Presentation of the 2022-2023 programme: the speech by the Director of the Athens State Orchestra
Thursday, 14 July 2022
After two extremely difficult years, I admit to feeling moved that we are all here in the flesh once again for the presentation of the Athens State Orchestra's programme for the 2022-2023 season. I believe and hope that today's meeting will be symbolic of the normality we are all looking forward to so keenly.
In fact, this is the first live programme presentation I have presided over since I took over as Artistic Director. We meet here, at the Athens Megaron Concert Hall, where we have been performing our symphonic concerts every Friday, almost without interruption, since its foundation in 1991. So, if you will, allow up to consider the Megaron our home, too.
WHAT WE’VE DONE
The season that's just ending has undoubtedly been a difficult one for cultural organisations everywhere. In the shadow of the uncertainty imposed by the pandemic, we were called upon to schedule a programme for a season which might or might not have taken place— no one knew what lay ahead.
Nevertheless, we did go on to successfully perform 22 symphonic concerts, plus another 12 featuring chamber music. We collaborated with leading soloists and conductors including Leonidas Kavakos, Christoph Eschenbach, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Jean-Louis Steuerman and Stefan Dohr.
At the same time, we did not hesitate to tread uncharted waters, launching the innovative concert series "Journey to the Centre of Music", an initiative that was warmly embraced by the public, confirming our belief that symphonic music can be for everyone, and doesn’t have to come across as an inaccessible genre for an elite few. The high turnout and enthusiasm of the audience, in particular, convinced us that this Journey ultimately brought more people closer to what I consider to be the centre of music, which is the joy it gives us.
Over the years, as an Orchestra, we have consistently been there for the less fortunate. And this year, too, we staged a number of concerts which had a social focus. For example, the proceeds from our four symphony concerts were donated to charity. First and foremost, the proceeds from the concert staged as part of the charity programme "Offering Music and a Musical Offering" and conducted by the celebrated Leonidas Kavakos were donated to shelters for abused women in Attica, while the proceeds from the concert conducted by Christoph Esenbach in cooperation with the non-profit "Together for Children" Association were donated to set up temporary accommodation for mothers and children from Ukraine. In addition, the proceeds from the concert at the Municipal Theatre of Piraeus were donated to the fund for the rebuilding of the maternity hospital in Mariupolis, while Leonidas Kavakos recently conducted the Athens State Orchestra in a concert under the auspices of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The proceeds from this evening, too, were made available to cover the needs of refugee children from Ukraine, many of whom have arrived in Greece unaccompanied.
We consider contributing to Society as a Whole to be an obligation, but it also one of our key values as an institution. For instance, in the midst of the pandemic during the 2020-2021 season, we recorded the "Athens State Orchestra Soloists" Cycle and sent it free of charge to our online friends (through the Orchestra's YouTube channel and Facebook page). The concerts not only highlighted the particular skills of the members of our Orchestra, they also attracted tens of thousands of views. Today, with support from the Recovery Fund, we expect to increase our online presence manifold, while creating a reliable archival platform. The Athens State Orchestra submitted three grant proposals, with a total budget in the region of 2,200,000 Euros. After evaluation, they were duly accepted by the Ministry of Culture & Sports, which is now setting in motion the funding for those institutions that fall under its oversight. Expressing our sincere thanks, both for the inclusion in the Recovery Fund and for the overall support we receiver as an orchestra from the Ministry of Culture & Sports, I would like to ask the Minister of Culture & Sports, Mrs. Lina Mendoni, to take the floor.
A significant portion of the money from the Recovery Fund will be spent on modernizing the Orchestra's administrative and organizational services and procedures. In parallel, we are pressing ahead with institutional initiatives in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture & Sports, and specifically with the Deputy Minister for Contemporary Culture, Mr Nicolas Yatromanolakis, which will facilitate this process. These initiatives include including updating the Orchestra's organogram (which hasn't been altered since 1942) and our internal regulations. A crucial— and, unfortunately, timely— initiative spearheaded by the Deputy Minister is the formulation of a Code of Conduct which will henceforth govern our work and the day-to-day business of the Orchestra.
This year, we are delighted that a new collaboration between the Athens State Orchestra and the Department of Music Studies of the School of Philosophy of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athensis due to begin; the collaboration will relate to undergraduate studies.
