On the steps of Orpheus
A journey in the Greek Byzantine and Rebetiko music
About 100 concerts around the world. Among them at Salle Pleyel (Paris), The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium of Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Cornell University (Ithaca), Carl-Orff – Saal Gasteig (Munich), Cairo Opera House, Theatre de la Ville (Paris), The International Jerusalem Oud Festival, South Bank (London), City Hall Concert Hall (Hong Kong), L’Arsenal (Metz), Melbourne Recital Centre, Ten Days on the Island (Tasmania), Shanghai World Music Festival, Cervantino Festival (Mexico), Centre des Musiques Arabes et Méditerranéennes (Tunis), Tropenmuseum (Amsterdam), Les Suds à Arles festival, Cemal Resit Rey Concert Hall (Istanbul), Institut du Monde Arabe (Paris), Benaroya Hall (Seatle), La Caixa – Barcelona, Mallorca, Boston Byzantine Music Festival, Rialto World Music Festival (Limassol)
Kyriakos Petras – violin
Kyriakos Kalaitzidis – oud, voice
Drosos Koutsokostas – voice, lute
Alkis Zopoglou – qanun
Petros Papageorgiou – percussion
Leonidas Palaskas – sound engineer
A. The voice of Byzantium
The words “Byzantine musical heritage” usually make one think of the tradition of Church music. In this concert in proposal, however, we are presenting a lesser-known aspect of this heritage secular rather than religious music combined with related musical idioms from the Levant. The Byzantine Empire was composed of a vast mosaic of ethnicities and cultures that were bound together by a shared religion, Christianity, and a common language, Greek, which gradually took the place of Latin. Being a result of the integration of many different peoples and ideas, Byzantine culture became deeply ingrained in the history of the Mediterranean. Yet the region’s troubled history, studded as it was with tensions and hostilities, as well as social, political, and economic transformations, not to mention physical degradation, makes it difficult for us to discern the traces it left and their effect on modern musical practice.
At the heart of this musical world stands the theoretical system of “tropoi”, or musical modes; they were created in ancient Greece and constitute the foundation of all Eastern music, known as maqam in the Arab world and Turkey, radif in Persia, and echos (Gr. ήχος or mode) in Byzantine music. The connections between these traditions extended to common rhythmic patterns and melodic themes, shared musical forms and instruments, and close personal relationships between musicians of different nationalities, whose collaborations include the discussions and sharing of information about the art and science of music.
Unlike other Eastern traditions, however, the Byzantines developed a system of musical notation as early as the tenth century, and this has given the surviving repertoire considerable historical depth. The oldest example of secular music, a Persian composition, goes back to the fifteenth century, and subsequently, the use of Byzantine musical notation for recording secular music became increasingly popular. By the mid-nineteenth century, there were some 7,300 sheets of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine music manuscripts, which represent an important written source for the musical heritage of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The perfect and primary instrument was the human voice. It was trained systematically in the age-long and continuing tradition of the art of ecclesiastical music, having its roots in ancient Greek music. The voice style consists of particular vocal techniques, correct reading of the quality signs in musical notation, expressive rendering of textual content, and particular rules of vocalization. The art of the vocal tradition in Byzantium is a great art and a powerful one. It has influenced the way in which songs are sung and instruments are played both in terms of their style and their temper.
The voice of Byzantium echoes until today not only in the Greek musical heritage, but also in related traditions of the Middle East; Arabic, Persian, Ottoman and others. The program of the concert will include contemporary music written in the modal tradition of Byzantium creating a smooth connection and transition between the past and the present, the originality of the old and the creativity of the new. It is an opportunity to demonstrate the fact that, despite enmities, there was a constant free flowing movement, with exchanges and cross cultural influences, in the customs and musical idioms of these civilizations, which are still alive today. The program will start with the musical heritage of Byzantium, including regional musical idioms, and will continue with masterpieces of Arabic and Ottoman music. The concert will close with con-temporary compositions that will illustrate the creative continuity of “The Voice of Byzantium” and its influential power in meeting with modern trends. Through this program, the audience will have the opportunity to travel through different eras and musical colors, through memories and new lands, through senses and new emotions.
B. Τhe prehistory of Rebetiko
In March 2008 the En Chordais music ensemble received the “Musiques du Monde” award from Radio France in the context of the international BabelMed Festival which takes place every year in Marseille. As part of the award, the ensemble recorded a CD with songs and melodies from the musical traditions of Constantinople, Smyrna and Asia Minor. It was released in the spring of 2010 on Ocora, the label of Radio France, with worldwide distribution by Harmonia Mundi. The recording was made live in the renowned Abbesses Hall of the Theatre de la Ville in Paris.
The aim of the proposal will be to present the Greek musical tradition of Rebetiko, an important and unique tradition that in effect acted as a bridge between the oriental Greek and Arab traditions, to the music loving public. As of the 1850’s, in the streets of Smyrna in Asia Minor, in the popular neighborhoods of Istanbul, and the back streets of the Port of Syros, in the working class areas of Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki, a new music began to be created: popular songs in the style that we now call Rebetiko. It is a specific tradition that appears in socio-cultural environments that are on the margins of mainstream society, in this respect similar to the ones that saw the birth of fado, flamenco, tango, the blues. All respected scholars of Rebetiko agree that its more than centenary history can be divided into three periods with distinct characteristics, mapping its evolution into a more mainstream form.
The first period, and the one that this project is concerned with could be called “the prehistory of Rebetiko”. It began during the second half of the 19th century and lasted almost up to 1920. The songs of this period are played with instruments such as the ‘ud, the qanun and the violin and their style reminds us of many songs which later on became known as “Politika”, “Smyrneika” or “Smyronrebetika”.
The program of the proposed concert includes selections from this CD as well as from the other discography of the ensemble, which starts with the musical heritage of Byzantium, including regional musical idioms, and concludes with modern compositions that have their roots in the same modal universe.