Interview with the leading violinist of the ERT orchestra, Mr. Ioannis Stratakis to Panagiota Surtzi
Listen to the whole interview on Spotify!
grtraveller met the leading violinist with a long European career, Mr. Ioannis Stratakis, for a full-length interview about his return to Greece, his multifaceted work, art and life itself, which travels through music.
You have studied and taught violin and viola at universities in Europe. You have founded and directed classical music festivals in the Netherlands and have participated in countless concerts as a leading musician, mainly abroad. What is it that made you return to Greece?
There is always a cause and a reason. The reason was my father, with whom I didn’t have much of a relationship because he worked a lot and I felt the need to get to know this man, to see what this man who raised me was like. I had a very good impression, despite the little contact we had. When I had started playing the violin, I kept asking him for money because what the teacher gave me was not enough to study, to learn, and I kept saying I wanted more and I would ask him for money and I would go and secretly buy books of musical notes from my teacher to learn other pieces that were more serious, more beautiful, more difficult. So at one point, I had bought a piece, and I was sitting there playing it, and I forgot about it, and the time passed. We were afternoons at school then. I didn’t have time to leave, and I didn’t feel like it, so I was playing, I hear the keys from downstairs going into the building, I said, “oh, he’s here.” So I get under my bed and I had recorded the song, because he says “don’t go and eat the money, get the books you say”. “Indeed,” I say, “I’ll record the song for you to hear.” Anyway, I had it recorded, so I hear the keys, I get under the bed, I say now if he finds me… (laughs). So my dad came in and he sees the tape recorder and he went over there and he pressed the button and he was listening to me play the little piece and then he listened to it again. And that’s it, I went crazy! You understand that it gave me a lot of, what can I say, his love, so to speak. He was a generally intelligent man, very inventive, he made various inventions and he was involved in many things but we didn’t have much contact. He had been alone for the last few years, because my brother met a girl and they left and live in Corfu. So I had some remorse at one point because I was living very well in Holland, I had a very good job, I had a nice girlfriend after my divorce. I was doing an animal and I felt bad that my father was alone and I think he’s going to die some day and I won’t have met him, I should have talked to him once, to see what was in his head. Well, I gave it all up and came down to Greece. That was the occasion. But the reason is different.
I was the first to organize an independent youth orchestra in Greece in the mid-80s. I had gathered the best at that time, because I was good, so to speak, and we didn’t need a conductor, we would do it ourselves and everyone would play solo and sit in all the positions. A, how shall I say it, horizontal democratic, you want anarchic… whatever you want to call it. Anyway, there was a hierarchy internally, it was just rotating. So we book three concerts, in Alimos in a school. Posters come out and somebody says “Oops! What’s going on here, youth orchestra, where did this come from, who’s behind it?” Anyway, and it all goes to the ears of the director of the State Opera at the time and to Lambrakis who owned the organization. Because Lambrakis was very fond of music. Well, and I get a call one day, “Mr. Stratakis?” he says, “My name is Ioannidis, I’m the director of the State Opera and I’d like to make an appointment to talk… You have an orchestra.” I say, “We have, an orchestra.” “You know we want to take over your orchestra, we pay two thousand per musician per concert” and so on, like that. I say, “Look, first of all, we’re peculiar, we don’t want a conductor on top.” He says, “But why don’t you want a conductor, how is it going to happen?” I say, “You’re a state orchestra director” – I had the nerve, the language – “look at the orchestras we have in Greece and tell me if they work as they should. I say the fish stinks from the head, it’s not just the musicians who can’t work together and play because the level is what it is. It’s also the fault of the leadership who, of course, don’t create the right conditions and don’t have the inspiration to lead them. They’re scribes.” Anyway, he’s listening to it, the man stayed sharp but he was smart and he’s still smart, he’s still alive, he’s old now. He calls me up after a day or two to say that Mr. Lambrakis and I have decided to give you a scholarship to go and