Following a proposal of the President of the Department of Music Studies of the School of Philosophy of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Dr Professor Anastassia Georgaki, the Senate agreed to the teaching of orchestral instruments, with a view to the students acquiring an artistic specialization. The teaching of the instruments will be undertaken by members of the ASO in the capacity of visiting professors.
We invite the Professor of the Department of Music Studies of the School of Philosophy of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Dr Nikos Malliaras, to tell us about this commendable initiative, which will raise the level of musical education in Greece and strengthen the connection in practice between music studies and orchestral performance.
WHAT WE’RE DOING
Although it is summer, we find ourselves in the midst of a highly creative period. We returned from Crete just a few days ago, where we played three concerts (two in Heraklion and one in Chania). We even had the honour of performing, for the first time in our history, within the Knossos archaeological site, and of playing for an audience at the New Archaeological Museum of Chania.
Early on in the month, we performed with the cellist Mischa Maisky at the Herodeion in a concert that formed part of the Athens Epidaurus Festival. The continued trust placed in us by artists of this calibre is proof of the high standards we maintain as an Orchestra. At the same time, collaborating with master musicians is a challenge, as well as a motivation to keep on striving to improve.
In a few days, we will be making our second appearance of the year at the Athens Epidaurus Festival with a truly significant concert. On 18 July, we pay tribute to both the great Manos Hadjidakis, who served as the director of our Orchestra between 1976 and 1982, and to Giannis Ioannidis, whom we honoured in last season's inaugural concert. The timing of the tribute could not have been better in the case of our beloved Manos Hadjidakis, given that his son Giorgos Hadjidakis recently donated the music library and archive of the Orchestra of Colours to us. We thank him from the bottom of our hearts for his gesture, and promise to make the best possible use of this genuine treasure trove of modern Greek culture. For this collaboration, we will be inviting Giorgos Hadjidakis to lead us from the podium.
OUR 80th ANNIVERSARY YEAR
Th upcoming artistic season is of pivotal importance for the Athens State Orchestra, since it will be our eightieth years of contributions to the Greek music scene. Eight decades which have included moments of joy and pride, inspiration and creativity, but have also had their fair share of difficulties, periods of uncertainty, and— as is only natural— slippages.
We were born as an institution bearing the name ‘Athens State Orchestra’ in 1942, and gave our first concert on 28 February 1943. Of course, the history of the Athens State Orchestra is bound up with that of Greece and the Greek people. And despite the difficulties we have encountered from time to time, let us never forget the two things we have served since our foundation: music and society at large. We consider it our duty to perform all the great works of the symphonic repertoire. It is our mission to help familiarize the public with what is usually called 'serious' music, but I prefer to call ‘functional’. It is my personally ambition to take this music— our music— out of Athens to every corner of Greece.
We never forget, either, our multi-layered educational work, which I will be referring to in more detail, but never neglect our responsibility towards young artists and performers, either. It is with this mission in mind that we continue to commission new works, and why we have opted to dedicate the opening concert of our upcoming jubilee season to a number of promising young soloists. The Orchestra may be celebrating its eightieth anniversary, but it is still focused very much on the future. Because the future of music lies is the young people who are making a name for themselves today, and who will be making us proud with their achievements in a few years' time. In fact, many of the Greek artists who have risen to the top on the Greek and international music scene started out collaborating with the ASO in their youth. The three musicians who excelled in our competition for young soloists this year are the flautist Vassilina Yfanti, the cellist Evripidis Samaras, and the pianist Stamatis Vlachodimitris. They will be performing concerti by, respectively, Quantz, Saint-Saëns and Prokofiev under the baton of the Canadian conductor Charles Olivieri-Munroe, a maestro well-known to Greek audiences. At this point, I would like to emphasize that, apart from the three winners who distinguished themselves and will be performing in our opening concert, we discovered many more remarkable young musicians among the 90— what an impressive number that is!— who took part; it is our sincere hope that we will be collaborating with some or all of them in future seasons.
