A composer with optimism

Seated inside one of the calm, sunny teaching rooms at the Athens Conservatory, composer Philippos Tsalachouris says he is an optimist. «If I were a pessimist, I wouldn’t write music,» he explained and described the writing of music as an act of hope. The 40-year-old composer has already completed 68 works, as well as 40 compositions for the theater. His music has been presented in as many countries by faithful colleagues, such as the Athens State Orchestra under Vyron Fidetzis, the Orchestra of Colors, the Camerata Orchestra, the New Hellenic Quartet and others. He is currently working on the orchestration of an opera, «Julius Caesar,» for which he has commissioned the poet Dionysis Kapsalis to write the libretto. Tsalachouris spoke to Kathi-merini on the occasion of the distinction recently bestowed on him by the Athens Academy. What does the Athens Academy distinction mean for you? It is justification for the fact that I have remained true all these years to what I believe in, to what I have learned from my teachers and to what I love. I believe that through me, it is as if this distinction has been given to all those musicians of my generation who insist on working on so-called serious music, despite the ugly times through which we are living. Regarding the financial part, this can only help an artist with his creativity. I can’t think it could mean anything else. Is it a self-evident need for music to be in contact with other forms of art? This is definitely the case today, because in music everything has been said. Through other art forms, music is reborn. A composer can write something unique when it represents all the things he admires and loves. If you seek originality only through music, then usually the result makes no sense. When I read a book, visit a museum or meet somebody, the first thing that comes to mind is whether there is music in that experience. If the sound is strong enough, I write it down. If not, it remains in my mind as a sweet memory. Which of the commissions that you have undertaken has challenged you most as an idea? I have accepted commissions the past few years and they represent a very small part of my work. I am always cautious with them. The most challenging was the «24 Greek Dances» for what would have been Nikos Skalkottas’s 100th birthday, for the Benaki Museum. It was an exercise but also something I could have written myself. Angelos Delivorias’s idea was such an honor to me and in the end the work itself went beyond my expectations and moved me deeply. The Benaki Museum has offered me a home, not just in the practical sense but also intellectually and philosophically. The Benaki Museum’s humanist approach should be an example to everyone. It is an active platform that is not suspicious of young artists. What is classical music’s standing in Greece today? I believe it is much better than it was a few years ago. But I don’t know about our standing compared to other countries, where everything moves much faster. Classical music in Greece has a home in the hearts of those who love music. Other than that, its position as part of society is very low because, unfortunately, the infiltration of classical music into other sectors of society does not depend only on those who love it. When we see state officials going to nightclubs and never having paid a visit to the Athens State Orchestra, the National Opera or the theater, when they only go to the Herod Atticus Theater in the presence of the prime minister, for the sake of the photographs, then one realizes how serious things are. Are there enough platforms to promote young composers in Greece? No, but if you don’t become a composer, how can you claim a platform? Some people complain that Greek symphonic works are not performed, but the only way for them to be played is to write them. My role is to write music without writing for the present. I am interested in my contact with the audience, of course. I would be mad if I wasn’t. But that should not restrict my development as a composer; that would be pessimism and negation. Throughout the centuries, philosophy has claimed that the definition of intellectual life is people’s relationship with time. Time is consumed now and you collect it in the future, or never. What is important is what will remain afterward.

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