NEW YORK – Resplendent in a bright red dress apropos of the Christmas season and leading with a touching rendition of Ave Maria, international cross-over singer Anastasia Zannis filled Zankel Hall with holiday feeling and solidarity for the people of Greece during fundraising concert on December 8.
The concert, which was presented by the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York and whose proceeds will benefit ELPIDA – the Association of Friends of Children with Cancer, was also a tribute to Archbishop Demetrios of America.
His Eminence attended with Greek MP Dora Bakoyiannis and her husband Soterios Kouvelos. Greece’s UN Ambassador Michel Spinellis Consul General, George Iliopoulos were among the dignitaries in attendance.
The program began with Archdiocesan Youth Choir, who delighted the audience that filled the mail floor and both balconies. Their presentation ranged from beloved Greek songs such as Manos Hatzidakis’ setting of the poet Nikos Gatsos’ “Asteri tou Boria – Star of the North” to a medley of tunes from the Broadway hit Phantom.
The talented children of the Youth Choir, established by Archbishop Demetrios and masterfully directed by its musical director, Maria Koleva, made the guests forget the wintry mix of snow and rain outside with songs like “Ordinary miracle,” and its hopeful lyrics: “It’s not that unusual – When everything is beautiful – It’s just another ordinary miracle today.”
Flora Kirou, a choir member, and her Mannes College The New School For Music classmate Thomas Massey dazzled with the Phantom excerpts. Sisters Georgia and Maryanthie Linaris displayed their extraordinary voices in solo turns, as did Maggie Papayiannis singing “Hallelujah.”
Zannis sings in a variety of styles and languages, but the guests naturally warmed to her Greek presentations. She performed a thrilling rendition of “Tha Xanarhiso ap tin arche – I will begin again” and a touching version of Arnisis – Negation, George Seferis’ poignant poem that was set to music by Mikis Theodorakis, and she delighted with “Hartino to feggaraki – Paper moon,” with lyrics by Gatsos and music by Hatzidakis.
Zannis’ opening Latin hymn to the Theotokos was later followed by John Lennon’s anthem “Imagine.” Born and raised in Athens, she studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London where she specialized in Jazz, but her repertoire permits operatic moments as well as jazzed-up Greek favorites.
“Time to Say Goodbye,” which began with a stirring martial drumbeat, was one of the highlights, and she showed that the Beatles are among her favorite musicians with tunes like Hey Jude.
After the main portion of her program, Zannis invited the Choir back onstage to loud applause to join her in Theodorakis’ magnificent setting of Elytis’ Tis dikeosinis ilios noetou – The Intelligible Sun of Justice.
Her band included Michael Wolf on piano, Dan Brantigan on Trumpet, Mike Richmond on bass, and special artists Panos Chrysovergis on keyboard and Yorgos Manitis on drums.
The Choir consisted entirely of girls. Koleva explained that it not only difficult to recruit boys, their voices change so rapidly that they lose them as soon as they find them.
Constantinos Haskopoulos, the son of Denise Haskopoulos, who volunteers as the choir’s administrator, graduated from the Youth Choir to the Archdiocesan Byzantine Choir. He will participate in a planned joint concert, and at Zankel, he did an excellent job marching the young ladies on and off the stage.
Andonios Neroulias enjoyed Zannis’ performance. He told TNH her style and song choices reminded him of concerts by Nana Mouskouri and Mario Frangloulis.
Nick Emmanouilidis had only learned about Zannis the day of the concert and he thought she and the children were absolutely amazing, especially his friend Flora.
Giorgos Stavrianopoulos said the concert was excellent. “Anastasia evoked national pride, which her unique program in the heart of Manhattan with her faith…everything was from the heart and had a wonderful stage presence,” he said.
Sylvia Adamopoulos, whose daughter Athena is a concert pianist also enjoyed the concert. “She has a great voice and the children were magnificent. Maria Koleva is a great director.”
Petros Galatoulas, the Secretary General of the Federation, told TNH after the concert that the funds have not all been counted, but that 550 tickets were distributed for the hall whose capacity in 599 people.