In 2022, it will be a century since the Asia Minor Catastrophe. As an anniversary, it provides an occasion to honour the rich cultural heritage of the Greek world of Asia Minor. A world which is neither lost nor forgotten, since it remains a living part of recent memory. In fact, the Greek culture of Asia Minor is part of our everyday lives— it’s there in our neighbourhoods, in our homes, all over Greece. It’s there wherever refugees from Asia Minor settled, wherever they travelled to. Theirs is a Greek culture and civilization that continues to nourish and inspire us.
Of course, this is even more true when it comes to music, which Roland Barthes called "the highest form of abstract art". Now, a century on, we realize that the cultural wealth of the Greek tradition will ultimately live on for ever in our collective national consciousness. Of course, this inexhaustible Greek tradition inspired outstanding symphonic works by important Greek composers, including Manolis Kalomiris (who was born in Smyrna), Petros Petridis, Konstantinos Kydoniatis, and our contemporary, the prolific Dimitris Marangopoulos. On 11 November, maestro Miltos Logiadis will take the ASO and its audience on a fascinating musical journey to the point where the traditional and the scholarly, the national and the personal, converge.
2023 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sergei Rachmaninov, a composer who often successfully combined the cerebral with the passionate in his writing. That is why you will find several of his works in this year's programme. This season's Rachmaninov offerings begin on 15 February with Mikhail Pletnev, for many the ideal interpreter of the composer's famous Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini for piano and orchestra. On 17 March, Plamena Mangova will perform his Fourth Piano Concerto under the baton of Dimitris Botinis; the concert will conclude with Rachmaninov's less popular, but by no means less important, First Symphony. Finally, the pianist Nikolai Lugansky will join forces with the ASO on 7 April 2023 under the musical direction of Vassilis Christopoulos. The great virtuoso's performance of Rachmaninov's colossal Third Piano Concerto will bring our season's anniversary Rachmaninov cycle to a close.
We are entering a jubilee season for the Orchestra. We will do our utmost to be at our absolute peak and give memorable performances which will, we hope, prove to be major cultural events.
Even more than in other years, we will be collaborating this season with internationally-celebrated soloists and conductors; we are setting the bar very high indeed. Our inaugural concert on 21 October features a world-famous soloist, the British violinist Daniel Hope, who will be performing Max Bruch's First Violin Concerto. One week prior to that, on October 15, we will be joining forces with Liz Davidsen, the rising opera star, in an Athens Concert Hall Organization gala production conducted by Cornelius Michaelides.
Only a few days later, on 4 November, the legendary piano virtuoso Ivo Pogorelich will be in Athens to perform Chopin's Second Piano Concerto in a concert with... a distinctly 1830s flavour. On the podium, the much sought-after French conductor Philippe Auguin.
Of course, our anniversary concert on 3 February 2023 could hardly be any less impressive. The legendary violinist Vadim Repin will be performing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto. The soprano Cellia Costea begins the evening with Vocalise, a piece for soprano and orchestra by the eminent Greek composer Nestor Taylor. The concert will end on a celebratory note with one of the most famous works in the repertoire: Mahler's First Symphony, known as the "Titan".
On 24 February, the famous mezzo-soprano Markella Hatziano will be performing with the ASO for the first time in a number of years. This particular concert, which is conducted by Nikos Chaliassas, is as good a prompt as any for me to say that both dialogue between the arts and new ways of presented works will be necessary if we are going to make symphonic music accessible to a broader public. So if you want to "see" a witches’ sabbath, a couple exchanging impassioned kisses as their ship splinters on the rocks, you only have to attend this concert, which will be accompanied by Katerina Barsukova's imaginative sand animation.
On 28 April, after a gap of years, we will be joining Dora Bakopoulou, a pianist of renowned sensitivity, in a performance of Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto. The concert, which will be conducted by Edo de Waart, a maestro famous for his symphonic interpretations, will close with Camille Saint-Saëns' Third Symphony.
Christoph Eschenbach, whom recent years has seen cultivating ties with Greece and our Orchestra in particular, won't be absent from this year's programme. He will be conducting the May 28 concert, bringing with him the Grammy Award-winning American cellist Zuill Bailey to perform one of the best-loved works in the cello repertoire: Edward Elgar's Concerto for cello and orchestra.
Providing hands-on support for contemporary Greek composers is an integral part of our work. During the upcoming season, we will be performing the world premieres of no fewer than three works. As is the case every season, these include works we have ourselves commissioned. Our inaugural concert begins with the Routes for symphony orchestra by the distinguished composer Dimitris Minakakis. A work which the ASO commissioned and has chosen to open its new season with.
