ATHENS – The National Symphony Orchestra of ERT, Greece’s national broadcaster, has been delighting listeners since 1938. ERT’s ‘Trito Programma’ has been the gateway to classical music for untold thousands of Hellenes since 1954. On February 28, the orchestra soared on the airwaves in a live broadcast of the music of Franz Schubert and Richard Strauss.
After the red ‘Ekpombi’ (Broadcast) light turned on,
ERT’s announcer Dionysis Mallouhos revealed the program with an eschatological touch a few days before Lent: the Unfinished Symphony, and Strauss’ final four songs.
After Maestro Zoe Zeniodi concluded her interaction with her colleagues, she turned inward: closing her eyes for 10 seconds of meditation, she imbibed one final draught of intuition and glanced once more at her radiant vision for the beloved Unfinished Symphony.
Then, out of the enveloping silence Zoe brought the music to life, coaxing with her eloquent hands opening notes from the nearby cello.
After just a few measures, when it was clear to everyone in the renowned Studio C that something special was happening, a little smile emerged on her lips.
The smile having its inspirational effect, intended or not, on the other artists, a look of intensity succeded it, now accompanying urgings and guidings from the motions that conveyed musical and emotional nuances to musicians in the embrace of her graceful yet purposeful hand movements, sometimes delicate – inviting or pleading – and in other moments passionate and forceful, though always confident of the abilities of the musicians.
Further into the musical journey the Maestro deftly used the pauses in the score to heighten the drama, but it was her physical presence and total being that sculpted Schubert’s masterpiece, with its artful blending and then differentiation of feeling. The evolution of emotion through changes of musical mood and dynamics was guided by Zeniodi’s swaying and her hand movements; they simultaneously ‘spoke’ to the cello that needed to play a bit louder and the violin whose voice was just a breath…
All without a baton. A baton has but one motion from end to end, but arm, palm, and fingers are a manifold of passions and artistry.
The warm smile that Zeniodi could not suppress was transmitted to a number of the instrumentalists as they too realized they were part of something extraordinary beneath the lamps floating under the ceiling like stars on a summer night.
A note now regarding the experience of listening to music in a studio: no attempt will be made to describe the magical feeling of being 10 feet from the violins and conductor and 60 feet from the woodwinds and trombones, where the softest passages are literally whispers and the overpowering crescendos accented by the brass melt into transcendent silence.
Watching Zeniodi’s interaction with her fellow artists up close, one sees she is more musical muse than musician. Through her musical midwifery on the Schubert’s alternating moments of passion and brooding contemplation, the listener’s soul was bathed both in Socratic wisdom and Germanic strurm und drang
The ERT orchestra is a fine ensemble, its musicians at the broadcast executing with emotion and precision, veritably singing the story of the Unfinished Symphony to the listeners lucky enough to be in the studio who showed their appreciation with exuberant applause.
The second half of the program was as delightful as it was different, with soprano Myrsini Margariti bringing the Strauss songs to life. The first song has a stormy beginning, a musical ocean drawing in the impassioned soprano, the interaction between singer and orchestra feeling like a lucid dream where the sleeper turns in response to his inner demons and desires.
There were moments when her face, warmed by the radiance of the music, shined with sheer joy.
Beginning the second Strauss song she opened arms and soul to her fellow artists who in turn embraced her with their sublime music making.
The broadcast concluded with hugs and more smiles, the tension of the common work yielding to mutual satisfaction and appreciation.
Zeniodi is the Artistic Director of the Thessaloniki
Concert Hall and conducts opera and symphonic music in Europe and the United States. Her Carnegie Hall debut was in 2017 and she is also a concert pianist.