Catharsis in the Molyvos International Music Festival

“We pay tribute to those who are gone and we welcome those who are born.” With those words, Lito Dakou, the Molyvos International Music Festival’s organizational soul, began her introductory speech at the 2017 Festival, which took place on Lesbos August 16-19.

Regardless of the economic depression, three young music lovers and performers that come from the island, Dimitris Tryfon, and Kyveli and Danae Doerken, found the courage to organize a demanding festival in the small picturesque town of Molyvos, inviting young renowned and awarded soloists of true style and virtuosity, from all over the world to perform there. They would meet just a week before the concerts, and after a few rehearsals they would play important works of the classical music repertoire. The initiative was embraced not only by the local community. The second year it already won two awards in Greece and abroad:The Greek Music Critics Association Award and the Classical NEXT Innovation Award.

The Festival is held for the third consecutive year. For the second time this year European channels and media came to Lesbos. This time they wouldn’t cover the despair, suffering, and lamentation of the refugees. They would cover the celebration of a young people’shigh-quality initiative that promotes international cooperation and understanding through music in the Aegean border of Europe to the East.

Introducing a classical music festival to a Greek island is an ambitious task. Classical music doesn’t belong to our tradition. Who would attend the concerts? Where would the concerts be held? Aiming at the promotion of the island’s character the concerts took place in emblematic sites of Lesbos, that bring forward fundamental tourist assets: in historical sites, the Sanctuary of Messon and Molyvos castle, in the Petrified Forest Geopark, in the thermal baths of Gera Bay, in a winery. The art feast was spread to the entire island and the number of the spectators far outreached the expected.

Without their usual high reward, what brought to Molyvos 21 renowned soloists? In what does this Festival differ from other Classical Music Festivals held in Europe?

Soloists travel a lonely road. Throughout the year they travel to different cities of the world to perform. In Molyvos they meet and enjoy the Greek philoxenia. They play with their friends in an inspiring landscape. Practicing only three rehearsals before the performances their non-verbal communication and their eye to eye dialogue during the concerts has to be intense. The result is moving: unsophisticated inner expression in a unique musical conversation between friends, extraordinary good performers.

The Festival’s guiding theme this year was Catharsis. Catharsis is defined as the redemption of the human soul from elements that impede its balanced function, its purification. Aristotle highlighted that we can surpass a state of emotional turmoil by watching it unfold on a stage. Catharsis then comes through compassion and fear. Music mirrors our own inner emotional conflicts. Music can become the therapeutic energy that may ultimately heal us. Many ancient Greek texts mention the healing power of music and match certain disorders with particular rhythms and musical genres.

The Festival’s Organizing Committee had programmed some of the main works of the classical chamber repertoire that trigger a cathartic process within the listener. Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la Fin de Temps, deals with re-discovering hope and strength through music even in the most hopeless situations. Messiaen composed it inspired by the Apocalypse, whilst being held as a prisoner in a German concentration camp. The String Quartet No 8, Op.110 was composed by Sostakovich within only three days. According to the composer’s son it was his statement against totalitarianism, including the Soviet and a tribute to those who died in the II World War. One of the most important composers associated with catharsis is Johann Sebastian Bach, whose cantata “My soul swims in blood” was performed in Molyvos by the renowned soprano Marlis Petersen. The Festival explored the process of catharsis from the perspective of the ancient Greek music culture, that saw the Dionysiac flute and the Apollonian guitar (lyre) as the central instruments of cathartic music making. Therefore,were performed Debussy’s Syrinx, Tarrega’s Capricho Arabe and Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango for Flute and Guitar.

The soloists broughtmusic to everyday life. Unexpectedly in front of a fish tavern a truck unloads a piano and Marlis Petersen, who last year had the protagonist role as a dazzling “Lulu” at the New York Metropolitan Opera, sings Schubert.

This innovative initiative is the celebration of the unimpeded courage and vision, of peace and culture in the middle of the social and economic crisis, which particularly hit Lesbos. The founders need our support to establish Molyvos as a cultural and musical destination at the Aegean border of Europe.