study. “Oh,” I say, “I’m very honoured, thank you very much.” I didn’t know then who Lambrakis was, what a director was, I was in my own world. He says, “Come in and we’ll talk. We make an appointment, we go to Christou Ladas, up on the top floor, like a spaceship, a room, dark with a bright background, you couldn’t see faces. There were about twenty people sitting in a semicircle. How do you see the spaceship projects? Like this. I hear “voice of a boomer.” You couldn’t see who was talking. It says, “Mr. Stratakis we were told the best about you and we decided to give you a scholarship to go and study for a year and come back, take over. We’re going to build a music university in Corfu and if you don’t like it, we plan to build a Music Hall in Crete, which is your homeland I suppose, and you can go and take it over and become the director. There is also the Megaron in Athens.” I heard them. I say, “Excuse me, I don’t know, thank you very much, but I have the impression that you want to make me a scribe. I have no such intention. Thank you very much but I want to be a musician.” There was a commotion over there, “What is he saying here?” He says, “Well, it’s not quite like that, you’ll see but if you want to play, go to the State Orchestra, we have two or three orchestras, make a career in music and at the same time… I say “fine.” He says, “Well, we’ll send you to London for a year.” I say, “London! There’s no way I’m not going to London.” “But why don’t you go to London?” – I was probably objecting. I say, “Well, let me tell you. There are some of my classmates from the Conservatoire who went to London and they come back, they play worse but they have a big mouth and they suddenly know everything. I don’t want to be like that. I’m not interested in that kind of approach to the arts of music.” “Well, what are we going to do with him!”, “where do you want to go?”, another one pops up. I say Germany. Labrakis jumps up, says “there’s no way we’re going to send you to Germany.” Look at the battle over there. I say, “Why won’t you send me?” “Because,” he says, “the Germans are not stupid, they’ll keep you there and we want you here.” I say, “Anyway, I’ll have to think about it but I don’t know about Germany, if you don’t send me I’ll go myself, I’ll find something to do there.” It didn’t work out. “Think about it,” he says. Then it happened and-this is how I was in Holland, they had cultural exchanges with Holland and they had the youth orchestra that they have come in those days, which is, what can I say, a miracle. And traditional, but the kids play and the conductors they have are excellent. They also have an army of musicologists and they educate the kids and it’s an excellent quality. They were playing at the Palace at the time and I happened to go to the concert and I was blown away. A friend, a classmate, comes and says, “you know, we should tell him we should go to Holland” and he actually told the director of the State Theatre at the time and he calls me up, “how would you like the idea of giving you a scholarship to Holland because we now have some edges, contacts to study, to come in a year.” Well, at that time I thought about it because they brought me the brochure from the Academy and it was indeed a very well known great Japanese violinist and I said if she teaches there I’m off as I am. And I have the scholarship, I wouldn’t have the parents, so that’s how I ended up in Holland. So that was the reason, that some people were then found and they wanted to finance my studies deliberately and they wanted to help me and put me in a good, beneficial mechanism. I appreciated that and always had it back. That is, they gave the money, but in the end I did not return at that time. I came back after 35 years. That fact stayed with me. I had a moral obligation to come back because they wanted me here, they needed me. And indeed, even now that the musical level has risen, I could offer a lot. So the reason I came back to Greece was a moral obligation I had undertaken for those who helped me and the reason was my father, family reasons. I couldn’t stand the fact that I was having a good time and someone who actually supported me from baby to I don’t know… I can’t have that, that is, and the thought, which I said to my girlfriend at the time, that I can’t live my life here after my father dies alone and I’m having a good time. I’ll carry it with me all my life. And I had a good life, I had a great time and I had the mental capital to do this at my peril, because there was no work or anything here at that time. The fact that I work at ERT is a matter of luck. That I have to eat, so to speak. You understand.
What do you think this place can give to a musician and what can a musician give to his place?
