In the Greek Isles, Islands of Culture

The National Herald Archive

Musifanto – the annual classical music festival on Siphnos – features concerts by distinguished musicians who are also teachers. (Photo by TNH/Constantine S. Sirigos)

SIPHNOS –  In the tiniest villages on the smallest islands of Greece one can find grand things. Sometimes archaeological treasures are unearthed, as in nearby Milos, but during the Greece crisis, the most precious gems are the country’s children.

On July 5 visitors to the Island of Siphnos from around the world and locals enjoyed an evening of classical music performed by distinguished musicians and music students from the island and all over Greece.

A crescent moon graced the humble village of Kato Petali, nestled in a lovely little valley in the middle of the island whose square was filled with hundreds enjoying Musifanto – the annual festival presented by The Friends of the Greek Islands and the Sea whose aim is to bring exceptional classical music performers and teachers to islands far from Greece’s main cultural centers. Sifanto is Siphnos’ medieval name.

The music ranged from compositions by the innovative guest teacher and performer Claus Freudestein to Beethoven to Hadjidakis – whose haunting Asteri tou Voria was one of the highlights of the vocal part of the program.

Maria Constantinides, one of the endeavor’s founders, told The National Herald that they strive to create “little nests of culture in Greece’s far reaches – “it amazing that despite the crisis culture is thriving in Greece – there are so many talented young people,” she said, words reflected by the loud applause of the adults.

While the concert, which takes place only on Siphnos, is the highlight of the year, the heart of the program are the musical workshops that are held on a number of Aegean islands: Kea, Ikaria, Lemnos, Serifos, Santorini, and Siphnos – and they hope to go to more.

The National Herald Archive

“The Friends of the Greek Islands and the Sea” organization hosts music workshops for children on six Aegean islands. (Photo by TNH/Constantine S. Sirigos)

“We have chosen teachers that two or three weekends each month travel to an island,” she said, adding “the programs in Lemnos and Ikaria were established with financial support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.”

The Lemnos project became a socio-cultural phenomenon. “The musicians who went there to teach fell in love with the island and are raising their families there. It’s important for the island,” said Constantinides, an elegant and soft spoken but enthusiastic woman, who explained that the organization works closely with the local authorities and cultural societies.

“The only things we require is that they desire to work with us, second, that they provide us with a good space for the workshops, third, that they fund the remuneration of the teachers and provide them housing for the few days they are on the islands.”

“The musical workshops were begun about 20 years ago, principally here in Siphnos, established by Frankiski Psaxaropoulou Karori, an important and beloved musical educator,” she said.

Karori wanted to give children far from the big cities “the opportunity to discover and to love this great music. One aim was to bring accomplished musicians to inspire the children – they demonstrate how students can progress and what they can accomplish, another is to help the island develop a reputation for cultural events that will attract a higher level of tourism. People now know that each year, the first week of July, there will be fine classical music on Siphnos. This year’s Festival was held under the aegis of the President of the Hellenic Republic, which elevated our standing to a higher level and attracted more donors. The Siphnos Municipality also provide funds, but there is so much more we can do.”

The National Herald Archive

(Photo by TNH/Constantine S. Sirigos)

The one-week Festival’s dual program entails morning instruction at the seminars and evening concerts in one of the more beautiful locales of Siphnos. The last two days the children join the professional musicians and present what they have learned.

One of the most delightful elements of the Festival is the late afternoon musical procession though some of the picturesque villages and valleys.

“Hundreds of people join us – as many as 500,” said Constantinides, who added, “the warmth and the spirit of the students and the teachers is remark able. Yes, it’s Siphnos. I fell in love with the island 40 years ago, when I first visited with my husband. The Festival is permanently based on Siphnos, but on each of the other islands there is a year-end recital by the students open to the general public which makes the parents so proud of their children. It’s very beautiful.”

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