ATHENS – The hundreds who enjoyed a thrilling concert featuring New York-based pianist, singer and composer Periklis Kanaris at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in southern Athens on June 30 were drawn by numerous elements.
Some came to celebrate the fireworks-crowned closing night of the Summer Nostos Festival that has quickly become a cultural mainstay in the Greek capital and whose 2019 version featured music and speakers from all over the world and from across Greece.
Others came because they know and love Kanaris’ music and artistry – for many of his returning Greek expat friends who knew him in New York and transplanted Greek-Americans it was like a reunion.
Kanaris, a fine musician and musical leader – he is the group’s Music Director – was captain of an exceptional ensemble Sunday night on the Canal Stage of the SNFCC, with a ‘crew’ consisting of accordionist Gary Schreiner, basist Richard Hammond, cellist Marina Kolovou, Peter Douskalis on guitars – who is also Kanaris’ Asst. Music Director, Giancarlo de Trizio on drums, and Yorgos Karagiannis in bouzouki, laouto, mandolin and guitar.
The spectacular summer night offered music that emerged from a stage built over the water, with the striking cultural center designed by the renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano in the background.
True, the building housing the National Library of Greece and the Greek National Opera interposed itself between the audience and what must have been a magnificent sunset, but the scene was captivating nevertheless. The sky above and surrounding that gleaming white temple to culture – created by the SNF as a genuine people’s temple – framed the evening’s music and fellowship in a warm glow, transforming from bright to light to dark blue to indigo, each shade reflecting some aspect of the music’s mood.
The songs, each eliciting enthusiastic applause, included numerous poems of the late revered poet Manos Eleftheriou that were lovingly set to music and sung by Kanaris. His settings of Cavafy and T.S. Elliot also delighted the audience.
It is occasional contributor to The National Herald Grigoris Maninakis who often points out a remarkable cultural phenomenon. While several nations have been blessed with composers who set the work of their great poets to music, Greece is unique in having its Noble Laureates and other bards made immortal by songs that are sung by every Greek, a country whose great literature became synonymous with its best popular music, with μελοποιησης – that magical Greek word – by the likes of Manos Hadjidakis, Mikis Theodorakis, and Stavros Xarchakos.
Towards the end of the delightful evening the audience was told they were about to go on a cruise. “And now we will take you to the islands – to honor our roots,” said Kanaris, who hails from Chios, the island of captains. The audience clapped and swayed to the Hellenic beat and modern spirit of the song that followed.
After the concluding song the clapping was loud, hopeful, and insistent, but an appreciative Kanaris had to explain that the time limits at the venue given the nearby residential neighborhood are strict – while summer vacation has begun for the kids, fast approaching Monday was a school day for the adults – and while he wished he could offer an encore, he and his colleagues gratefully received more applause for what had already been offered.
The program featured Kanaris’ own compositions from two new collections of songs, one inspired by classic poets such as T.S. Eliot and Constantine Cavafy, and the other by unreleased material from contemporary poets/lyricists such as the legendary Manos Eleftheriou and up-and-coming Dimitris Papacharalambous. Some of the songs included lyrics by the composer himself in Greek, English, and French.