‘The guitar was unknown’

They have been together for almost half a century. It wasn’t just their love for one another that brought them together, but their common love of music. Evangelos Assimakopoulos and Liza Zoi, a couple in real life as well as a classical guitar duet, have managed to go against the norm, where poor quality music prevails. They are a duet that looks to the past but remains firmly rooted in the present. As the two continue on together, they will be celebrating their career with two concerts at the Athens Concert Hall, tonight and on Friday. It should be noted that Assimakopoulos and Zoi have an international reputation and the great Andres Torres Segovia has praised them highly. But their beginning in the late 1950s was not easy. «It was very daring to tell our parents that we would get involved with music, especially guitar,» said Assimakopoulos to Kathimerini. «Greece was still trying to get over the civil war, there was poverty and things were not easy,» said Zoi. «The guitar was unknown. We learned it from the songs of Tonis Maroudas and Fotis Polymeris, where it sounded so pleasant. Other than that, those who were rich enough to own a radio might have listened to some classical musical work from time to time and that was it. When I went to the conservatory, I asked if the classical music I heard on the radio could also be played on the guitar and I was relieved when they said yes,» she added. «We were very lucky to come across two great teachers, the only professional guitarists in Greece at the time, Dimitris Fambas and Gerasimos Milliaressis,» said Assimakopoulos. They met as guitar students. «Liza gave her first recital while still a student, on December 9, 1958, at the Parnassos Literary Society, which at that time was something like the Athens Concert Hall. This is the occasion we will commemorate this Friday. I gave my first recital a year later,» he added. In 1960, they both received awards and as of 1962 started performing as a duet. «At that point, everybody was playing as a soloist, there were no duets in Greece,» said Zoi. «We were inspired by the great Ida Presti-Alexandre Lagoya duet, who played here in 1961.» After the first concerts, their respective parents relaxed and then the pair went off to study in France and Spain, where they received a scholarship from Andres Segovia. «Segovia was already a legend from the early 50s,» said Assimakopoulos. «He was the first to include the guitar on a teaching schedule and promote it outside Spain, although the guitar has a 3,000-year history.» Having to earn a living, the couple gradually began giving guitar lessons. «The guitar enjoyed an explosive growth in popularity toward the end of the 60s and the early 70s; it was unprecedented. That lasted until 1980 and then in 1990 it became stable. I remember we had to hire assistants because suddenly we had too many students. Maybe because of record-players and the radio, people became more familiar with the guitar as an instrument of serious music. In 1987, the ministry [of Education] officially recognized a guitar degree.» In tonight’s concert, former students of theirs will be joining them. «Back then, in order to study a piece we didn’t have the efficiency of photocopiers,» said Assimakopoulos when asked what it feels like to still be a guitar teacher today. «We had to copy note by note, with ink, the pieces that Fambas gave us. It was as if the composition ran through us. Today, with computers, this relationship with music no longer exists. Children are in a hurry and have no patience. The other problem is that music today just means having fun. It is noise. Having fun is good, but the other side shouldn’t be ignored. There is no longer the feeling of having to strive for things. But we adjust. People move on, change and something will come out of that.» Before tonight’s concert, guitarist and composer Notis Mavroudis will talk about Assimakopoulos and Zoi’s work and contribution to music at 7 p.m. in the Athens Concert Hall’s Dimitris Mitropoulos Hall.