CULTURE

Tribute to Manolis Kalomiris sets off musical discussion

Part of a tribute to Greek composer Manolis Kalomiris, who died 40 years ago, an international conference, complemented by a series of concerts, drew a crowd to the Athens Concert Hall over the weekend. The New Greek Quartet was one of the ensembles performing and a discussion with Giorgos Demertzis, its founder, was revealing. Can Kalomiris’s music transcend Greece’s borders? It stands alongside the works of foreign composers. Orchestral songs such as «I Love You,» for soprano, violin and orchestra, for instance, can be compared to Mahler, and many of Kalomiris’s works could be used to spread Greek music abroad. I believe that composers such as Skalkottas, Kalomiris, Christou, Xenakis, Dragatakis, Sikilianos, Riadis and Mitropoulos, among others, are of the same caliber as Vaughan Williams or Britten, the difference being that Britain conserves and supports its musical tradition. Besides the «Palamas Symphony,» no other major Kalomiris work has been scheduled this year. Why is this? The general rule in Greece is «the composer is dead, why should we carry on interpreting his works?» In other countries, those in charge decide whether a composer is part of the national heritage and consequently his oeuvre ought to be heard. It is the state’s responsibility to promote music which is not commercial. Financially speaking, the amount of money needed to support Greek music is so small, it’s ludicrous to discuss whether there should be a Skalkottas archive, or recordings of the works of Dragatakis, for instance. The cost of constructing 1 meter on the national road would cover it entirely! The New Greek Quartet was founded 11 years ago and already enjoys a good track record as well as international recognition and honors. Why, then, does it perform so rarely in Athens? We are doing well abroad; our album featuring the Third and Fourth Quartet by Skalkottas did well in British and Chinese pop charts! We were recently invited to interpret Schoenberg’s Second Quartet during a conference at the Schoenberg Center in Vienna – we will also interpret Skalkottas’s Third and Xenakis’s last quartets – and that is a great honor. As far as Athens is concerned, we express our weakness in influencing matters so as to schedule more performances. The fact is that quartets are not financially sound, and that is why on an international level, these ensembles cannot survive without some kind of support. In Greece, no music ensemble bases itself on box office success, while all are non-profitable. It is usually the academic world, the organizing concert world and the orchestras who usually support the quartets, but in Greece, however, none of these have shown any interest so far. Do you believe this could improve? Of course! It is a matter of choice. For our part, we are looking at the establishment of a stable cycle of concerts for subscribers, during which a representative selection of works by Greek and foreign composers will be presented. These concerts, however, do not exclude other collaborations or even direct state support, which would put an end to the constant stress over our survival.