NEW YORK – Greek-Cypriot composer Aris Antoniades took time out of his busy schedule to talk with The National Herald about his latest project, the world premiere of his Toccata & Fugue for Organ on February 5 at St. Michael’s Church in Manhattan. Organist Shannon Murphy will be performing the piece which was commissioned for Fresh Pipes: A Concert of World Premieres for Organ a project created by organists Austin Philemon and Murphy. Admission to the concert is free.
Born and raised in Limassol, Cyprus, Antoniades, 27, is already building an impressive resume of compositions.
When asked if he always wanted to pursue music, Antoniades told TNH, “I was one of the lucky ones because I knew it since I was four. I was in preschool and we had our little kindergarten show and while we were waiting backstage they put this video on for us to watch, The Snowman, an animated film of the 80s, about a boy who builds a snowman that comes to life, they fly through the air to visit Santa Claus… and the music was by composer Howard Blake, and it has this famous song, Walking in the Air, the song was playing while they were flying and at the very end, the song plays again but this time it’s sad… I started crying and couldn’t stop and I went to my dad and asked ‘Why does this make me cry?’ and he said, ‘Oh, it’s music, it’s magic’ and I said ‘I want to be able to do that magic, too,’ and ever since I dreamed to be able to work magic through sound.
“I started piano lessons at age five back home in Cyprus, but I always knew I wanted to be a composer, although I did study seriously piano, I never wanted to be a performer, I always had composition in my heart. Forward to many years later, I was planning on applying to schools in Europe because the U.S. was a faraway dream, too expensive, so it came out of the blue, my parents insisted that I apply for the Fulbright grant. They have the Cyprus-America scholarship program, so I applied and I got it, that was the first time I considered American schools because they were out of my price range, then I found my dream school which was Manhattan School of Music (MSM).”
When he arrived for the audition, he found that the others auditioning had more experience through specialized music programs in middle and high school which at the time, Cyprus did not have, but is now implementing.
Antoniades noted that “during my time, I had to do everything after school, by myself, so I definitely didn’t have the experience my peers had in terms of achievement, so when I found out that the acceptance rate was very small for composition, I said to my dad, ‘Well, we saw New York, it was fun, we might come again some time,’ and then it happened. They chose me, I’m very grateful, I found the best professor I could have dreamed of, J. Mark Stambaugh, literally changed my life, a great mind, very bright man, very supportive, and after I finished my bachelor’s degree, upon graduation I received the Provost’s Award for Academic Excellence, so then they offered me a full scholarship for my master’s and I was very glad to take it because it was my first choice, and here we are. I graduated in May and now I’m looking to the future to see what I can do with music.”
He said of the premiere of his composition for organ, “The organ is a very weird instrument to write for if you are not an organist, like writing for the guitar if you are not a guitarist, the idioms are very, very specific for the instrument, so this is something new for me. I’m grateful I had the opportunity, and that they [organists Austin Philemon and Shannon Murphy] liked my music and entrusted me with a commission.”
The organ is “fascinating,” Antoniades said, noting that “great composers for organ, like Bach or Messiaen, were also excellent organists themselves… in my case, it was a lot of studying to do and back and forth with the performers who would give me feedback and they were very supportive.”
Antoniades’ concert music is heavily influenced by his Greek heritage: merging Hellenic folk dance rhythms with Byzantine ritual chants. His works have been performed in Australia, Canada, China, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and the United States. His recent symphonic work, Chiaroscuro, was recorded by the National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Greece (ERT) and will be broadcast by the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation throughout the season. The piece was first performed at the historic Riverside Church in New York City under the baton of Portland Opera music director, George Manahan. His new chamber work Nostos, for Saxophone and Piano, commissioned by the Australian chamber ensemble HD Duo, was performed by the group in their 2018 World Tour.
He composed the original soundtrack for the Cannes listed short-film Not Now (2013), as well as five other films. His latest soundtrack for the film Ophelia by Katalina Gutierrez is currently in audio post-production.
Antoniades’ arranging credits include a variety of different styles and genres. His arrangement of Lalo Schifrin’s famous “Mission Impossible” theme has been performed by the multi-Grammy nominated MSM Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, led by Bobby Sanabria, at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in Manhattan. His concert and marching band arrangements are often performed by the Military Music Corps of the Cypriot National Guard. As an orchestrator, he has recently collaborated with Broadway music-director, composer and pianist Andrew Gerle, providing some of the orchestrations for MSM’s production Tony Awards: The Early Years directed by Joe Locarro (NYC, 2017).
A recipient of the Fulbright award, Antoniades completed his Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Classical Composition at MSM, where he studied with Dr. J. Mark Stambaugh, receiving the Provost’s Award for Academic Excellence upon graduation. Antoniades is honored to have been the recipient of the Manhattan School of Music International Advisory Board and the A. G. Leventis Foundation scholarship awards.
Among his upcoming projects, Antoniades will be composing the music for a documentary film about the life of renowned Cypriot photographer Tony Moussoulides. Antoniades told TNH, “He actually heard my music on the radio back home, he asked for my phone and called me, he’s such a sweet man, he said, ‘Would you be interested in doing this film?’ and I said, ‘It would be my honor and pleasure to do it.’”
Though he is the only member of his family pursuing music professionally, Antoniades’ parents have always been supportive, and his father, a pharmacist, plays the violin. Antoniades’ younger brother George is studying pharmacy to eventually join the family business. The brothers are very close in spite of being opposites in many ways, Antoniades told TNH, noting that he dedicated his composition Chiaroscuro to George.
More information about Antoniades and his music is available online: arisantoniades.com.