Also, on 20 January, Iason Keramidis will give the premiere performance of Dimitris Papadimitriou’s Violin Concerto under the baton of Giorgos Petrou.
On 28 April, we present the much-anticipated new work from Dimitris Skillas, The Dance of Zalongos. As a work which we commissioned to mark the bicentenery of the Greek Revolution, we are especially looking forward to its premiere.
On 7 April, we will be presenting the first nationwide performance of Filippos Tsalachouris' Julian Suite for Orchestra. The work pays tribute to the late distinguished Byzantinist, Iouliani Chrysostomidou. I should note that this isn’t the first time Filippos Tsalachouris has entrusted the premiere performance of one of his works to us. So thank you, Filippos: your trust is precious to us. At which point, in his capacity, too, as artistic director of the Athens Conservatory, from which the Athens State Orchestra originally sprang, I should like to invite him to the podium.
Holidays are always a great occasion to enjoy symphonic works. Following last season’s triumphant performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, this year will see us performing one of the key works of the Baroque on 16 December: Handel’s Messiah, a work which is woven into the very fabric of Christmas. The orchestra will be conducted by the internationally renowned Early Music expert, Harry Bickett.
The New Year Gala co-produced with the Athens Concert Hall Organization is a holiday tradition, and this year its theme will be musicals. With Michalis Economou on the podium, celebrated lyrical artists will perform excerpts from the musicals we all love. So, a different night from usual, but an event we will be approaching in a spirit of fun, but with all due seriousness. Our goal... to celebrate music and the musical. I should like to invite Nadia Kontogeorgi to the podium to tell us a little about the gala concert.
Over Easter, the traditional Holy Wednesday concert, which we will be co-producing with the Athens Concert Hall Organization— will introduce us to the humanistic world of Beethoven. We will perform the ultimate work of classical music: the Missa Solemnis. Under the baton of the German maestro, Christoph Poppen, We will be joined by the ERT and City of Athens choirs for another important collaboration.
2022 marks the centenary of the birth of Iannis Xenakis. On 9 December, the dynamic maestro Nikos Vasileiou will be honouring the memory of a composer who transubstantiated his mathematical and architectural knowledge into a music that was novel, imaginative, and left its mark on the musical avant-garde of the latter half of the 20th century. Themathematics professor and Aademician, Thanasios Fokas, will be on hand to decipher the connection between Xenakis’ oeuvre and mathematics for us. The programme for the evening, in which the soprano Mia Mantino, the pianist Titos Gouvelis and the guitarist Kostas Kotsiolis will be performing, also includes works by Messiaen, Varèse and Brouwer.
The November 18th concert is dedicated to the memory of Dimitris Dragatakis. Jacopo Sipari di Pescasseroli will be returning to the ASO podium to conduct Mozart's light-hearted Nocturne for Four Orchestras, Dimitris Dragatakis’ award-winning Sixth Symphony, and Brahms' heartbreaking First Piano Concerto with Titos Gouvelis at the keyboard.
The musicologist and University of Athens academic Ms Magdaleni Kalopana will be talking to us about Dimitris Dragatakis’ work.
On 2 December, we delve into the spirit of the so-called three classicists: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The ASO will be welcoming Classical Vienna to the Athens Concert Hall through their compositions. The renowned pianist and educator Pavel Gililov and his student Agapi Triantafyllidi will be performing Mozart's Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, while Ektoras Tartanis will conduct the Orchestra in Haydn's Ninety Fifth and Beethoven's Fifth symphonies.
On 20 January 2023, we will pay tribute to the memory of Karolos Trikolidis who passed away a year ago. We will be honouring him with a performance of the magnificent First Symphony by Bruckner, a composer in whose symphonic works the late conductor was an expert and acknowledged interpreter. The evening opens with Iason Keramidis performing the premiere of Dimitris Papadimitriou's Violin Concerto, conducted by Giorgos Petrou.
