NEW YORK – Onto the big stage of Carnegie Hall strode famed Greek singer Stamatis Kokotas, blowing kisses to adoring fans who relived their youth and felt a touch of happier times in Greece. The devotees of composer Stavros Xarhakos also greeted the renowned composer with bursts of applause, which they also showered on singer IRO Saia, who was a revelation with her dramatic soprano that evoked the depths of Asia Minor and the Pontos of her ancestors.
The concert, presented by Ethos Performing Arts on October 4 and titled “Greece for a Lifetime” was filled with traditional and popular music and included selections from a variety of composers such as Zampetas, Tsitanis, Moutsis, Kaladaras and Theodorakis, in addition to Xarhakos’ own compositions.
The audience applauded the fine musicians who accompanied the singers early and often: Neoklis Neofytides, piano, Vaseilios Drogaris, accordion; Nikolaos Sampaziotis and Siampos Dimitrios, guitar, Charilaos Mermigkas, bass; Dimitrios Livanos and Dimitrios Reppas, bouzouki and Athanasios Zervas on wind instruments.
With the applause that brought many smiles to his face still ringing in his ears, Kokotas began with “O Trellos – The Crazy Man,” followed by “Pires to Megalo Dromo – You Took the Long Road,” and “Apopse Min Argeis – Don’t be Late Tonight.”
The delighted crowd joined him in singing “Romios Agapise Romia – A Greek Boy Fell in Love with a Greek Girl.”
The first half ended on a dramatic note with Kokotas singing “Yie Mou- My Son.”
Xarhakos entered the stage after the intermission and drove the eclectic program forward with his vigorous baton style and a physicality that belied his 75 years, at times slashing the air on the venerable Carnegie stage and sometimes jumping up and down in musical excitement.
The second half opened with Saia singing the stirring “Mana mou Ellas – Mother Greece “ that was a welcome surprise addition to the program with its poignant passages on accordion.
The lyrics evoked the crisis and the citizens’ anger at the politicians who brought it on with τα ψεύτικα τα λόγια τα μεγάλα/The big words, the big lies.
Saia sang the middle set, including “Itane Mia For – It was a Moment,” which began with bouzouki player Livanos on vocals and was brought to a stirring conclusion by Zervas on flute.
The dramatic elements in Saia’s soprano with were drawn out by Xarhakos’ “Eine Arostia ta Tragoudia – The Songs have Become My Disease” and “Nin Kai Aei – Now and Forever,” with its thrilling martial opening on piano, bouzouki and drums.
The concert concluded with Kokotas’ “Den To Boreis – You Wouldn’t Dare” but the audience’s applause brought Xarhakos and Kokotas back to the stage for “Stou Othona ta Chronia – During the Time of King Otho” that delighted the crowd and sent them pouring out into the chilly Manhattan night warmed by the music and passion the artists brought with love from the homeland.
IN THE WORDS OF THE MAESTRO
The day before the concert the artists gave a press conference at the Greek Press and Information Office of New York. Xarhakos was emotional when spoke about being in New York, where he lived and studied for three years at the Julliard School of Music.
He then declared “I want to talk about the song, real songs. The ones that pour out of the fathomless depths of the great mystery called the soul…”
Xarxakos continued speaking about the power of music, and of memory, and of the great singers who interpret the music, especially in the case of his songs – which he rarely listens to, preferring instead to play the work of his fellow composers – Stamatis Kokotas.
He said of the singer he has worked with for more than fifty years: “Because I do not like adjectives, for example “the great” it suffices for me to say: Stamatis Kokotas. Two things characterize him in song and in life and these are much more important than any adjective you can put [in front of his name]: dignity and honor, which apply to his singing and his life. ”
About “the youngest in our group,” he said: “Miss Iro Saia, whom I met three to four years ago the truth is that when I first heard her I became very curious about the timbre of her voice” and the special unique manner in which she interprets and expresses songs which he calls both Hellenic and cosmopolitan.”
Kokotas spoke briefly, expressing his appreciation for Xarhakos’ professional support, “The maestro entrusted me with his songs,” and their long friendship.
Saia said she is deeply touched by the invitation “to join these two important artists…For a young artist to sing for the Greek-American community at Carnegie Hall and next to these artists is a rare, a priceless experience,” and added that Xarhakos is a great teacher
According to its Facebook page, New York-based “Ethos Performing Arts is a non for profit organization dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts.”