CULTURE

Special agenda for Olympic year

Just under way, this year’s Hellenic Festival, the annual summer event comprising a diverse agenda of artistic productions at the Herod Atticus Theater in Athens, the theater at Ancient Epidaurus, as well as the Small Theater of Ancient Epidaurus, has prepared a program larger than usual with the upcoming Athens Olympics in mind. The music on offer, stretching from classical to the more contemporary and from various parts of the world – most of it at the Herod Atticus, though five events are booked for the Little Theater of Epidaurus in July – stands as one of the festival’s highlights. These include performances by acclaimed visiting performers such as gospel performer Liz McComb, Philip Glass, Brazilian composer and Culture Minister Gilberto Gil, and some of the world’s most celebrated orchestras. The festival was launched just days ago by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra with a performance focusing on works by Brahms. A lifelong look into works by Mikis Theodorakis for film and theater, performed by the Athens-based orchestra named after the composer, is the festival’s next musical event, on May 29 and 30 at the Herod Atticus. The Theodorakis shows are just two of many worthwhile concerts lined up over the festival’s five-month duration through late September. Next month begins with a Luciano Pavarotti charity performance in aid of the Elpida Association of Friends of Children with Cancer, headed by UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Marianna Vardinoyianni, on June 1. Two days later, Glass, among the most innovative and influential composers of the 20th century, will present the world premiere of his composition «Orion,» commissioned by the Cultural Olympiad, the four-year series of cultural events leading to the Athens Olympics. The production features a multicultural cast that includes includes Ravi Shankar, didgeridoo player and craftsman Mark Atkins – who has helped preserve musical and storytelling traditions of Australia’s aboriginals through his performances – and top-selling local singer Eleftheria Arvanitaki, one of the country’s bigger musical exports in recent years. Gil, the seasoned and influential Brazilian composer who currently holds his nation’s top post at the Culture Ministry, is scheduled to perform at the Herod Atticus on July 6. His efforts to fuse various styles, such as samba, salsa, and bossa nova with rock, rate him as a pioneer in what has come to be known as «world music» today. Also in July, on the fourth of the month, this time from Japan, the musical ensemble Hibiki will present traditional music and songs in a performance that also incorporates dance. The ensemble bases its sound primarily on three traditional instruments: the samisen, a traditional three-stringed, banjo-like instrument; the waidako, a percussive instrument; and the sakuhatsi, a wind instrument made of bamboo. Leading Japanese musicians will take part, among them Hibiki master Mitsugu Oyama. The London Symphony Orchestra, booked for three nights, August 7-9, and conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, will present works by Belioz, Koukos, Sibelius, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. The festival’s agenda for September includes the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra on the month’s first two days for renditions of compositions by Tchaikovsky, Bach, Dvorak, and local composers Sissilianos, Kouroupos, Drossitis, and Evangelatos. Liz McComb, the famed Paris-based American gospel singer, composer and pianist, is scheduled to perform toward the festival’s end, on September 24 and 25. Over the past two decades, McComb has guided a considerable following through the world of gospel. This tempestuous artist, one who is extremely aware of her Afro-American roots, has fused the style with jazz, blues, soul and funk to ultimately expand the form’s boundaries and highlight its artistic significance. A couple of nights later, on September 27 and 28, the festival will feature music from the Balkans with performances by one of the country’s more distinguished vocalists, Savina Yiannatou, and her regular backing band Primavera en Salonico; the Bulgarian vocal group Angelite, which ranks as one of the world’s finest vocal ensembles; and the internationally renowned Turkish act Burhan Ocal, a leading figure in the neighboring country who has managed to fuse traditional Turkish music with modern jazz and contemporary Turkish classical music. Ocal will be accompanied by his Istanbul Oriental Ensemble and an award-winning Serbian trumpet player, Bojan Ristic, leader of the Gold Melos Brass Band. Local musical performances at the festival include the Orchestra of Colors on July 18 with a program dedicated to its founder titled «Manos Hadjidakis – 10 Years Later.» A night earlier, the gifted Greek pianist Dimitris Sgouros, accompanied by the Kodaly String Quartet, will present works by Mozart and Brahms. The talented guitarist and composer Notis Mavroudis has been booked for August 11 and 12 with the singers Glykeria, Elli Paspala and Pantelis Thalassinos. A day after the opening ceremony for the Athens Olympics, the Athens State Orchestra will perform «36 Greek Dances» by Nikos Skalkottas on August 14. It performs again on August 27 (works by Shchedrin and Orff) and September 21 and 22 (Arthur Honegger). The Thessaloniki State Orchestra will perform a Skalkottas world premiere, his Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra, on July 16. Traditional Greek dances and songs from all over the country will be presented by the Lyceum of Greek Women on August 16 and 17. Dionysis Savvopoulos presents a career-spanning set on July 25 and 26. On August 2 and 3, Giorgos Dalaras will head a night of Mediterranean music. The evening’s cast includes other top-selling acts from the region, including Dulce Pontes, Eddy Napoli and Reyes Martin, as well as top soloists from Morocco and the Arab world.