A Heartwarming Conversation with Singer Maria Farantouri

NEW YORK – It may be that the only thing more delightful than a conversation Maria Farantouri is one of her concerts. The Greek musical icon held court during a press conference at the Greek Press office on March 17, a day before she celebrated her half century career with  “Songs of Greece and of the World,” at NYU and like her audience, nobody wanted to leave.

Nikos Papaconstantinou, the Director of the Greek Press Office, introduced Farantouri, who preceded talking about her life with an informative and touching overview of the Greek music industry’s monumental half century.

She spoke about  its golden age highlighted by the music of giants of Hellenic culture like Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hadjidakis, and left no doubt that the triumphs were earned by the artists, noting that that Greek governments – even during economic good times – did not invest in culture. “I suppose they had other priorities,” she said.

The singer, who always supported young artist by including them in her shows, also spoke the current struggles of musicians and composers to survive the tumult caused by new technology and the Greek crisis.

The latter has a silver lining, however: “The skiladika [dog music] places by the sea are closing,” she said with a smile.

The beloved singer lauded the composer who set to music the work of modern Greece’s great poets, including Nobel laureates Odysseas Elitis and George Seferis.

While Hadjidakis and others embraced this “melopoioisis,” it was originally Theodorakis’ great dream after he returned from studies in Paris.

Farantouri said that Theodorakis sent Hadjidakis his “Epitaphios,” the latter was thrilled to orchestrate it and got Nana Mouskouri to sing it.

“They had a deep love and respect for each other despite their political differences.

The composers  borrowed elements of Greek folk music and rebetika to bring the Greek people into closer contact with both the older and contemporary poets and when Theodorakis was seeking musical vehicles for his cultural movement, he picked Farantouri out of a choir.

He once said to her “did you know you were born to be my music’s priestess? ”

She modestly emphasized that, “These songs are unforgettable and they also have a spiritual dimension,” but her fans would say that as a musical goddess she too had power to bestow some immortality on them.

Just as Theodorakis tapped Farantouri decades ago, he now delights in the interpretations of Greek-American Lina Orfanos.  “She has an exceptional voice” Farantouri said of Orfanos, who joined her onstage at NYU.

Orfanos told the gathering “I am so honored to be part of this concert,” and Farantouri praised diaspora singers for their dedication to Greek music.

“It’s so important for young people to learn the Greek language and what better way is there to teach it than through the Greek songs,” especially the ones that are the receptacles of poems that will never die because they express great truths,” Farantouri said, adding, “Although much of Theodorakis’ work was inspired by political struggle…there is much more,” to his music.”

Dr. Theodoratou said she had been trying to bring Farantouri to New York for many years,” and she too said how important is for the community’s youth to gain an appreciation of that the concert will present. She thanked all the people who worked with her to make the concert possible, including Malvina Kefalas, the Onassis program administrator,  as well as the Provost’s Global Research Initiatives program and Rutgers University, which will reprise the program on April 25 at the Nicholas Music Center and Rutgers University. It will also be presented in Boston. Aphrodite Daniel of Syn-Phonia Entertainment is coordinating the tour.

Annamaria Koutsouras, a history and political science major at Rutgers, thanked the principals on behalf of the Hellenic Cultural Association, of which she is president, and the Rutgers Modern Greek Studies Program.

“It is not easy for a university to present a concert,” Dr. Theodoratou said, noting it would have been much easier to just host a lecture, but they wanted to present something special and to honor the 90th birthday of Theodorakis, whose music dominates the concert.