Two Alexandrians meet through poetry and music

Dimitris Papadimitriou learned to love the poetry of Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933) as a child. This is hardly surprising, given that both Greeks were born in Alexandria, Egypt, yet Papadimitriou had always found it impossible to combine his love for Cavafy with music. Once, he even gave a lecture at the Association of Greeks from Egypt as to why Cavafy’s poetry could not be set to music. Despite all that, Papadimitriou did eventually create precisely such an album. «C. P. Cavafy – An Alexandrian on an Alexandrian» features 24 pieces in total, 18 songs and six instrumental compositions, using the work of the great poet. The album consists of three CDs and was released in a large edition illustrated with prints of the Egyptian city from the time that Cavafy lived there. The liner notes are in both Greek and English and had the artistic supervision of Costas Katsoulas. Pieces of music from the album had been presented numerous times over the past few years in numerous places, including both New York and Alexandria, at the official opening of the Alexandria Library. But the time has finally come for its actual release under the best circumstances ever: It features the Orchestra of Colors under the baton of Miltos Logiadis, as well as singers Eleftheria Arvanitaki, Alkinoos Ioannidis, Irini Karayianni, Fotini Darra, Gerassimos Andreatos, Tassos Apostolou, Andreas Smyrnakis and Nikolas Stylianou and actors Constantinos Markoulakis and Antonis Loudaros. How did you change your mind about putting Cavafy’s poetry to music? When you write down a problem’s causes, it is like providing half of the solutions. So when I wrote down all the problems with melodizing Cavafy for that lecture, I automatically started dealing with them. I found various solutions, but as time went by things changed inside me too. At some point, I thought with great emotion of a particular poem, «Etsi.» A friend has it framed in his house and it is not as well-known as other Cavafy poems but has all the quality. It enabled me to start my efforts. How did you choose which poems to set to music? I think they called out to me. Some provide the solution by themselves, while others, which you may love dearly, do not open up to music. That is why I didn’t set to music some of the poems I love, although I melodized others that I would have never imagined possible. The duration of some of the songs is much longer than usual, sometimes even nine minutes. Why did you choose that structure? Each poem imposed its own structure. It has nothing to do with the number of verses, because a 10-verse poem might produce a 15-minute composition. One of my secret Cavafy discoveries is that each poem has two forms: The first is the one the eye meets before reading it, and the second is that which appears once you read it. That second, «internal» form, relies heavily on the traps that the poet has set himself, to make the reader pause at certain points, to feel the need to go back and start reading again. You have to follow that secret form when setting a poem to music, otherwise you will fail. You have to give your audience the necessary repetition that the reader experiences. I had to follow that procedure and that is why some pieces acquired another dimension. Weren’t you afraid that a more intellectual structure would make the music less accessible to a wider audience? I wasn’t afraid of anything, I was simply led to what I did. If you give in to fear, you will never achieve anything. What I tried to do in this case was create a symphony composition with Greek lyrics. I wanted Greek melody to enter a symphony song, what I call the New Greek Symphony Song. I feel that the time has come for that to happen. And we owe a lot to the older composers who have enabled us to make that step.