Composer Nikos Xydakis revisits his diverse musical universe

Nikos Xydakis doesn’t like to talk much, but with a little pressure, the respected composer can disclose plans and months of forthcoming activity, as was the case during this interview, held to discuss the artist’s series of shows at the capital’s Gyalino Mousiko Theatro (143 Syngrou Avenue, tel 210.931.6101). Xydakis, an instrumental figure in Greek music over the past two decades, whose work includes abundant music for theater, has begun a career-spanning, 16-date stint comprising four Friday-to-Monday rounds of shows, each cycle fronted by different vocalists. The series opened last Friday with Eleni Tsaligopoulou and Haig Yazdjian. It continues this week with Eleftheria Arvanitaki and Nikos Portokaloglou, is followed by Pandelis Thalassinos and Klaudia Delmer, and ends with Socrates Malamas and Melina Kana. In the process of discussing these shows, talk concerning an array of forthcoming projects emerged, such as Xydakis’s music for Euripides’s play «Iphigeneia in Tauris,» being prepared by Thanassis Papageorgiou; an album based on the ancient poems of Sappho, now almost completed; and a musical portrait of the late celebrated poet Nikos Gatsos. For the project, titled «Asea» and ready for release, Xydakis collaborated with the poet and lyricist Thodoris Gonis. Arvanitaki sung its title track. The release includes five musical adaptations of poems by Spaniards, including J.L. Borges, which are sung by Delmer, an up-and-coming vocalist who has collaborated with Xydakis in recent times. Titled «El Mar,» the Spanish tribute will be released in Spain along with the Gatsos musical portrait. There’s far more, but further reference to Xydakis’s forthcoming projects would overshadow his current shows, which span the artist’s early work. This extends from the landmark «Ekdikisi Tis Gyftias» and «Dithen» albums of the late 1970s to a more recent collaboration with Thessaloniki-based songsmith Malamas on vocals, 1999’s «Nikos Xydakis – Socrates Malamas.» Is this a more laiko-inclined (popular Greek) program? I’d say a program closer to the people. Your beginning, however, differed from what followed. Back then, the framework of the songs was more specific. They had more to do with the laiko motif. The songs on «Ekdikisi tis Gyftias» were based on the model of the 1950s and ’60s – tsiftetelia and syrtoroubes. With time, I began discovering a music that expressed a bigger musical world for me. It had to do with the East. Lots of songs, then, were written in this more open, looser style. Looking back now, I think they make up a continuity. Thematically, differences do exist. The common element shared by the first two albums was irony, a sarcastic element. It was a need of the times which derived from an intensely political period that also influenced music. I get the impression that, with time, you wanted to detach from laiko. Was that actually the case? No. You can’t continue doing things the same way. People evolve. Imagine if I hadn’t composed [Georgios] Vizyinos [19th century writer/poet]? A large part of the crowd it attracted, however, follows my work… With time, one also adds other things to one’s life. But the songs from the «Ekdikisi tis Gyftias» album are being discovered by today’s 18-year-olds. That’s because, as was the case with the youngsters of that [album’s] era, they find elements of sarcasm in them. Will your guests at the current shows be cast for unexpected roles? Yes. Tsaligopoulou does a [Dionysis] Kapsalis song from a film by Dora Masklavanou which has a jazz feel and has not been released. Arvanitaki will sing Sappho. And I have a few things in mind for Portokaloglou, but we still haven’t settled on something. Each show is three hours long and will also include a wide variety of songs from newer albums as well as songs of varying styles. What needs led you toward these multifaceted shows? A loose approach without prejudices. I wanted to work with certain people because this, essentially, is a journey. Most of them are familiar, we’ve collaborated in the past. As for others, we’re connected by parallel musical courses. It’s like a small party. Of course, we’ll also do… enlightening songs. Are any new arrangements, or even covers, included? There’s an orchestra – a balance of instruments that have been successfully implemented – and, at the same time, a string quartet, as well as oboe and flute. In this sense, we’ve reinvigorated the sound with new texture. Two years of work was focused on this. The Eastern element, which exists in the entire 50-song repertoire [of the current shows] is bolstered. It’s like a big musical troupe. I hope the music’s good, too.

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