I’ll tell you what he can give. The place can give inspiration and nothing else is needed. He who has the fire, the flame will do something. Whatever. You’ll like it, you won’t like it, it doesn’t matter. It will do something. That’s it. Look now you see this sea, there is no other place, go to the Caribbean. The Caribbean, however, has neither the pine tree, nor the ancient temple, nor the church, nor all these crazy people. It has a system that can work nicely and it ends there. That is, as long as you’re satisfied with it, it’s good enough for you. This is what the place has to offer you, an anarchy, a natural anarchy, which will inspire you and make you follow the direction you naturally have. I have a saying, a motto, a motivation. It’s in Latin, because we had a philosophical group, so to speak, in Holland where everyone had to think of something that represented him as the motivation of his whole life. Well, my motto is “sine casu et amore ars anon est” (sine casu et amore ars non est), which means “without chance and love, love, attraction, that is, there is no art”. Well, what this anarchy gives you here is randomness, mainly, and love, because what distinguishes Greeks, mainly those who succeed and others who don’t succeed socially, is that they deal with their subject with almost “autistic” dedication. Which others have, of course, is not a privilege of Greeks, but here you have no other choice. You either have to shine or be eaten by the wolf. The fight between Python and Apollo. What could Python do to an immortal? Nothing, except to keep him from shining for a while! That’s what this country gives you, both as a society and as a nature. Now what can an artist do here? To yield the fruits of his art. Plant them and move on. Because, fortunately, this is a never-ending process.
There is an offero ground though?
No, no! But there is the other one. When there is no market, you have to create it. One will sacrifice his neck, his head will be cut off to create the market. I’ve done that, recently here where I am with two things. Here in the summers with the full moon – there’s a spot next to here, which was Herod’s baths, we play music, or sometimes we make a speech. We bring in professional colleagues. We set up a red carpet, our analogies, lights and wait for the full moon to come out and it’s excellent. And it started with five people, people we know, and now we’re getting a crowd, which we’re doing for ourselves and for the people who seem to need it. But we also create the need. On the other hand, the little kids who come along, they see it and say “Oh, how nice!” and they’ll remember tomorrow, they’ll do something, there’ll be a movement, a pressure. The problem is, of course, that it takes money, which means that at some point the good deeds of the colleague run out.
When you returned to Greece, you were already an established musician. Have you felt here what they say, “No prophet in his own place?”
I came here as a name – at least in my circle. I didn’t go after publicity. First of all, I didn’t expect to stay in Greece so soon. I didn’t need to prove anything. However, of course, the local market is always very wary of the underdogs, i.e. those who come in from the outside and where they weren’t expecting it. Then, as always, nepotism rears its head. But I haven’t had that kind of reaction from colleagues yet, no, I’ve just had appreciation. Of course, I have to say that I am absolutely satisfied. At some point, around the age of 40, I realized that everything I had dreamed of I had achieved. I had no more dreams. And everything else I see as a vacation in essence. You come to the world to take a holiday. Well, and someone runs into robbers up on his vacation and someone has a great time. I had both. And if you see it that way, you have room for the other person and there’s room for malice, you can swallow it and deal with it maturely and put the other person in their place. Because you know conflict causes conflict. I’m not the one to turn the other cheek. Of course not! But one has to accept to see what the other person’s problem is and handle it appropriately, without any conflict. Now if one is forced, of course, to clash now, that’s where the terms change, but that’s another story. Fortunately, it hasn’t happened to me yet. Fortunately.
In Julius Verne’s unpublished work, Paris in the 20th century, the author expressed his concern for a future society that would be technology-centred and distant from art. Do you think his concern is borne out nowadays?
No! On the contrary, I believe that technology, in addition to its usefulness, opens new windows for expression. You know there are thousands of apps for phones, if we don’t like the visual part, we throw it away, it’s not going to be the best. we don’t keep it. That is, beauty is still the king that rules us. We all seek beauty. Others want power, money, love. This beauty is what draws us. If you have to choose two activities that will make you rich, you will choose the one that has the beauty, you will not go to the other one. Well, technology, as it is at the moment, takes up a lot of our energy. But it is still an aesthetic event. Don’t forget that technology contains the word art, so art is also technique. What is its content and what is art itself and so on is another matter. I believe that technology as it is will not “cap us”. It can “cap us” in things that need a precision discipline, a razor, let’s say, but in everyday life, maybe in other circumstances – if the world didn’t have these constant crises, it would have opened our eyes, because it’s very easy to do your job, now, and maybe you don’t have to bang eight hours in an office and look at the window and say when I’m coming out. Well, technology can get rid of that. Of course, the question is what you do with all the people who will then be on the street. They will find their way and they will go back to chasing the good stuff because they may not have to work three jobs to survive, if there is the political will to do so.
