Songsters jump at chance to pen music for Palamas

Can the poetry of Costis Palamas still be put to music today, 60 years after his death? Can the man dubbed Greece’s «national» poet, whose oeuvre has inspired so many works over the past 10 years it seems incapable of inspiring more, still lead to new compositions by contemporary and even very young composers? The question is answered by a new CD which contains 19 poems by Palamas set to music by the same number of composers. Some are older and established names – like Nikos Xydakis, Stamatis Kraounakis, Orfeas Peridis, Giorgos Andreou, Melina Tanagri and Loudovikos ton Anogeion – while others are relative newcomers – such as Nikos Zoudiaris, Foivos Delivorias, Costas Leivadas, Costis Zevgadelis and Haig Yazdjian – and others still are appearing for the first time – like Costas Makras, Stefanos Kokkalis, Dora Panagopoulou, Christos Theodorou, Tassos Roussopoulos, Yiannis Archimandritis, Sophia Kamayianni and Vassilis Hadzinikolaou. This interesting collaboration and its admittedly excellent result was, surprisingly, an initiative of Athens University, which seems to have finally embraced new activities. The project was born two years ago with a series of events titled «Art Meetings» at the Old Athens University building in Plaka. Organizers decided that the events for 2003 should feature, among other things, a concert of new, commissioned works based on the poetry of Palamas by contemporary, and especially young, composers. But why Palamas specifically? «Partly because it was the Year of Palamas (commemorating 60 years since his death), partly because the poet served as the university’s general secretary for several decades, and also because we truly believe that Palamas is a poet of today,» said Iosif Vivilakis of Athens University’s Theater Studies Department, who was in charge of both the concert and the CD release. The CD, titled «I Can’t But Sing – 19 Poems by Palamas Set to Music,» is an Athens University production and lasts just under 80 minutes. Furthermore, it comes with an elegant little booklet with explanatory texts, a chronology of the poet’s life and work and the song lyrics. The artists who worked on the CD – composers, singers and musicians – did so without pay. «They responded with great enthusiasm from the outset and I cannot hide the fact that this was one of the reasons I went ahead with the project,» Vivilakis admits. Nevertheless, even after the success of the concert, Athens University would have been unable to fund the project on its own and owes the result, to a great degree, to the support it received from the national music copyright protection association, the Organization for Greek Music, as well as national broadcaster ERT’s Second and Third Radio programs. At the end of the day, though, one question remains. Is Palamas’s poetry really contemporary? «Yes,» answers Vivilakis, «and we believe that these songs prove it. They reveal a popular poet, a Palamas who is not epic, not the visionary of ‘The King’s Flute’ or ‘The 12 Words of the Gypsy,’ but a poet who is in tune with simple folk and with nature – with life. They show a poet who wrote about human pain, love and loss; as well as about desperate loners.»