Skalkottas, Tsitsanis and ‘36 Greek Dances’

Greece’s two leading symphonic orchestras are gearing up for two performances featuring two landmark works of contemporary Greek music. Both performances, scheduled to take place at the Herod Atticus Theater in the following weeks, mark 100 years from the birth of celebrated Greek composer Nikos Skalkottas (the concerts are part of a variety of events organized throughout the year in his honor). World first The first concert takes place at the ancient theater this Friday, with the Thessaloniki State Orchestra interpreting the composer’s Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra (1944) in a world premiere. Featuring the Athens State Orchestra, the second performance will take place on August 14, the day after the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympics. The performance will feature Skalkottas’s best-known and most popular work, «36 Greek Dances.» «You can approach Skalkottas depending on your conceptualization of his work. Until recently, there were two conflicting views of the composer: the inaccessible Skalkottas of the 12-tone system on the one hand and the Skalkottas of the ‘Greek Dances,’ a tonal, beautiful piece of work that is very easy to understand. Further down the road, a third Skalkottas emerged, the one with the postwar tonal orchestra. In this Concerto for Two Violins we come across the fourth one: Clearly, this is a kind of prophetic Skalkottas…,» said musicologist Costis Demertzis at a recent press conference. Demertzis has orchestrated the second part of the Concerto for Two Violins – Skalkottas died suddenly in 1949, before completing the work’s orchestration. The work also marks the first time a Greek classical music piece incorporates a rebetiko theme – the middle part of the work is based on a Vassilis Tsitsanis tune. This demonstrates Skalkottas’s boldness, considering the prejudice that accompanied rebetika, not just in 1944, but also five years later, when another great Greek composer, Manos Hadjidakis, referred to the music genre as a legitimate entity in contemporary Greek music. Violins and dances The Thessaloniki State Orchestra returns to Athens following a 10-year absence and will interpret the Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra under the baton of young, critically acclaimed maestro Vassilis Christopoulos. In the second part of the evening, the orchestra will interpret Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 3 in A minor, Opus 56. «As Greeks, we are very fortunate to have such works. Skalkottas is a musical mine, within which lies hidden the essence of Greek tradition. His music was written through strife and struggle, coming straight from the soul of the people,» noted Byron Fidetzis, who will conduct the Athens State Orchestra in the composer’s «36 Greek Dances.» It is the work for which the composer became most famous during his life and the one which remains the best known, from its composition to the present.