Is art for you the ancient view of art or its postmodern version?
It’s both and much more in between. These are from two extreme positions, to say the least, images of art. Art is a machine that man has created precisely in order to have direct contact with events that he does not normally experience and as a path to beauty in order to understand all this immense beauty. We can’t put it in a box inside easily. Create a mechanism such that you can visualise a landscape – so to go more traditional – or this postmodern one can bombard you with images, with sounds. Why is he doing this? To distract you from exactly what has you “stuck” in a daily routine. Of course, there are other judgments, because art can easily be a propaganda mechanism. A man has his own measure of aesthetic, what he likes. But there is also the common perception of art, that’s the artist’s job in essence because one can sing to his goats, no big deal, it’s art but it lacks the social dimension, which is to connect society through a common experience. That is, Dalaras said that song, a thousand people sing it at the same time and they have the feeling that they belong to a group. It’s necessary, so does religion and political parties, football teams and those who play backgammon next door. Well, it’s an image that connects society in its own way. Now exactly how he does this, with what excuse is not so important, the point is that some people are creating a group, a nation, so to speak, in the Homeric sense of the word. A group that has common ground: common opinion, common interests, common aesthetics because it is precisely this work of art that binds them together. So what form it takes, whether it’s a landscape or whether it’s five rappers cursing, I don’t know, someone, let’s say a politician, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that they feel that they are not alone, that there are people who understand them, that they have common goals, a common understanding, common plans. So for me it doesn’t matter that much. Of course, we should not overlook the fact that the social stratification chooses such art forms, which represent it. So one listens to folk music, rebetika, the other listens to classical music and even of a specific era. And it represents everyone. The fact is that art provides exactly this means to have a social consensus.
Are there any aesthetic rules today?
Of course there are! If I go with the slipper to Maximus, some people throw up. Of course there are. No one is ignoring it. And if you go to the shop to get glasses, you will choose one, you won’t get all of them. Maybe that too. But this is also an aesthetic attitude. That is, don’t consider only a painting or a nice piece of music as art. The lipstick you put on and the hairstyle is an art. And it represents us and what it means that the sense of beauty we have is not just something abstract. We present our value system. There is still an aesthetic rule today, absolutely, it’s just not as common as it used to be. The criterion exists. Of course it’s not common anymore. It’s not common and it varies from person to person and from member of a social group or class to member of a social group, education, time, all these things adapt it, change it.
Apart from beauty, the ancient Greeks also attached great importance to harmony in art. They had certain rules that defined harmony. Now do these rules exist in today’s music?
Sure, certainly in music there are, especially here in Greece, there are composers. Someone told me that there are about 620 composers in our country. I wanted to do a project with the myths of Aesop, which I recite in ancient Greek, and I thought we should give composers to each write a 3-4 minute piece of music with a recitation. You have a treasure. In the edition I’m doing now it’s 427. Another version has 620. Well, I say that’s a crazy chapter. I remember in Holland I worked in radio and elsewhere. I was asked. “What’s going on,” he says, “in Greece of music because we want to do shows to put something from Greece. Do you have composers?” Well, I say we do. “Where are they?” Nobody knows where to dig them out and there’s a composers’ association, they’re dying out, unfortunately. But there is a mood and there are excellent composers, so you are happy to hear music that is not the usual. Wonderful music. I say that being a musician and all, that is, I’m very difficult and critical, it’s hard to listen to music – I listen to the mistakes first and how you correct that, that’s my job (laughs). But these, we’re talking about wonders, wonderful works, which not even their mother knows. In the old days, let’s say the Athens State Opera, the first play they did was a Greek, contemporary play. That has now been extinguished. Sure, of course you’re going to bring the name, it fills the hall, but man, who’s going to perform the play? Who’s going to perform these plays and are they really wonderful? That’s a terrible chapter that is left untapped.
Ayou have been working for many years on the reconstruction of the ancient Greek sound. You recite the works of Homer and other ancient writers, the way they did. How easy is it for someone to speak as they did back then and how do we know that this was their accent?
