Alexandria Library celebration

Greece will participate in the opening ceremony of the Alexandria Library in October with a new piece of music based on the verse of Cavafy. The new Alexandria Library in Egypt, composed of a complex of state-of-the-art buildings constructed near the site of the ancient library, will open its doors on October 16; and Greece will pay its respects with music based on the poetry of the great Alexandrian Constantine Cavafy, created by Alexandria-born composer Dimitris Papadimitriou. A few days before the ceremony, Papadimitriou will premiere the work at the Herod Atticus Theater with a concert on October 3. The concert’s core will be his new Cavafy works; a body of work that took many years to complete and which has haunted the composer since the early 1970s. «I saw a framed manuscript of one of Cavafy’s poems at a friend’s house many years ago,» said Papadimitriou to Kathimerini. «I didn’t know the poem because at the time it did not belong to the official body of the poet’s work and Savvidis had not yet published the ‘Unpublished’ and ‘Renounced.’ «The poem was called ‘Etsi’ (That’s the Way It Is) and I tried to set it to music, and to my great surprise, I made it a song – at the time I did not believe that anybody could set Cavafy to music. Many years passed before I tried it again,» said the composer. Meanwhile, Papadimitriou heard attempts by other composers to set Cavafy to music. «When ‘Unpublished’ and ‘Renounced’ were finally published, I started thinking about some of them, the lesser-known ones, in musical terms. This is not to say that they were subordinate to the known ones, but they were free of the weight of reputation the others carried,» he said. «I approached this task very warily because I doubted how far these poems could be set to music,» he continued. «It was strange, though; from the moment I put my reservations down on paper for a lecture I had to deliver, I started to subconsciously discover why Cavafy could indeed be set to music.» Papadimitriou’s early attempts were mostly unsuccessful until he «caught the end of a thread. Progressing, I gradually saw that I was composing a language, an approach, something that satisfied me. I finally succeeded, only recently, in setting quite a few of his poems to music, even some of the better-known ones.» In total, Papadimitriou has set approximately 18 of Cavafy’s poems to music, though he will only be presenting those about which he feels most confident at his concerts. «The basic criterion is whether the essence of the poem came out in the song,» explains Papadimitriou. «A normal song that everyone can understand and sing to themselves. Some of the pieces came out a bit more ‘arty’ and I don’t know if I will be presenting them; this is one of the things I have to resolve.» Another issue the composer has to deal with is who will interpret his pieces. «Cavafy has many faces – you can hear the man, the woman, the youth, the elder, the sanctimonious, the anarchist – but with the same voice running underneath. I would like to have two performers ‘acting’ out all these characters. I have a few people in mind: Eleftheria Arvanitaki will definitely be one of them because she will present the ‘Songs of the Months’ cycle in the second part of the concert. I am also considering Manolis Lidakis or Alkinoos Ioannidis – we’ll see.»

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