NEW YORK – The Stelios Petrakis Cretan Quartet performed the music of Crete at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall on November 17 to an enthusiastic audience. With Stelios Petrakis on lyra and laouto, Thanasis Mavrokostas on askomandura, cello-lyra, and dance, Antonis Stavrakakis on mandolin, laouto, and vocals, and Giorgos Manolakis on laouto and vocals, the concert was one of the best Greek music concerts of the year.
The rousing renditions of traditional Cretan songs, arranged by Petrakis, offered a wonderful, fresh take on this beloved music. The original compositions by Petrakis and Manolakis demonstrated the prodigious talents of the artists, not only as skilled musicians, but as composers of fantastic pieces which highlight the powerful, timeless, yet contemporary sound of the instruments often thought of solely as “traditional.” The Quartet’s impressive musicianship along with Mavrokostas’ dancing skills made for a dynamic performance and a joyful celebration of Crete and its music.
Petrakis opened the concert with a solo performance of four versions of Erotokritos, his own arrangement, which beautifully captured the spirit of the music but added his own vibrant touch. Erotokritos is, of course, the famous Cretan poem and masterpiece of world literature, written by the Venetian-Cretan Vitsentzos Kornaros in the early 17th century. Later on in the concert, vocal portions of the epic were also performed, much to the delight of the audience, many of whom sang along with the well-known verses.
The concert continued with the audience clapping along to the beat of the music. The pieces featuring the askomandura, a traditional instrument, and probably the most beautiful-sounding bagpipe on earth, transported everyone to Crete. The only thing missing was space for the audience members to dance.
The conclusion of the performance brought the audience to its feet for a standing ovation and the artists returned for an encore, inviting everyone to sing along again.
Petrakis said, “It is a real honor to share this music with you,” adding that “it was a kind of a dream for us to play here [at Carnegie Hall], so you can only imagine how we feel seeing our dream realized.”
He thanked all those present, including the organizers of the concert and the sound engineer who traveled with them from Greece, as well as the family and friends who traveled from Crete to attend the concert and to whom he dedicated the last song.
Petrakis began learning the art of the Cretan lyra in his hometown of Sitia. In 1983, he started his studies at the Sitia School of Music, learning to play the lyra with teachers Giannis Dandolos, Ross Daly, and Eleni Drettaki under the directorship of Kostas Mountakis. It was not long before he extended his interests to include Greek, Turkish, and Bulgarian repertoires, as well as that of Crete.
Petrakis has worked with an impressive list of international artists who represent multiple Mediterranean musical traditions. He has appeared in concert and recorded with major musicians in world music including Ross Daly, Bijan Chemirani, Keyvan Chemirani, Ojos de Brujo, Patrick Vaillant, and traditional Cretan music, Giorgis Xylouris, Vasilis Stavrakakis, Michalis Stavrakakis, Mitsos Stavrakakis. Petrakis has also worked with Greek musicians and composers including Christos Leontis, Stamatis Spanoudakis, and Achilleas Persidis as well as Spanish singer Manolo Garcia. He formed an instrumental trio with Valencian multi-instrumentalist Efren Lopez and Franco-Iranian percussionist Bijan Chemirani; the ensemble has toured Europe and India, and recently appeared at the Jazz sous les pommiers festival in France.
As a soloist, Petrakis has performed at such major venues as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus (Herodeon) in Athens, Royal Albert Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, and the Theatre de la Ville in Paris. He also has a lutherie workshop in Heraklion, where he makes his own instruments. Petrakis’ love and admiration for Cretan music led him to form the Cretan Quartet focusing on the great musical traditions of Crete with a repertoire of traditional pieces and his own tradition-inspired compositions. The quartet produced a live recording in 2015, Avgi ts’ avgis (Crack of Dawn), which won the Coup de Coeur prize of the Academie Charles Cros. The ensemble has appeared in such prestigious international festivals as WOMEX (Cardiff), globalFEST (New York City), Rainforest World Music Festival (Malaysia), World Sacred Spirit Festival (Rajasthan), and Fes Festival of World Sacred Music (Morocco).
Thanasis Mavrokostas began dancing at a very young age under the guidance of his parents, Dimitris and Eleni Mavrokostas, two of the best-known and most innovative dancers of Crete. He grew up in Anogeia and Agia Galini, two villages with rich music and dance traditions. He currently teaches in his own dance schools in Heraklion, and has given dance seminars in Greece and abroad. He has performed in countless concerts and events in Greece and internationally, including at such venues as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus (Herodeon) beneath the Acropolis. He plays the lyra, askomandoura (a traditional Cretan bagpipe), and Cretan cello—a large Cretan lyra with the range of the classical cello that has been designed and constructed especially for the artistic needs of the Cretan Quartet.
Born in Heraklion, Crete, Antonis Stavrakakis began playing and learning Cretan music from teachers in his own family, Vasilis and Michalis Stavrakakis, two of the most important musicians of Crete today. He incorporates the style and technique of his family, while maintaining his own personal singing and playing tone. Stavrakakis worked closely with Petrakis in Vasilis Stavrakakis’ ensemble, a collaboration that formed the artistic cornerstone of the Cretan Quartet.
Giorgos Manolakis was also born in Heraklion. When he was eight years old, he began learning the Cretan laouto, taught by his father, Kostas Manolakis, who was one of the major laouto players of his generation. After six years, he began studying the bouzouki with several remarkable teachers. Today, Manolakis is considered to be one of the leading virtuosos of his generation on the laouto and bouzouki. He has worked with many notable musicians and composers, including Ross Daly, Hainides, Naseer Shamma, Psarantonis, Sokratis Malamas, and Zohar Fresco.
Music by the Stelios Petrakis Quartet is available online.