By Eleni Sakellis
NEW YORK – Christos Marinos, Greek pianist, vocal coach, music researcher, and Staff Accompanist at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, was recently the music director for two operas produced by the NYU Classical Voice Collective. Le Portrait de Manon by Jules Massenet and Riders to the Sea by Ralph Vaughan Williams- based on the iconic play of the same name by John Millington Synge- played to a full house over three performances. Mr. Marinos took time out of his busy schedule to speak with The National Herald about music, inspiration, and his upcoming projects.
TNH: Where in Greece are you from originally?
CM: I was born in Athens. My family from my mother’s side, and partially from my father’s, comes from the island of Andros.
TNH: Did you always want to be a musician?
CM: It is something that came naturally over the years. Music has always been part of my family’s life: there was music playing in our home, my parents would take me to concerts, and I would listen to music on the radio with my grandfather from a very young age. In the meantime, we moved to New York and, thanks to my mother, I started taking piano lessons.
So, playing the piano is something I do every day for nearly 30 years now. When I was 16, I “invited” my parents to a family meeting. I remember how serious and determined I was about what I had to tell them. “I won’t be pursuing a career in science, so stop paying for the extra private math, chemistry, and physics lessons. I want to study music and become a professional musician.” That was one of the most important decisions of my life.
TNH: What inspires you as an artist?
CM: Life and real pedagogues, with the Greek definition of the word. A teacher must make you think, must make you question yourself, and must teach you to search for answers rather than provide you with them. I have been very fortunate in my life to have had inspiring teachers, who not only taught me music, but also gave me life lessons. One of them was George Hadjinikos, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 92. He was a pianist, conductor, pedagogue, author, and a music philosopher.
Hadjinikos experienced the most crucial sociopolitical and artistic changes in 20th century Europe, and it was unbelievably interesting to hear him talk about his cosmopolitan life, not to mention hearing him perform. He knew Richter, Rostropovich, Orff, Boulanger, Hindemith, Xenakis, Seferis, Hadjidakis, and so many other historical personas. I studied privately with him for ten years. I would visit him almost daily at his apartment and stay there for about 12-14 hours. We would discuss, write, play for each other, listen to recordings, and go for walks. He was my mentor. We traveled in Greece and abroad, and spent much time together. George really taught me about critical thinking. He was a true inspiration!
Most of what I have achieved is owed to him and his sister, Pia Hadjinikou-Angelini. Although I can name many other inspiring teachers, I would like to mention my professor during my graduate studies at NYU, who is a great friend now, Grant Wenaus. He, too, is a pedagogue who makes you think. He would never demonstrate anything on the piano for me or give me an answer to a problem. Just like Hadjinikos, he would simply ask me, “Why?”
TNH: What are the challenges of working on an opera as opposed to other types of performance?
CM: From a music director’s point of view, the challenges usually vary depending on the opera itself, the cast, and the number of rehearsals one has. In general, I would say the greatest challenge is to make the text and the music “work” for every performer vocally, musically and dramatically; to help them connect with the character they are portraying and with the rest of the cast. Just the music itself might be difficult to learn and memorize.
Last month, the NYU Classical Voice Collective produced two operas and I was invited to music direct. We had five full weeks of rehearsals and had the time to study both operas in depth. One of the two, Riders to the Sea, was musically challenging. In the end, everyone did a superb job. We had a full house for all 3 performances.
The singer-pianist combination is quite special and cannot be compared with any other. Singers have a unique relationship with their instrument and because of this their psychology has an essential impact on their performance. An important aspect of the vocal coach’s job is to know how to handle different types of personalities, foresee their thoughts and reactions, and use the appropriate directions which will make each singer reach the peak of his potential.
TNH: What upcoming projects can we look forward to?
CM: In April and May, I am playing five graduation voice recitals at NYU. In June, I will be in Thessaloniki, at the University of Macedonia, where I am curating and participating in a day dedicated to the memory of George Hadjinikos. Following that, I will be in Alexandroupoli, where I will give a lecture on Greek Art Song, a masterclass and a recital with my wife, Antigoni Gaitana. In July and August, I will be in Pelion where I participate in the Horto Summer Festival, this year as a curator, music director, and performer.
More information about Christos Marinos and his music is available online at www.christosmarinos.com.