Eleni Karaindrou takes back Troy

The renowned composer Eleni Karaindrou, whose meticulous body of work, much of it for the films of director Theo Angelopoulos, has earned her acclaim throughout Europe, released her latest album, «Trojan Women,» at a launch last Thursday in Athens that featured a world concert premier of excerpts from the new work. The album, whose material Karaindrou had originally written for a staging of Euripides’ «Trojan Women» by the stage director Antonis Antypas last summer, has been released on the prestigious, high-caliber German label ECM. This is her fifth in succession for the Munich-based record company, a pioneer in the jazz and world music fields for well over two decades. ECM’s founder and president, Manfred Eicher, a classically trained musician, could well have been in the US to collect his latest career distinction, a classical music Producer of the Year Grammy award which had just been credited to his name. Instead, he was in Athens to attend Karaindrou’s album launch. Flanked by Eicher and Antypas at the album’s presentation, Karaindrou opened her speech by informing the audience of the unanticipated Grammy news that had come through on the eve of the launch. Karaindrou broke the news to Eicher, she said, after answering a phone call from a US official who had been trying to locate the German producer. The news was met with lively, extended applause at the launch, but once the commotion had subsided, all ensuing talk by Karaindrou and her associates was focused on the making of the «Trojan Women» album and related topics. Karaindrou spoke at length about the inspiration that guided her through this latest project, which she described as an intensely emotional experience. The composer, who referred to Euripides’ «Trojan Women» as an «anti-war elegy» at the launch, has rendered an inspired, atmospheric, mystical, occasionally eerie soundtrack with epic qualities, sorrow and suspense for Antypas’s production. Her sextet of formidable local musicians – on instruments such as the Constantinople lyra, ney, kanonaki, santouri, harp and bendir, as well as the choruses – deserve credit for pumping blood through this delicate composition’s veins with sensitive playing and exemplary musicianship. Over the years Karaindrou, who studied history and archaeology before pursuing a musical education (beginning with piano and theory at the National Conservatory in Athens, followed by ethnomusicology in Paris) has dug deep into her knowledgeable depths to produce a steady flow of fine works. Besides her soundtracks to many of film director Angelopoulos’s slow-paced, symbolic films, including «Eternity and a Day,» which took first prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998, Karaindrou has written prolifically for the stage director Antypas, to whom she is married. Among countless other projects, Karaindrou has written some 20 soundtracks for Antypas’s plays since they teamed up in 1986. Karaindrou’s music for «Trojan Women,» Antypas noted at the launch, had played what he called a «decisive» role. «We have collaborated on numerous productions, but on this particular project Karaindrou was revelatory,» Antypas pointed out. «Her music enshrouded the entire performance like a net. I thank her from the bottom of my heart,» he added. Calling it a «modern tragedy,» Antypas stressed the contemporary relevance of Euripides’ great play, which was first presented in 415 BC as a stern warning by the ancient dramatist against the catastrophic insanity of war. The stage producer cited the Kosovo and Afghanistan conflicts and war atrocities such as genocide and the uprooting of refugees to stress that these were «crucial times» amid the world’s «perennial vein of war.» Antypas’s «Trojan Women» had premiered at the Epidaurus Theater late last summer before an additional 15 well-received performances were held around Greece and Cyprus. Though he admitted not being able to catch any of these shows, the busy, but still fresh-faced, 58-year-old Eicher, head of ECM, noted, «It’s important to see with your ears.» Despite the sturdy stature of his label, Eicher, whose extensive roster of high-caliber artists and their work on ECM make it an undisputed global heavyweight in terms of quality, came across as a hesitantly fragile public speaker at the launch. Looking as if he would much rather be hidden behind his label’s immense artistic wealth, but with just a tiny microphone for cover, Eicher, who quickly admitted feeling out of place, went on to stress Karaindrou’s prominence. As Greece’s only artist signed to Eicher’s label, whose enormous roster includes landmark releases by luminaries such as Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Jan Garbarek, and numerous others, who could doubt him? Whether it’s the work of the aforementioned artists – who, despite their status, have steered clear of complacency – or lesser-known figures, ECM releases have become synonymous with quality amid a highly commercialized, and, more often than not, banal world of contemporary music.

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