The Athens Festival Choir emerges on stage – quietly

Quietly, without any fanfare, yet also without the publicity due to such an event, the Athens Festival Choir, a new artistic venture in an area which is deficient in Greece, has been formed and has even made its first appearances. The choir was set up as a result of a decision announced with much pomp a few months ago by Pericles Koukos, the new president of the Hellenic Festival. Now that it has been established, however, it remains, for some inexplicable reason, in the shadows. Inexplicable is the word, because it is a praiseworthy musical venture which, if undertaken properly, could develop into an invaluable asset on Greece’s music scene. Yet what were the reasons behind the formation of the Athens Festival Choir, what are the goals of this new musical venture, how have its members been selected, and what are the prospects for its survival? These pertinent questions have been touched on in passing by Kathimerini several times in the past eight months and today Antonis Kontogiorgiou, the distinguished choir master chosen by the Hellenic Festival to direct the newly founded choir, replies. The need for a new choir is obvious, he says. Just think that in Bulgaria alone there are 4,000 choirs, in Japan there are 150,000 and in Greece only 400, many of which exist in name only. And of these – if we exclude the choir of the National Opera, which works with specific material – only one, the choir of the Greek Radio and Television corporation (ERT), is completely professional. And the ERT choir does not operate in the summer. Neither can it meet the needs of highly demanding works on its own, and for this reason it often collaborates with the Choir of Macedonia. High standards What are the goals of this choir? Primarily, to meet the needs of the Athens Festival at its various events, says Kontogiorgiou. But I have made proposals for several other activities, to which Mr. Koukos listened with much enthusiasm, including performances abroad in an exchange with the festivals of other countries. This would require very high standards, though. This is our goal and for this reason the choir consists of excellent musicians, who were selected at auditions by Garoufalis, Yiakas, Tsouchlos and myself. They are 40 very talented people, both men and women. Will the choir operate throughout the year or will it meet just occasionally in the summer? A choir of high standards cannot operate occasionally, Kontogiorgiou says emphatically. Otherwise, how will we mold it, how will it acquire a homogeneous character? I proposed that it should operate all year round, in many concerts, he continues. It needs to participate in the events of the Hellenic Festival and the Athens Concert Hall, make appearances abroad and perform in concerts, especially of an educational nature, all over Greece. Moreover, the choir can contribute to a project of great importance: the performance and recording of dozens of Greek choral works which today remain unperformed in a drawer somewhere. Will it be a body which forms for a particular occasion or permanent? This (the latter option) is what I proposed and this is the wish of the Hellenic Festival, replies Kontogiorgiou. But for the time being, the choir members have signed contracts for individual performances, one for each of the two concerts in which they are participating. It had to be done this way in order to progress with the task in hand and gain time so that the prospects could be studied in depth. It remains to be seen if the Hellenic Festival can meet the operational costs of the choir. In the meantime, the choir made its first appearance at the fourth Meeting of Choirs at the Kentro Chorodiakis Praxis on Cephalonia and, jumping in at the deep end, took part in the performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand at the Herod Atticus Theater last week. Tonight it will appear at the same venue along with the Athens State Orchestra to interpret the equally demanding Planets by Gustav Holst. The Athens Festival Choir deserves, however, to celebrate its own institution with a premiere comprising an independent program. It is hoped that it will manage to place itself on a permanent footing first, and then everything will follow in good time. -On Panamax in Far East, PCL has fixed M/V Four Coal, 74,020 dwt, built 2000, delivery Japan end Sept., for 2-leg trip via Australia, redelivery UKC/Med. at USD 6,600 daily.

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