NEW YORK –Eleftheria Arvanitaki and her passionate fans filled Carnegie Hall with kefi on February 1 with her unique voice and style that simultaneously express and transcend her Hellenic essence.
The musicians – whom Arvanitaki acknowledged through the evening – were welcomed with applause as they walked onstage, but the warmth and volume seemed to lift an obviously emotional Arvanitaki above the floor that has held the greatest musicians of the 20th and 21st century.
The first song, with its ancient, mystical tones and exotic rhythms, represented her repertoire well. Music critic Christina Roden wrote for the program, “her musical vocabulary has impartially embraced Orient and occident, tradition and modernity.”
Love is a good word to characterize the feelings of performer and audience alike. She flashed her radiant smile throughout the concert, and her listeners expressed their love with applause, shouts of praise and whistles.
“Kalispera – Good evening,” Arvanitaki welcomed the audience between songs. “Yassou Eleftheria” some of the 2800 of the standing room only crowd responded. “A big thank you to all of you,” she said.
She continuously invited them to participate, and parts of the hall resonated with the voices and rhythmic clapping of fans of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.
Arvanitaki flashed her versatility with the second piece, which began like the first but ended with a jazzy climax of wild flute and drums. She followed with the poignant “Edo na minis – I want you to stay’
Looking stately and alluring in an elegant dark dress, the singer and her fellow musicians were alternately framed by green and purple leaves and golden geometrical figures projected on the cream-colored back wall of the Carnegie Stage.
The dark haired, dark eyed siren has roots on the little the Ionian island of Paxi and on Ikaria off the coast of Asia Minor. Listening to her sing the joys and pains of love found and lost of Hellenes from the depths of Asia Minor, one understands the broader, richer meaning of the word romance: we fall in love not only with a faces, voices or even a soul, but with the lost worlds the beloved inhabits in our minds. Arvanitaki brings those worlds to life.
She paused before singing the erotic Misirlou, a favorite many members of the older generation. It is about a man who fell in love with a beautiful moslem girl somewhere in Asia Minor and Arvanitaki pointed out that the song with roots in the Greek folk and rebetika traditions was introduced by a band leader “Right here in Manhattan,” in 1927, long before it gained new fame in the movie Pulp Fiction.
The younger portion of the crowd came alive with “Vale to kokkino foustani – Put on the red dress.” People below worried about the youngsters leaning out with delight over the balconies that ringed the packed house.
The audience enjoyed every single song but they clearly were waiting for Arvanitaki’s multi-platinum hit “Dinata.” As the ninety minute concert was drawing to a close, Arvanitaki addressed the audience with a single word: “Pame – Shall we go?” They all knew. “Pame – Let’s go!” they responded with glee.
The few who resisted the decorum of the venerable Hall earlier in the performance were joined by dozens who could no longer control themselves, egged on by the clapping of the shy ones.
Arvanitaki thanked the fine musicians – who were also clearly enjoying the experience: Alexandros Arkadopoulos on clarinet and flute, George Georgiades on double bass, Yannis Kirimkiridis on the Steinway grand piano and keyboards, Kostas Meretakis on traditional eastern percussion and Dimitris Tsakas on saxophone and guitar.
Alexandros Ktistakis on drums and Thomas Konstantinou on mandolin, bouzouki, and lute also created the arrangements.
She reserved special thanks, however, which were supplemented by the audience’s loud applause, for Ara Dinkjian, the Armenian master of the Oud and composer of her most distinctive songs.
Dinata was preceded by a soulful rendition of “Meno ektos – I remain on the outside,” also composed by Dinkjian, with its moving lyric “I am balanced in silence like the wings of a soaring eagle.” It gave Arvanitaki the opportunity to express her appreciation for the composer.
She told of the virtual birth of their remarkable collaboration. After hearing songs he created for the band he founded, Night Ark , of which she later sang Greek versions, she asked friends to help her find the New York-based artist.
Their Dinata is immortalized by its inclusion in the closing ceremonies of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
The word “xenitia,” signifying the longing for the homeland among Greek living in foreign lands, was heard in a number of songs. What meaning could it have for second and third generation Americans some might wonder?
Arvanitaki’s music provided a powerful answer: There is another place that draws us, the mountains and valleys of the mainland, the Aegean and the Black Sea – and the heart of Asia Minor, and her soulful renditions of songs old and new transport us there.
“It was amazing. She is so talented. I could not believe her voice,” said Athena Mattas. Dora Gasparis said Arvanitaki “had a wonderful program and everyone loved it – you saw them call her back to the stage three times for encores. This moment will remain in our hearts forever.”
The night before the concert, fans enjoyed more than two hours with the Greek star at a reception in the Atrium Cafe hosted by Onassis Foundation (USA) and the Greek Consulate, but the charismatic artist made her most powerful connections onstage, from the very spot where Dimitri Mitropoulos conducted the New York Philharmonic for most of the 1950s.
The passionate Mitropoulos would have been pleased. Yes, Maestro, there was dancing in the aisles.