Homeless orchestra finds hearth

It promises to be a worthwhile autumn season for Thessaloniki’s classical music fans. The northern city is set to swell with musical notes, thanks to the efforts of a young and particularly talented conductor, Myron Michailidis. With persistence and decisiveness, the 37-year-old Michailidis, who has been artistic director at the Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra since 2004, managed to solve the orchestra’s most serious problem: Just days ago, Michailidis secured a permanent home for the the city orchestra’s rehearsals, in downtown Thessaloniki. And there is more good news, as was highlighted by Michailidis in an interview with Kathimerini, during which he discussed future plans and new ideas. Please tell us about the new space to house the orchestra. How did you manage it? From the very first day of assuming my post, I was confronted by the Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra’s problem of a rehearsal base. Just think that over the past 47 years, or ever since the orchestra was founded in 1959, its musicians have had to wander from hall to hall. They were called upon to deliver artistic excellence while not even being able to test the orchestra’s sound in an appropriate rehearsal space. The constant increase of the orchestra’s artistic standards also led to a greater need for respectable conditions. And we’re not talking about anything over-the-top. Not even the fundamental work conditions existed. We managed to find something after two years of effort. A new space is being added to Thessaloniki’s cultural scene. Our orchestra has secured a facility for rehearsals and other activities right next to the White Tower [at the former Pallas cinema, 73 Nikis Avenue]. The orchestra has the exclusive rights to use the space as it wishes over the next 15 years. After almost five decades, the orchestra’s most basic problem has been solved, it is reaching out to the city’s music lovers and projecting an optimistic message for the future. What are the orchestra’s immediate plans and proposals? Initially, performances by the renowned artists Teresa Berganza and Maxim Shostakovich, son of the great composer, are scheduled for the forthcoming period. In a few weeks time, our orchestra’s first CD, a collaborative effort with internationally renowned Greek saxophonist Theodoros Kerkezos, conducted by myself and featuring works by Greek composers, is going to be released by the English label Naxos. Also, our orchestra has recorded a CD for the Swedish label BIS, which includes well-known works by Nikos Skalkottas, conducted by Vassilis Christopoulos. It will be released in 2007. We’ve also made an educational DVD that will soon be distributed to schools… Our objective is for schoolchildren to become acquainted with the instruments of a symphony orchestra and get to know music’s illustrative power. Are the problems and difficulties being confronted by classical music groups common? What are the reasons? Many of the problems are the same or similar. Allow me to deal with one of the major reasons for this: Classical music has often been viewed, and is even today, as a luxury item, or as an item of secondary importance. Many people, including educated individuals, believe that we can live without it. To this, I say: «You’re making a major mistake.» Classical music is a supreme moment of artistic creativity. It contains philosophy, transfers history, or, in a nutshell, reflects a higher perception of things. Above all, it seeks to refine the human senses. International dreams Do you have any dreams for the Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra, and, generally, the development of classical music in our country? The Thessaloniki state orchestra has taken a major artistic leap in recent years. The average age of the players is very young – approximately 29 years old – and the musicians are exceptional. We strive for collaborations with major artists. Collaborations over the past two years alone have included Placido Domingo, Gil Shaham, Aldo Cicccolini, Paul Badura-Scoda and Schlomo Minz. We’re continuing and expanding our international recording activity, are preparing for appearances at international festivals, and are aiming at an international reputation. We’re investing plenty in the promotional side, with emphasis on attracting younger listeners and innovative programming, such as the thematically correct structuring of concert repertoires, the combination of music with other arts – philosophy, literature, silent film, symphonic rock – and direct affiliation with festive dates on the calendar, such as New Year’s and Valentine’s Day. Will this help draw a wider audience to classical music? I’d like to make my answer more precise with a reference to the type of symphonic music played by our orchestra. First of all, greater affinity with the symphonic style is needed. I believe, for example, that somebody won’t like the orchestra if we don’t draw him or her to a concert hall and offer a work of the 12-tone system. The symphonic style requires gradual acquaintance. At first, it can be combined with something else, such as silent film or literature. Such fields can act supportively. Music, too, conceals immense power within and can stand alone for the individual approaching it. For one able to interpret it, music conceals numerous pleasant surprises – something new with each hearing. Developing the right fundaments at an early age help greatly here. Where would you chose to perform other than the usual venues? On September 10, as part of the artistic activity held within the framework of the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, the orchestra performed in Aristotle Square, the city’s main square, for the very first time. The crowd’s response was particularly warm and there will definitely be more of this. We’d like to play at the port, on a boat, in gardens, below or next to historic monuments. We want to integrate with our fellow citizens, become one with them, and remind them that the orchestra is theirs. There’s a theory that classical music doesn’t have a future and that it targets only a serious audience. How can this belief be overturned? I personally believe greatly in the future of classical music, as well as in the future of classical music in Greece. Of course, there’s a general shortage of quality music. I love my country and, despite the fact that I was at the start of an important, for me, course [abroad], I returned. All young Greeks must do something for this land.