Greek composer gets long-overdue recognition

Dimitris Terzakis is one of a handful of Greek composers who have injected Western European music with a Mediterranean musical scale. His music transcended local borders in 1971 and to date his resume includes some 100 recordings, six albums, numerous individual compositions on international labels, concerts on five continents and thousands of hours of teaching at German universities (Berlin, Dusseldorf and the Leipzig Academy of Music). Despite his international recognition, the music of the professor and composer (who is also the son of the famed author Angelos Terzakis), has never received much tribute in Greece, nor has it been included in special celebratory events. Why? «Because I dared to challenge mediocrity. Terrible, sick bigotry is a characteristically Greek trait. Success is never forgiven. Greeks will come up with a thousand excuses to justify someone else’s success, but they won’t recognize it for what it is,» Terzakis told Kathimerini recently, after having received an honorary doctorate from the Department of Music Science and Art at the University of Macedonia. This is the first honorary distinction the composer has ever received over the course of his 35-year career in Greece. Kathimerini met up with him in the university’s amphitheater, where students were performing compositions of their own and others. «From the time that I taught here (2000-2001) to the present, I have noticed a marked improvement in the quality of interpreters, and this is very good news indeed. It also means the teachers are doing a good job, despite the tension that exists between them. I have also noticed that there is a feeling of prosperity in Greece. It is great that people aren’t going hungry, but Greeks climbed off the donkey and into a Mercedes awfully fast, without giving some time to refinement. The result is tackiness, vulgarity and looking for ways to cheat the system.» Terzakis made his professional debut back in 1961, making his first public appearance as a composer in Spyros Evangelatos’s theater production of «Fortunato.» He went to Germany at the urging of his father. «I owe my father my personality,» he admits. «I spent five years worrying because I wanted to find my own path, one that did not mimic the great composers. I gave up at one point and told my dad I was coming back to Greece. ‘There is no going back,’ he answered. I stayed and as of 1970, I began to grow.» Terzakis sees contemporary Western music as having reached an impasse, because, he says, «Western countries have lived the past couple of centuries isolated from other cultures and this was the result of colonization. They wanted to civilize the ‘savages,’ such as [George W.] Bush who wants to impose democracy in Iraq. But their sources have run dry. What I was able to bring them was the musical language of another corner of Europe – and not that of another continent – which they knew nothing about. What do they know about our country? Ancient Greece. They know nothing of the Middle Ages, and as far as modern Greece is concerned, all they know is the image that is promoted: souvlaki and bouzouki.» Do you see any way out of this impasse? Not yet. They are only just starting to look outside Europe a bit more energetically. But it is all still at its early stages. Do you see any improvement in music education in Greece? Music education is making no progress at all, because the state has left it in private hands and this means that diplomas and awards are just handed out freely. The establishment of a Music Academy has been under discussion for years but, even if does happen, I don’t expect it to elevate the quality too much. This is because the criteria used to hire professors are not based on quality, but on politics. If we add to this that our politicians know nothing about music, then I can’t say I expect much here. I have also given up expecting an answer to a letter I sent to the the Education Ministry in 2000-2001 regarding the problems the university faced when I was teaching here. Did disappointment prompt you to leave the university? I came because I was asked to teach composition at the then newly established music department and not in order to make any professional comeback. I knew that if I’d stayed here, I would have been lost. I taught in Germany for 35 years and never once did we worry at the university about which party was in power. I see the difference in mentalities not just as a teacher, but as a composer as well.

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