Look at this. There are cases. The big assumption that dominates in our country, here in Greece, is that the way we speak now is the way the ancients spoke back then. Excuse me, the grandchild will say about the great-grandfather? That the great-grandfather spoke like the grandchild? It’s a bit strange. The right thing to say is that how they spoke evolved into how we speak today. This whole process, now at least three thousand years recorded in literature and stories can be traced back and back and back. I’ll tell you, when I went to Holland, there were no Greeks then, and this image of the Greek was from the education they had. I started to work in Masterecht. They heard “Greek”, they read in the newspapers, first viola in the philharmonic in Mastechnik. “Greek, what’s that?” So there were queues to see the monster. So they started to tell me something gibberish: Plato said this, Aristotle said that, Homer said this. I say, “What are they saying?”, I didn’t understand. They were saying it in the Erasmus they were saying. And I’m like, what is this, how can you say it like that? I started talking about it and I started looking into it. These people didn’t know either, they said that’s what we learned at school, that’s what we say. I think I’ll look into it. If we want to prove something, we have to look back to antiquity. Maybe they left something that says how they spoke. Look this way, look that way. Back then there was no internet, so I had to buy books that didn’t exist. I had to have them printed by special publishers in Berlin, in Leipzig. I paid many, many thousands of euros to make my library. I found, for example, all the works of ancient grammar, the textbooks of rhetoric, everything you can imagine. And I started looking here and there. I also read the theories of the heralds and the proponents of the New Greek and at some point you find writings which describe the pronunciation. The pronunciation that was the spoken language at that time. In fact, people have heard of Plato’s “Kratylus”… That’s where one starts, that’s the most famous one. But there’s another gentleman, deceased, apparently. His name is Dionysius Halicarnassus, who was a great grammarian, who was taken by a Roman Emperor in the second century BC and taken to Rome to teach his son to speak Greek well, because he was going to enter the political arena and he had to have an education, a pedagogy, and without Greek there was no pedagogy. And so he has, from chapter 13, a long piece explaining to him how to pronounce each letter. He mentions at one point, where he’s analyzing the speech, why he wanted to teach him and the tricks that orators do and he was giving him examples of various ones, including Thucydides, who Thucydides, so to speak, is the example of strict harmony, he tells him. That is, of how to speak seriously, in fact, in simple words of today and he was telling him how to do it. There, then, when he is analyzing the beginning of Thucydides’ history where he says I will record what happened between the Lacedaemonians and the Athenians, in this sentence he explains “be careful why the i with the a do not poi diphthongo, because the i cuts”, he says, “the sound at the end of the word and this conversation that begins with a is pure”, it is “bite” to say that’s why they put the small one on top, it was not the shastia, this breath from the chest that Theodosius Grammaticus writes. You’re looking for the word that’s the i following a and the only place there’s an “and”. You see which word ends in an i. Kai. Below is more. Then it has words similar to this that have the signed and again it follows a vowel and says the “i” cuts off the sound and that cut off is a bit of serious speech. So the words are clear that is. Well, and you say, so they pronounce the signed one too. Then there’s about the signed – later, they don’t know yet how to date it – George Choirovoskos, a Byzantine scholar, who has written a great many commentaries on metrics and the ancients, on ancient speech, among other things, and he says that the rhapsodists, the poets, pronounce the signed, this “i” at the end. People don’t hear it because they didn’t have a megaphone. And that’s why some grammarians don’t pronounce it. In 1,000 A.D. still, there was this tradition of pronunciation, no matter that people don’t hear it. Because of course hearing also dulls over the years, it’s the environment that plays a role and then you don’t notice it. When you catch the meaning, where the other person is going with it, you don’t have to listen to the sound. Well, and these phenomena slowly altered the pronunciation. Of course, it must be said that at the time when Christianity appears, like any great ideological shift in societies, it brings a new language. Every faction, political, religious, social, whatever, has its own code to be recognized for being different, that’s why. So there is written that we know this pronunciation. There are scriptures that say you put the tongue there, the air will come out so you’ll say it all the time. There was also the controversy in antiquity as to which long is longer than the others. They were not all the same. There was a bishop in Thessaloniki, in 1100 AD, who knew, because this tradition was alive, it hadn’t disappeared, another thing they say now that we’ve lost the prosody. We have lost nothing. The new Greek we speak has exactly the same prosody … it’s just that what we lost is that we cut the long ones, with all the consequences…
TThe first time I heard you recite, I was very distressed by that accent. It reminded me more of northern European languages, as they are spoken today. Why is this similarity happening?
