NEW YORK – There are moments when music and faith come together to lift the heart to a spiritual height that few other experiences can match. Those of us who are lucky enough to hear the incredible voices of gifted chanters during the Divine Liturgy every Sunday at many community churches will recognize these moments, and hopefully not take them for granted.
On November 30, Faith, a Farewell Concert in Honor of His Grace Bishop Sevastianos of Zela, demonstrated the powerful connection between music and faith in an impressive program that included Byzantine and Gregorian chants and classical pieces as well as Gospel, popular, and musical theatre songs.
The concert, presented by Cyprus New York Productions, featuring the undeniable talent and versatility of singer Demetris Michael, a chanter and music teacher at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Whitestone, truly dazzled the audience at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Manhattan.
From Axion Estin to the famous You’ll Never Walk Alone from the musical Carousel, Michael moved the audience with his impressive vocal range, accompanied by the gifted musicians Ellie Tsachtani on flute, Peter Pearson on cello, Artistic and Musical Director Phyto Stratis on piano, and singers Ariadne Panagopoulou and Christina Christofi.
The opening piece, an instrumental version of You’ll Never Walk Alone, beautifully arranged and performed by Stratis, Tsachtani, and Pearson, set the tone for the evening. Master of Ceremonies Dino Antoniou then welcomed everyone to the concert, noting his own roots in Cyprus.
The concert can only be described as a historic moment for the artists and all those involved with the production. In saying farewell to Bishop Sevastianos, who is on his way to take up a new position in the Metropolis of Atlanta, the concert also marked the beginning of what we hope will be the start of a long series of productions and concerts for the community and undoubtedly a wider audience.
Before the moving performance of You’ll Never Walk Alone which brought tears to the eyes of many audience members, Stratis thanked all those present, noting that the concert was a farewell to New York for Bishop Sevastianos, a welcome to Atlanta, and a “till we meet again.” He thanked the bishop for his support and attendance at all the Pancyprian concerts and events, adding that he will be missed by all those associated with Pancyprian and that if his schedule allows he is invited to attend future concerts. Stratis also thanked His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios and Father John Vlahos, Dean of the Cathedral, for allowing the use of the sacred space, Vicky Tsavalias for her photography and design, and actor Dino Antoniou for serving as the MC.
Michael also expressed his thanks to all those present, noting the unity of faith and love and the feeling from the audience was moving, “and for me this is everything… this was very important for me and to do this concert for the bishop meant even more.”
He added that hopefully this is the start of “more to come in the future and I hope to see you all.”
Bishop Sevastianos said, “This is truly a wonderful evening. I am truly honored by your love, friendship, and you presence, especially your presence.”
“Faith is an expression of the love of God,” he said, adding of the concert, “we are very touched and I am very grateful today… and grateful to all of you for coming this evening in spite of the weather to gather and celebrate this wonderful event.”
“For me, this is an oasis,” he said, as he prepared for leave for Atlanta on Saturday morning, and thanked all those present including Archbishop Demetrios, Consul General of Cyprus in New York Alexis Phedonos-Vadet and his wife Melina, and all those associated with Pancyprian which is “Good to the last drop,” quoting the coffee commercial.
Archbishop Demetrios praised the performers for their wonderful work and demonstrated his knowledge of musical theatre by suggesting The Last Night of the World, a piece from Miss Saigon, which would also have been appropriate for the farewell concert, but they would have needed a saxophone for the solo. His Eminence noted that he and Bishop Sevastianos were trying to figure out if Michael is a tenor, baritone or bass, to which Stratis replied, “He is a superhuman.”
“It was a magic night… It was a night full of dreams, a night full of magic,” said Archbishop Demetrios, quoting from the national poet of Greece, Dionysios Solomos.
The concert concluded with Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas in the spirit of the season. The audience applauded enthusiastically. Many then offered their personal congratulations to the performers and best wishes to His Grace Bishop Sevastianos.