Greek classical music soars but needs State help

The New Hellenic Quartet is in orbit after having its latest album of the Nikos Skalkottas series elected Album of the Month by the BBC Music Magazine. Now, this esteemed quartet is embarking on recordings of the music of Giorgos Sicilianos, with the first album already in circulation by Poikili Stoa Publications. The founder and soul of the New Hellenic Quartet is violinist Giorgos Demertzis, and in a recent interview with Kathimerini he spoke about the significance of Sicilianos and Skalkottas. What is the significance of Sicilianos’s opus to Greek classical music? Personally, I consider Sicilianos the greatest living Greek composer. In terms of form, content and technique, his music is imbued with a profundity which challenges me to discover, to enjoy it. Listening to it, I feel as though I am observing a concise adventure. He is a very serious artist of whom Greece should feel proud on an international level. As interpreters, we have already included his work in our concerts abroad and they were very well received. Was he present during the recordings of his works? Of course, and his observations were very constructive. Of course, every composer has only one opinion of his work; his own. Nevertheless, in representative arts such as music and dance, re-creation is a form of creation itself. On several occasions, Sicilianos has reviewed sections of his scores while listening to the New Hellenic Quartet playing them. Other musicians throughout the world have had similar experiences. Why do you think that classical music recordings are so limited in Greece? First of all, there are no locations other than the two halls of the Athens Concert Hall suitable for recordings. Thus, since the Athens Concert Hall is mostly for concerts, we are automatically limited to recording when the halls are available; that means during the summer. Also, the concept of producer is undeveloped in Greece. The producer is neither a businessman nor a technical engineer. He is the «second artist,» the person who understands the work and helps direct it through the period of recording. He is a sound engineer and a musician simultaneously. He reads the score and makes the artists give the best of themselves. Judging by your concerts abroad, what was the reception to Skalkottas? Incredible! His work has already been included in the repertory of a number of chamber music ensembles who also mention him in their program details. Books on his work have been published in Germany while sites on him keep appearing on the Internet. Just this month, another album from the Skalkottas series was chosen as Album of the Month by the BBC Music Magazine. When interest in his work does not wane after so many albums, the conclusion is pretty clear – for us and for Skalkottas. Where do foreign ensembles find his scores? That’s a huge problem. However, there has been a renewed interest in his work and despite the chaos in the industry, new editions of his scores keep appearing. The State has a certain responsibility here. The publication of a score has no commercial interest. But, just like Hungary promoted Bartok, so Greece should become interested in Greek composers. If, for example, we discovered a lost tragedy by Sophocles, wouldn’t we publish it? Would we say, «Leave it, we have enough of them»? Speaking of this, I would like to mention that people abroad do not substitute the Greek State. They are not interested in Greek music in general, just in Skalkottas. What choices will you make as music director of the Cultural Olympiad events? The person who is in charge of the cultural aspects of the Olympics is first and foremost a politician, and obviously has to bear in mind issues of popularity, commercial value and advertising. These are very different criteria than my own. I would like the State to give full and constant support to classical culture independently of coincidental opportunities such as the Olympiad or other events. Classical art was not created for events. The Parthenon was not built for one single event, to be torn down the day after. It is there and it has lasted, not thanks to its marble, but thanks to its value. What we do with the New Hellenic Quartet are not just events. In this country, what is left after events such as the Olympiad or the Cultural Capital, are constructions, buildings. But culture is composed of intellectual works and the people who keep them alive. These need support and a legislative framework to survive. I would like to note that 2004 will be the 100th anniversary of Skalkottas’s birth. It would therefore, be the ideal opportunity, with State support, to complete the recording of his works – within the context of the Olympiad – and to promote it as much as it