Yeah, it looks like it. What for? First of all, Germans have long and short. They have the shade, which we Southerners have lost. And the Italians and us and the Spanish. But that has to do with the climate. Well, we’ve mostly lost the long ones, which English, German, Germanic languages have retained, Dutch, Russian, as an expression not as a norm. They keep them. Secondly, in ancient Greek it seems, it is not described, one cannot say that there was no “fi” as we say today or “d”. I was asked by a teacher once, “well they didn’t have the delta, d?” I say they don’t mention it, not that they didn’t have it. They may have had it but it’s not mentioned. Maybe on the street they talked like we do today because the writings that are left are from the heads of the time, they were the elite, the intellectual and social. But it’s not mentioned. What we do know is that what survived was the language of the educated.
Do you think it would make it easier or more confusing for Greeks learning ancient Greek to know these differences in the pronunciation of ancient and modern Greek?
I will tell you. Historically here in Greece, at some point a linguist of the state officially appears. His name was Georgios Hadjidakis, and he was active at the end of the 19th century and the 20th. Letters have been found from… He was the founder of linguistics in Greece, taught at the University of Athens and was a founding member and president of the Academy of Athens. Well, he advised the government on what to do with the language and among other things the pronunciation. They were of course interested in education not so much as an ancient pronunciation, but to combat illiteracy, which was at an all-time high. Think of a child receiving different speeches in the family, another in the neighbourhood, the village, the provincial town and another in the capital with the scholars. So Hatzidakis didn’t want to burden it with yet another dialect and accent. This is not the way to fight illiteracy, he said, because many students would not be able to cope. He proposed, therefore, a uniform accent in Modern Greek, the late Byzantine in essence, which would be taught and spoken by official lips. A single accent so that we can communicate. And of course the whole language creates a unity, the sense of belonging to the same nation and state. So, how can we favour the creation of this unity of the Greek state, which is indeed remarkable among European states, because they too have countless dialects. And they’re all fighting amongst themselves. “I’m not talking to him because he said the other word about the sofa” – I’ve experienced this in Holland. You say civilized countries, yes, but local societies have their own rules. And that’s why, well, he says, yes, the pronunciation of ancient was different but let’s not start with that, because no one will go to school for long. And if he comes, he will leave and in two years we will have them uneducated again… These are written in letters and writings that only those involved knew. That was the end of the matter from then on.
Well, we, now that we’re educated, we haven’t heard anything, not even that the pronunciation is changing. Harry Kline comes out and makes fun of Giscard d’Estaing, when he came to the Zappeion and made a speech in ancient Greek; he made a joke and people think that the ancient accent is what we say, as I used to think. But that is a belief, which we have not checked. And why should we control it, we feel fine, it’s a wonderful language, Modern Greek and with the accent it has. It’s just that when we go to the written word, that’s where the sweetness gets a little spoiled, and especially in the contact with ancient texts; it’s not so much the meaning from the written word. It’s just that in ancient times it was oral culture (less so today) but now there’s too much emphasis on the image. Technology has an effect on this, computers are dominated by the visual part and our linguistic communication is becoming more and more visual now. That is, we get the information mainly from the eye and not from the ear. But the ear is the first sense a fetus has in its mother’s womb and it is fundamental. We shouldn’t despise it too much. Well, now if one were to try to teach ancient in the old pronunciation one would meet with great resistance. Here I go to universities where I’m not a university myself, nor a philologist – I’ve become a philologist now, and I say things to them that say “Oh, yeah?” and I tell them it’s written there, look at it. They don’t learn it because the phonology of a dead so-called language doesn’t give you a job today.
But is she dead?
