Leading orchestras interpret the works of Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis

Until recently, with the exception of parts of Nikos Skalkottas’s «36 Greek Dances» and a minimal selection of other works that were recorded by celebrated conductor Dimitris Mitropoulos with the New York Philharmonic in the 1950s, no other Greek symphonic works had ever been recorded by a world-renowned conductor. This, however, has been remedied by the distinguished maestro Charles Dutoit, who went ahead and recorded works by Mikis Theodorakis with two of the world’s most distinguished orchestras, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, for Decca, the prestigious classical music label. The idea to conduct these recordings began to take shape several years ago when Dutoit, as musical director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, expressed his deep admiration for Theodorakis’s symphonic works to his friend Costas Spiliadis, a board member of the orchestra. During their initial discussion, Dutoit, who had met Theodorakis in Paris, expressed to Spiliadis what he felt was the need to rerecord and reintroduce symphonic work by Theodorakis to audiences of classical music. The two decided it would be fitting to present a concert of works by Theodorakis. Spiliadis, who was a member of PAM – the underground resistance group co-founded and led by Theodorakis during Greece’s military dictatorship (1967-1974) – as well as a fan of Theodorakis’s music, quickly informed his old comrade of Dutoit’s interest. As a result, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and its choir performed two concerts featuring works by Theodorakis at its home base and in New York at Lincoln Center. The shows were so well-received that it was swiftly decided to follow up with recordings. The resulting work, «Zorbas Ballet – Adagio Carnaval,» an album sponsored by local radio station Skai 100.3 FM, was presented at a recent news conference at Milos, Spiliadis’s new restaurant, situated within the Hilton Hotel in Athens. The event was attended by Theodorakis; the Greek National Opera’s director, Loukas Karytinos; music critic Giorgos Monemvasitis and the president of the Decca label, Costas Pilavakis, who flew in from London for the occasion. «At Decca, we believe that this album will make an extraordinarily big impression worldwide, as it not only presents, in magnificent fashion, the much-loved Zorbas melodies, but more importantly because many music aficionados all over the world will have the opportunity to discover two of the composer’s extremely important symphonic works which we at Decca believe in very much,» Pilavakis said. «This album will be a revelation, internationally, for fans of classical music,» he added. Not long after the Theodorakis concerts in Montreal and New York, Dutoit, the musicians, choir, and recording engineers began work on the project in Montreal’s St Eustache Church, a venue renowned for its superb acoustics, with acclaimed producer Andrew Cornall, who has been at the helm of some of the most important recordings made in recent decades. Highlights have included recordings of Hindemith and Richard Strauss in San Francisco, and Mahler in Amsterdam. The cast’s enthusiasm for this «Zorbas» project, recorded on October 12 2000, was evident from the outset. Dutoit, the musicians and choir combine to render a masterful «Zorbas Ballet» that reaches unprecedented artistic heights. Dutoit’s structure of the composition is breathtakingly faithful to the original. The people at Decca, delighted by the result, were eager to record more material for release with the same artistic team, but the ambition fell through when Dutoit feuded with the orchestra and suddenly abandoned it. Subsequently, the record label spent three-and-a-half years looking for an alternative solution. The time that elapsed was not unprofitable. The Philharmonia Orchestra of London, the world’s most prolific recording orchestra, was recruited for the project’s continuation. Dutoit re-entered the studio with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London to record excerpts of «Carnaval» and «Adagio» for flute, strings and percussion. They were joined by Greek soprano Ioanna Forti for the solo parts of «Zorba.» The recordings in London fared as well as those in Montreal to produce this landmark album in the history of Greek music.