Blending into the wider picture

It was during his formative years that the Athens-born-and-raised composer Pericles Kanaris began developing what eventually turned into an irresistible urge to relocate abroad and blend into a wider, more assorted, multicultural musical picture. The young composer, now in his mid-30s, managed to fill this personal desire and, these days, is based in the US, where he is gradually building himself a solid career. Underscoring the progress, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art recently entrusted Kanaris with the lofty task of compiling a CD showcasing a selection of contemporary Greek music as part of the activity associated with the renowned museum’s launch of a new wing dedicated to ancient Greek and Roman treasures. Tomorrow night, Kanaris will be in the picture again, this time at New York’s Carnegie Hall, where a piano suite of his, «Project Innocence,» will be presented by an emerging London-based Greek pianist, Panos Karan, as one of two world-premiere renditions selected by Karan for his debut solo piano performance at the prestigious American venue. The evening’s repertoire also includes «Cross Currents,» a solo piano piece by Alicia Grant, a UK-based Australian composer whose works have been performed by numerous renowned orchestras, ensembles and soloists in various parts of the world. «It was music that led me here. I am part of a generation that, due to the proliferation of the mass media, grew up looking at the world as a ‘global village, ‘» noted Kanaris in a recent e-mail interview. «I was exposed to so many different sounds that the desire to explore and learn more about them and the cultures they came from became too strong… I always viewed Greece as my base and the rest of the world as a wonderful territory for growth and exploration,» he added. The composer, who runs a production company, Admiral Sounds, with studios in New York and Los Angeles, recently added an Athens studio to his work set-up. He initially left Greece for studies in the UK and pursued them further in the US, developing a professional base there, but has managed to maintain close musical ties with his homeland. Kanaris, whose education includes a degree in composition at Berklee College of Music following media studies in the UK – with a focus on the potential of music as a medium of communication – was among the composers selected by the Greek Organizing Committee for the Olympics to deliver musical themes for the Athens Games in 2004. Kanaris also wrote a track called «Styn ygia mas,» which became the title theme for a high-rating show on Greek state TV featuring quality Greek music. In the interview, he admitted feeling a growing fondness for Greek music from his base abroad. «I grew up listening to a generation of composers and poets that treated Greek music and song as art forms and not merely as entertainment. This legacy shaped my taste decisively. Before leaving Greece, it was merely an aesthetic choice of which I was proud. But to me, music is as much part of identity as are language and religion,» said Kanaris. «So when I left and found myself surrounded by so many other cultures, the need to stay in touch with my roots made me appreciate this relationship much more than from an aesthetic point of view.» Kanaris’s appreciation for his homeland’s music was strongly expressed when compiling «Music of Greece,» the Met release, which includes contemporary classics by the likes of Manos Loizos, Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hadjidakis, older rebetika numbers, as well as a Byzantine hymn. Obstacles encountered during the CD’s making included overcoming a limited budget to ensure the quality he had envisioned. «Given that museums are non-profit organizations, the budget was small. For that matter, Museum Music [the record label that works with the Met for such projects] has always avoided the major labels because licensing from them was too expensive. So they recommended a series of Web-based independent labels that had cheaper versions of those ‘classics’ in their catalogs. I did not agree with this compromise,» noted Kanaris, who secured a quality-focused solution after meeting with the marketing team at Minos-EMI in Greece. «With their help I managed to secure the original recordings and make the project viable,» he added, while noting that the criteria behind his selections were both «aesthetic and musicological in the sense that I wanted to include as much stylistic variety from this heritage as possible.» The piano suite «Project Innocence,» part of tomorrow’s performance by Karan, grew out of an idea written by Kanaris as a documentary theme. «He heard the short piano theme and asked me for a composition based on that theme for his debut performance at Carnegie Hall,» said Kanaris. «I feel very privileged to have this opportunity.» Panos Karan, an emerging soloist Born on the island of Crete in 1982, Panos Karan was brought up in Athens, where he started piano lessons at the age of 7 and quickly displayed potential. In 1997, he was offered a place at the National Conservatoire of Greece in Athens and completed his studies three years later to emerge as one of the institutions youngest graduates – with the highest available distinction. Karan has won several prizes in both national and international competition and performed with considerable success at various European venues, as a recitalist, chamber musician, as well as a soloist. Karan was awarded a scholarship by the Onassis Foundation in 2004. Future plans include performances of the complete cycle of the Beethoven Concertos in the UK. He makes his Carnegie Hall recital debut at the venue’s Weill Recital Hall tomorrow night.