CULTURE

Preserving a musical legacy

The chief conductor of the Athens State Orchestra and one of Greece’s most eminent maestros, Byron Fidetzis has had his name indelibly linked to his battle to revive the legacy of Greek musical history by recording numerous forgotten works. A look at his schedule in the coming months is indicative of his commitment. He is booked at the Herod Atticus Theater for another appearance – following July 23’s concert of Petros Petridis’s Byzantine oratorio «Saint Paul» with the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir – to conduct the Athens State Orchestra in Nikos Skalkottas’s seminal «36 Greek Dances» on August 14, the day after the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympic Games. Next, in Thessaloniki on September 14, Fidetzis will present «Pentathlon,» a piece composed by Dionysis Lavrangas for the Olympic Games of 1896, followed by a concert with the «Requiem for Constantine Palaeologus» by Petridis in its world premiere on October 23. In the meantime, the next few weeks should see the release of the recorded symphonies of Petridis and Dimitris Dragatakis, as well as the operas «Rhea» by Spyros Samaras and «Constantine Palaeologus» by Manolis Kalomiris. In contrast to Catholicism, Greeks do not have a tradition in music composed exclusively for religious purposes, such as oratorios and masses. Is «Saint Paul» the exception? No. There are several such compositions, but they are unknown. Offhand, I can mention works by Nezeritis, Karyotakis, Sfakianakis, Astrinidis, Lavrangas, Riadis and, of course, Orthodox masses for choirs. Petridis himself has also composed a requiem. Do these form a tradition of which «Saint Paul» is a part? «Saint Paul» fits into the artist’s evolution… Throughout his life, the composer aspired to marry the ways of Byzantine music and traditional folk songs with European musical traditions, especially the French. The specific piece is «Byzantine» insofar as its character and musical approach are concerned. But its structure is drawn from the great oratorios of the West, as it includes narrative, a total of 13 soloists, and a large choir and orchestra. The composer thought of the then-archbishop of Athens, Spyridon – who expressed his support for Petridis’s work at a time when many said that such music was not a part of the Orthodox tradition – as the spiritual father of «Saint Paul» and the Requiem. Despite the support of the archbishop, however, the Requiem was never performed in public. Indeed. But it will be heard for the first time this year in Thessaloniki, on October 27, thanks to the deputy mayor, Mr Antonopoulos, who agreed to the proposal. In this piece, Petridis used two languages, Greek and Latin, possibly in order to draw attention to the humanist character of universal Byzantium. I would also like to express my thanks to the musicians of the Thessaloniki Municipal Orchestra who agreed to record this work, as well as Lavrangas’s «Pentathlon,» which was reconstructed as far as possible and will be performed in the context of the Demetria Festival [in Thessaloniki] on September 14. Where would you classify Petridis in terms of the history of Greek music? Broadly, he would belong to the «national school.» He is a great composer and also a deeply cultivated one. His work inspires respect. He was born in Cappadocia and grew up in Istanbul… In 1911 he went to Paris, where he studied Debussy and tried to combine what he found there with what he had inside. Musically, he was self-taught, but only in terms of European perceptions at the time. His creative process shows distinct signs of evolution: With the passage of time, his music became more abstract, tougher and harder for the listener. On August 14, at the Herod Atticus Theater, you will be conducting the Athens State Orchestra in Nikos Skalkottas’s «36 Greek Dances.» Why are you doing the «Dances» again, instead of one of his lesser-known works? I see the «36 Greek Dances» as one of the most important works of the 20th century, and it is also very palatable to the public, the visitors here for the Games and the general audience of the Herod Atticus. Later, in December, we will be doing something much bolder, an idea inspired by the book «Schoenberg’s Students,» in which there is a chapter dedicated to the Greeks, to Skalkottas and Harilaos Perpessas. With the Athens State Orchestra, we will perform Schoenberg’s «A Survivor from Warsaw,» Skalkottas’s Violin Concerto and Perpessas’s «Symphony of Christ» – all marvelous and essential works that are unknown to the public. Who decides on the Athens State Orchestra’s annual program? Last December, after a decision reached by Ministry of Culture, the artistic board was disbanded. Therefore, the responsibility for programming lies solely with the artistic director, who decides on suggestions of his own or those made by the chief conductors. Ripe time for Greece What do you think the future holds for the Athens State Orchestra? Beyond its artistic and cultural mission, the orchestra can play – I dare say it – a pivotal role on an international level. In a world that is generally looking a bit lost and in search of direction, especially in music, now that the the fuss over «contemporary music» has died down – contemporary music being defined by its idolatry rather than its music – a country like Greece, which has such significant composers, can play a much more essential role than it has to date. Therefore, alongside the repertory that every orchestra has a duty to perform, the Athens State Orchestra can also promote historical Greek music and set the pace for young composers… Also, and I can say this after having spent 10 years working in Europe, Greek musicians have nothing to envy in their foreign counterparts.