No, she’s not dead at all! Of course it’s not. The fact is that it is preserved in the new Greek. What differs mainly are the long ones. If we started saying the long ones. I tried that too. If you say the long ones, you don’t have enough breath to say the sentences we say in Modern Greek with the long ones, I’ll shut up listening to it and the person who will read it. We have a pan-European association with some influential people, Homer scholars. Who are crazy about knowing… There was a colleague of mine, he was Austrian, who at 27 had written, I don’t know, 25 volumes of an encyclopedia of culture. Good Lord! He speaks 12 languages and he reads and writes, among other things, some ancient Greek and he says, “Guys, civilization all over the world starts with the Iliad, Homer.” Well, there’s the gist of it. And they’re studying Homer for exactly that. Now one of their goals, which I once dreamed of too: If there was a village where we could try to speak only Ancient Greek. He said to me, “Teach your little daughter ancient Greek because if someone learns a language from birth and immediately afterwards, she is no longer considered dead.” He says to me, “I’ll teach my son too,” and he says we should set up this village, see what happens. He says civilization needs it, humanity needs it.
It’s excellent that they want to do this whole project. What phase is it in?
We had to want it. Nothing yet because I have not discussed this in Greece.
Does music take people on a journey?
Well, it doesn’t do anything else. That is, it travels them to other worlds mainly. Inwards and outwards. It does this by imitating, like speech, the inner struggle or inner ease, the flow they say. When someone “flies”, I’m in a flush, they say. “I won the lottery”, “My daughter was born”. Well, when you fly, music is closer than anything. A skyscraper or a painting will not please you. Maybe a little bit of a ballet but the music will take you over the edge. Also, when you are mentally in difficulty, confused, music will give you the solution because through this pressure, the tension that something happens and we tune in so to speak and we come out of it, that is, we get the solution ready, energetically, our psychology changes and we can find a balance. There’s a bit of religion in this thing. And religion is something – I was thinking about it when I was ten, if I remember correctly – a mechanism that gives you the final answer. That is, when you ask why this why that. You go, you go, you go, eventually you find a wall. He does not penetrate the wall. There is the final question. There the answer is religion. In essence, people created religion to answer the beyond the wall. The same thing, those kinds of answers, but without the words, without the logic, music gives them, the arts in general but especially music is more effective in getting you where you want to go.
What are your favourite trips to Greece?
Well, where to start. I’ll mention Thessaloniki first. The splendor that this city has. Our islands… what to start with? I’m left with Ios as it was in the 80s. I don’t know if it’s changed, I’ve never been there before. A thing with a lot of space, but you can oversee it. An island of this size which was deserted, dirt roads, a few little houses somewhere. I remember a bar that played classical music and you could watch the sunset, a great thing! Karpenisi has made an impression on me. What can I tell you! Wherever you go. In Kalavryta, up in the villages. Erymanthus… when you see Erymanthus from afar, you get a little “what Himalayas?” I don’t know what it’s like in the Himalayas, but you see that and you go, “Oh, my God!” Why? Arcadia, Kalamata, then the plain, Messina. There’s nowhere you can say there’s not something that man needs. I mean, I can’t pick out something but these come immediately to mind, maybe because they are more recent experiences. Maybe that’s why.
…and the music you would dress up your travels with?
What music I would write myself. That is, if I had the time and everything. But look, I’m classical and a little bit of jazz. I can hear everything in the car. When I’m driving I don’t want to listen to classical so much although it’s a good thing because you calm down and you have more control but on the radio it’s a chance to hear something I haven’t anticipated. Well, but what would I wear it with. Look, I told you I met Ios at a very young age, in my teenage years with classical music, even though we went to discotheques in the evenings. Amorgos was very nice. There I would put some light Greek song from the 60s – 70s. I’ve combined it with Nana Mouskouri and that kind of style. But what can I say? Some things, you know, you leave in silence. They are so beautiful on their own that you don’t need any additional stimulation. And it’s true in many places, especially those that are raw. Now the processed ones, okay, you can put the foreign ones in. I wouldn’t put Beethoven in any Greek place. But some French classical music, like Debussy, Ravel, things like that. You can easily listen to the impressionist music of this era on the islands because for some reason it fits. They are very discreet. When you look out and you get lost, so to speak, you are transported by the image and the atmosphere, the music doesn’t interfere, it fits, it harmonizes.