Drawing from the stars and myths to create a truly international show

The Herod Atticus Theater is hosting the world premiere of Philip Glass’s «Orion,» a production commissioned by the Cultural Olympiad and part of the season-long Athens Festival, tomorrow and Friday, before the show travels to Thessaloniki’s Dasos Theater on June 7 and 8. This is a truly multinational production with participation by acclaimed international artists, such as didgeridoo virtuoso Mark Atkins, Celtic violinist Ashley McIsaac, Chinese pipa composer Wu Man, sitar player Gaurav Mazumdar, West-African kora player and oral historian Foday Musa Suso, and Brazil’s Uakti music ensemble. The concert also features the esteemed Greek vocalist Eleftheria Arvanitaki and the Philip Glass Ensemble, a group founded by the composer 30 years ago. «I invited seven artists from different parts of the world to work with me,» said Glass at a recent press conference. «I was very open to their ideas… The result is a blend of traditional and contemporary sounds. «I can come up with the concept for a work, but without organization, without bodies like the Cultural Olympiad, it would remain a dream,» he said. «I am eagerly looking forward to the premiere… I think we will have a full moon on the night,» said the composer, who previously appeared at the Herod Atticus five years ago. International character The work, «Orion,» is inspired by one of the most distinctive constellations in the sky. In a note, Glass says, «It seems that almost every civilization has created myths and taken inspiration from Orion,» thus the work itself and its performers’ varied background represent the international character of the Olympic Games. Of the artists in the production, Glass said: «Some of them will present something traditional, others something contemporary. Eleftheria Arvanitaki was the only one of the artists in the ensemble who was new to me. Nevertheless, it’s like we’ve known each other for years.» The composer further sees the Cultural Olympiad as the «perfect extension to the Olympic Games. A soccer game, a sports event, the execution of a musical piece, are all events watched by people throughout the world. Sports and music have a lot in common deep down, even though at first sight they appear completely different. Every act of an athlete or a musician is imbued with tradition, discipline and the idea that they have to transcend existing limits.» Transcending limits is something with which Glass himself is familiar, as he has surpassing the norms ever since he was a young man, whether by graduating from the University of Chicago at the age of 19 with a major in mathematics and philosophy or by breaking out of the mold of his contemporary composers by examining in depth the tonal structures of Eastern music. According to Philip Glass’s official website, after graduating from university, the young, Baltimore-born man – who studied violin, flute and piano from a very young age – was determined to become a composer and moved to New York to attend the Julliard School. By then he had abandoned the 12-tone techniques he had been using in Chicago and gravitated toward American composers like Aaron Copland and William Schuman. By the age of 23, Glass had studied with Vincent Persichetti, Darius Milhaud and William Bergsma. He had rejected serialism and preferred such maverick composers as Harry Partch, Charles Ives, Moondog, Henry Cowell and Virgil Thomson, but he still had not found his own voice. Still searching, he moved to Paris and spent two years of intensive study under Nadia Boulanger. One of the major turning points in his career came when he was asked to transcribe music written by India’s Ravi Shankar for a film into notation that could be read by French musicians. This led him to investigate music in North Africa, India and the Himalayas, before returning to New York and applying the new techniques he learned to his own music. The prolific composer has since written music for the theater, opera, cinema and dance as well as chamber music and symphonic pieces. His concerts have an international standing, featuring in major festivals and venues worldwide. Quotes from the press conference have been translated from the Greek.