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Lincoln Center Presents Music of Composer Iannis Xenakis

NEW YORK – The Lincoln Center Festival runs from July 13-31 and features dance, music, theatre, and opera from around the world.

Among the music to be presented this year is Iannis Xenakis’ Metaux from his 1978 groundbreaking work Pleiades.

The otherworldly piece will be performed by So Percussion as part of their Trilogy with Cenk Ergun’s Proximity and Dan Trueman’s neither Anvil nor Pulley which were both commissioned by So Percussion.

As noted on the festival website, “Praised equally for their technical virtuosity and creative vision, So Percussion is renowned as one of the most exciting ensembles of its kind. Unsurpassed interpreters of the growing canon of chamber music for percussion, they also work with tireless verve and a highly collaborative spirit to bring the distinctively flexible techniques of percussion to new music of all genres.”

The performance takes place on July 29 at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse located at 165 West 65th Street in Manhattan.

Iannis Xenakis was born in Romania to Greek businessman Klearchos Xenakis originally from Euboea and Fotini Pavlou from Lemnos. Xenakis’ parents were both interested in music, but the connection was most strongly felt through Xenakis’ mother who passed away when Xenakis was just five years old.

The traumatic experience had a profound effect on him and his work as a composer. Governesses took charge of his early education until he was sent to the island of Spetses, Greece for boarding school.

At the school, he sang in the boys’ choir, learned musical notation and solfeggio, the method for teaching pitch and sight singing in Western music.

His love of Greek sacred and traditional music also began during his education on Spetsai. In 1938, Xenakis moved to Athens to study architecture and engineering at the National Technical University and also continued his musical education with harmony and counterpoint taught by Aristotelis Koundouroff.

World War II interrupted his education as the Technical University operated only intermittently during the years of war and Occupation.

Xenakis joined the National Liberation Front at first participating in protests and demonstrations and later joining the armed resistance, a period he rarely discussed in later life.

After the Germans retreated in 1944, the British forces were ordered to help restore the Greek monarchy, but Greece was already descending into civil war by that time.

In street fighting, Xenakis who had joined the Communist students’ in ELAS’ Lord Byron faction, was seriously wounded when a shell hit his face. He miraculously survived but lost his left eye and was scarred for life.

In 1947, he finally received his civil engineering degree after all the traumatic events of the war and its aftermath, and was then drafted into the national armed forces.

Unfortunately, when the government began arresting former resistance members with leftist leanings, Xenakis feared for his life, went into hiding, and eventually fled the country.

On November 11, 1947 he reached Paris where he managed to find a position in Le Corbusier’s architectural studio.

He rose up in the company eventually teaming with Le Corbusier on major projects, all while composing music based on architectural concepts.

In search of a teacher to help guide his music, he was rejected by many, but found Olivier Messiaen who understood that Xenakis was an extraordinary student.

Messiaen told him, as quoted in Nouritza Matossian’s 1986 biography of Xenakis, “You have the good fortune of being Greek, of being an architect, and having studied special mathematics. Take advantage of these things. Do them in your music.”

Xenakis then went on to a remarkable creative career, teaching and also lecturing on music.

He passed away in 2001 at age 78, survived by his wife and daughter. Xenakis is widely recognized for his contributions to 20th century music and his groundbreaking percussion ensemble piece Pleiades is just one of his many iconic works.

Tickets to the Lincoln Center Festival are available online and at the Lincoln Center box office.

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