George Petrou, from rock to the Baroque

«People tell me they don’t go to the opera or attend symphony music concerts because they fear that the tickets are too expensive,» says maestro George Petrou in astonishment. «The irony in this case is that when someone goes to a bouzouki club, they are likely to pay so much more. Yet I’m not against this kind of entertainment. This is not about how much you let loose at the bouzouki club and how much you relax at the opera. It’s nice to go out and have some fun, but why is it that it’s only about one thing and nothing else?» Those who attended the concert performances of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s «Alceste» at the Athens Concert Hall recently probably didn’t let loose. They probably did feel, however, that the opera brought some beauty into their lives, as they watched and listened to the young Greek maestro conduct the Orchestra of Patra. Petrou boasts a rich resume: He studied at the Athens Conservatory, graduating with distinction, followed by the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music in London. In a first for Greece and the world, he presented a critically acclaimed revival of Giovanni Paisiello’s «L’Olimpiade,» while the first ever Greek period-instrument ensemble, with musicians from the Orchestra of Patra, was formed at his initiative. The maestro’s recording of Handel’s «Tamerlano,» with the participation of the Orchestra of Patra performing on period instruments for Germany’s MDG label, earned the Echo Klassik 2008 award in the category for a 17th/18th-century opera recording. The Greek maestro is a member of a select group of contemporary musicians specializing in Baroque music and period instruments. «We are not so few, but we are certainly fewer than there are musicians specializing in Beethoven, for instance. Baroque is still an exception and is part of music’s more recent history.» Petrou believes that classical music’s place in Greece has improved noticeably in recent years. «When I started studying the piano, my parents felt fearful, they didn’t quite know what I could do for work. The truth be told, however, the situation is much better these days, especially following the inauguration of the Athens Concert Hall.» On the other hand, Petrou admits that the music conservatories are nearly empty. «The role of television has been pivotal here, in terms of the role models they put forward. I don’t want to say that we are the kind of role models that should be presented, but the young generation doesn’t even know we exist. So you might not enjoy classical music, that’s fine. The problem is that nowadays there is no one out there, be it family or state, to transmit the notion of this thing called classical music.» So what kind of music does he listen to during his leisure hours? «I don’t really listen to much music anymore. I’m really sad I don’t listen to rock music anymore – I loved it so much. I’ve felt connected to rock music since my adolescence. Every time I accidentally stumble upon rock, it takes me back to those years. At a certain period, I also became a jazz fanatic, I got involved in the genre but it didn’t really lead me anywhere. But I really admire jazzmen. Music, of course, is everywhere: at supermarkets, at clothing stores, in taxis – you hear music wherever you go. I would like to listen to more music genres on the radio. Classical music is still very much the great unknown. And people are afraid of the unknown.»