Our 19 May concert coincides with the day of commemoration for the Pontian genocide, which entered its most brutal phase on this day in 1919. Four hundred thousand Black Sea Greeks managed to reach Greece safely and become part of our national life and culture. The conductor, Vladimiros Symeonidis, is himself of Pontian descent.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF MUSIC
After the great success of the two concerts staged last year as part of our "Journey to the Centre of Music" cycle, we will be pressing on with our journey to the centre— which is, of course, the joy of music— this season. Thus, having acquainted ourselves last season with the Symphonic Poem and the Concerto, on 3 March our journey will continue with the Symphony and, on 5 May, the Symphonic Suite. Videos and live performances of excerpts from crucial and popular works will be supplemented with historical and musicological information in an attempt to put the symphonic genres in their respective social, economic and, of course, musical contexts. Katerina Evagelakou will be directing proceedings, while the popular historian Maria Efthymiou and the pianist and composer Christos Papageorgiou will be presenting. Christos is here today and I would like to invite him to share his thoughts with us.
OFFERING MUSIC AND A MUSICAL OFFERING
The charity programme "Offering Music and a Musical Offering" continues this year, completing its seventh year under the internationally-celebrated violinist, Leonidas Kavakos. The exact dates, along with programme of concerts for the summer of 2023 are to be announced. As always, Leonidas Kavakos will be donating his fee to help cover the needs of the Orchestra, while the proceeds from the concert will be donated to charity. Now in its seventh year, our cooperation has become an institution, and one we are extremely proud of.
We will be continuing and expanding our wide-ranging educational work during the 2022-2023 season. The ASO’s Academy of Young Musicians continues to prepare young performers for the special requirements of symphonic music through its classes. The popular educational activities "A Right to Music" and "Epi-menontas Aigaio" will also continue to introduce children of various ages to the sounds, repertoire and instruments of an orchestra.
In addition, our Open Rehearsals programme will continue, allowing pre-school and primary school children to attend general rehearsals with their school, free of charge. This year, too, for a nominal fee, students can take part in the much-loved “With My Class at Our Orchestra” programme.
During the new season, we will be launching a new educational initiative proposed by one of our musicians, Laertes Kokolanis. A new series of concerts/conversations for music students and their parents at Athens conservatories, which seek to facilitate direct communication between a professional orchestra and the musicians of the next generation, and their joint exploration of the route leading from studying music to playing it professionally.
For the ninth year, the Brass Workshop will be offering free seminars to brass players of all levels and ages in collaboration with the Philippos Nakas Conservatory. Starting last season, the ASO was delighted to include in its Educational and Social work the "Continuous Chamber Music Seminar", an initiative of the cellist Angelos Liakakis and the pianist Titos Gouvelis, which aims to introduce young students and professional musicians to the special challenges of the chamber music repertoire.
And of course, the hugely popular Introductory Talks will be returning, so they can continue to enrich the uique ritual of attending a live concert. An institution introduced over a decade ago, the Talks, which delve into the history and significance of the works in a simple and unpretentious way, have been warmly embraced by the public. Symphonic Music for All.
Each year, our Chamber Music programme occupies a unique place among the concerts performed by our Orchestra's many and varied ensembles. Its repertoire is broad, bold and imaginative. It is our way of adding flexibility to our programming and meeting our audience in areas which are of cultural significance to them and us alike.
Our concertmaster, Dimitris Semsis, will now speak about the chamber music concerts staged by the ASO.
For 2022-2023, our artists’ Athens base will be the hospitable Crowne Plaza, which will be the Orchestra's Hospitality Sponsor for the upcoming season. The prestige this hotel offers is a great pleasure, but it also conveys a sense of security, since accommodation is one of the many ‘invisible’ needs that have to be taken care of before concerts, which often require the collaboration of artists who live and work abroad.
We owe a warm thank you to our friends and companions over many years now: the German Embassy in Athens, the Italian Cultural Institute, the Canada Council for the Arts, and Air Canada. Finally, I could not leave out the communication sponsors who unfailingly publicize our efforts: eRT, STA.SY SA., Vouli Tileorasi, Lifo, ελ culture, Athina 984, news247, Galaxy 92 and Sto Kokkino 105.5.
This year, as part of the campaign undertaken by the AG Design Agency, We are One. Through music, the audience and the orchestra become one. At the heart of it all are our 115 musicians. Who always set aside the personal for the benefit of the collective. Who serve Music with all the powers at their disposal.