us how impressed they were by the intensity of Schnittke’s music, that they enjoyed the piece very much, that they found it gripping. That brings up the question of whether classical music requires a certain level of musical education to be really appreciated. Generally, I would say that classical music, like classical literature, does require some cultivation. The audience needs to understand that a concert is not about letting off steam, but about experiencing something. People have to be prepared for the fact that they will gain something, that the music will make them think; that they will experience new feelings, new stimuli. Is the world of classical music somewhat elitist? I’m afraid so. At least in terms of a very tight-knit circle of academics and experts. This is why presentation is very important. Personally, I care that my friends, who may not all have a direct association with music, enjoy themselves at my concerts. Over the past few years, we have seen Western artists – yourself included – becoming increasingly interested in the music of the East. The opposite has also been happening. How do you feel about the fact that Eastern artists have been showing an interest in Western music? I think it’s great, because it shows that one culture is interested in understanding another. It helps break down stereotypes and the sense of superiority, felt mostly by Western cultures. I personally find it very interesting to encounter a new type of music that is completely different from what I am accustomed to.

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