Rich panorama of Greek music showcases old and new works

Forty-five composers, more than 80 works, five state and municipal orchestras, two choirs, one chamber music orchestra, one ancient Greek instrument ensemble and a conference on music make up «Greek Music Celebrations,» a rich panorama of Greek music. The week-long Athens event, which opens today and runs to May 14, will take place at the Athens Concert Hall and the National Glyptotheque in Goudi. The idea belongs to the Athens State Orchestra (KOA) and its conductor Vyron Fidetzis, a well-known pioneer of Greek music. As the mother of Greek symphonic ensembles, the KOA extended a number of invitations, securing the participation of the Thessaloniki State Orchestra, the ERT National Symphony Orchestra, the Greek National Opera’s Chamber Music Ensemble and the Athens Municipal Symphony Orchestra. «We invited all the orchestras,» says Fidetzis. «Besides the ones actually participating, our wish was to also include the Camerata, the Orchestra of Colors, the Patras Soloists, the Thessaloniki Municipal Orchestra and so on… In the end, however, it turned out to be extremely difficult in terms of organization. The event would have to last much longer, while a number of the orchestras already had prior engagements.» Besides symphonic music, the panorama includes chamber music works which will be interpreted by the New Greek Quartet, as well as chorals sung by the ERT Choir. One of the event’s highlights is an evening dedicated to ancient Greek and Byzantine music, interpreted by the Lyravlos ensemble and the Greek Byzantine Choir respectively. «Greek Music Celebrations» offers a journey beginning in Renaissance Crete with the music of Frangiskos Leondaritis, moving on to the Ionian islands and ending with the works of contemporary composers such as Zervos, Koumentakis and Agrafiotis. «How can it be that throughout contemporary Greek history we have witnessed distinguished poets, authors, painters, but no composers?» says Fidetzis. «I do not claim that Greece has a kind of Wagner still waiting to be discovered. We don’t have artists of the caliber of Shakespeare, Goethe or Rembrandt. I do believe, however, that our music has composers of the level of Solomos, Palamas, Seferis or Elytis. One of the reasons why we are not familiar with them is because, up to now, we lacked the necessary infrastructure: orchestras, concert halls and a minimum amount of musical activity. All this was very far-fetched for a small country such as Greece. Today, however, we do have respectable orchestra ensembles and world-recognized concert halls. Therefore, we have the necessary infrastructure to take the next step and get to know our musical past.» The conductor is categorical. «It all stems from the notion that in Greece there has been a ‘misappropriation of titles,’ something which had catastrophic results for the local music scene,» he says. «From 1960 onward, songs and songwriters covered a specific area. To a large extent the so-called music avant-garde has its share of responsibility, given that for years it scorned people… «Meanwhile, on a global level there is a general rethinking on the need to give music new directions. As far as our country is concerned, it is shameful that we have never heard a single note by Giorgos Sklavos. Perhaps his work does not stand alongside that of Schubert, for instance. Nevertheless, we ought to be familiar with it. ‘Greek Music Celebrations’ aims to show audiences that Greek music enjoys a very wide range. To put an end to the stereotypes of Mikis-Manos, Vamvakaris-Tsitsanis and Savvopoulos-Markopoulos. These people came up with great things, yet their work is only a small part of the entire spectrum,» Fidetzis says. Three centuries The two major state orchestras of Athens and Thessaloniki, led by Fidetzis and Myron Michailidis respectively, pay particular emphasis on historical music. At tonight’s opening, Fidetzis goes back in time with works by Ionian musicians – Xydas, Mantzaros, Karrer, Rodotheatos, Lavragas and Samaras – bringing to light music which had been slandered in the past. Martha Arapi and Tassis Christoyiannopoulos will interpret songs and arias. The evening also incudes an overture by Katakouzinos. The orchestra’s second performance, on May 12, is dedicated to composers of the so-called National School of Kalomiris: These include the master himself, along with fellow travelers Varvoglis, Levidis and Nezeritis. A work by Italy-educated Axiotis will also be performed for the very first time. At the same time, the Thessaloniki State Orchestra will interpret works by various composers who lived and worked in Thessaloniki, including Riadis, Margaritis, Theofanous, Themelis, Astrinidis and Samaras. Adding their own twist, the ERT National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Alexis Agrafiotis and the National Opera Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Markos Tsetsos, will combine works from the past with those of living composers. In a world premiere, the Thessaloniki State Orchestra will interpret works by Agrafiotis and Zervos, as well as G.A. Papaioannou’s Symphony No. 2 – the latter, even though originally composed in 1951 has never been heard up to now. The orchestra will also interpret Kydoniatis’s Overture for orchestra on May 11. On May 9, a concert by the National Opera’s Chamber Music Orchestra will include works by Antoniou, Koumentakis, Poniridis, Evangelatos and Karyotakis. ERT is also participating in the event with its highly experienced choir, led by Antonis Kontogeorgiou. The choir will take audiences back to the roots of Renaissance Crete, through the works of Frangiskos Leontaritis, who lived in Venice and Munich. Then it will go on to Lalas, Adamis and Constantinidis and finish with Baltas and Theodorakis. An emotionally charged evening awaits audiences tomorrow night, with a performance by the New Greek Quartet. The evening features recent works by Greek composers, including Dimitris Dragatakis and Giorgos Sicilianos – the latter passed away only a few weeks ago. Founded by violinist Giorgos Demertzis, the New Greek Quartet has focused extensively on Greek music, showcasing it abroad through a number of recordings and earning worldwide critical acclaim in prestigious publications. Among the ensemble’s recorded works are Sicilianos’s entire chamber music compositions. Two premieres will also take place on the same night. First, there will be Dimitris Lialios’s String Quartet No. 4. Lialos studied in flourishing Munich at the end of the 19th century. Also, Vasseilios Kalafatis’s Quintet Opus 11 will be presented in Greece for the first time. On May 10, the Athens Municipal Symphony Orchestra’s repertoire will focus on the 20th century. Besides Aristotelis Koudouroff’s Sinfonieta, the orchestra will present a composition by Haris Vrontos and another by Nikos Christodoulou, who will also be conducting. Participating in that concert will be Geoffrey Douglas Madge. The prominent pianist will interpret Skalkottas’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Yiannis Christou’s Toccata for piano and orchestra.