NEW YORK – Being a passionate, personal and idealistic people, Greeks easily turn heroes into symbols. On April 18 the audience at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts of poured out reverence and love for singer Maria Farantouri, as much an icon as musician, and she rewarded them with a radiant journey deep into their youth through her evocative, resonant voice.
The concert titled “Songs of Greece and of the World,” which was dominated by the music of Mikis Theodorakis, reflecting the international celebration of his 90th birthday, was also designed a tribute to the beauty and ideals of Greece.
Dr. Liana Theodoratou, Director of the A.S. Onassis Program in Hellenic Studies, which presented the concert in collaboration with Aphrodite Daniel and Syn-Phonia Entertainment, said the presentation was timely given media distortion of Greece’s crisis and indifference to the humanitarian emergency there.
Farantouri entered the darkened stage to applause of appreciation for her sacrifices, and achievements and in anticipation of a singular evening – a promise she delivered.
She is one of Greece’s most celebrated artists and during the junta she recorded protest songs in Europe with Theodorakis, being a voice of freedom then and in the context of the current crisis.
The concert, which Farantouris dedicated to all Greek poets – Theodorakis immortalized the works of many of the with his music – began with pianist Achilleas Wastor’s low notes rumbling on the Steinway and David Lynch’s saxophone introducing Theodorakis’ Baptism.
Shouts of “brava” and “bravi” and expressions of love were heart throughout the night. Some of its most touching moments, however, featured the Children’s Choral Academy of Hellenic Paideia, directed by Alexandra Skendrou.
The children, who attend various Greek schools and ranged from 6-13 years of age, delighted the audience with three songs, beginning with Theodorakis’ Myrtia – with Skendrou and the children alternating verses – and concluding with Hadjidakis “Persephone’s Nightmare” for which Farantouris joined them.
Lina Orfanos was invited to the stage by Farantouri for “I Mikri Rallou and “Where Did My Boy Fly Away,” and the soprano was aslo warmly received by the audience.
Farantouri’s s rich, resonant voice with its hypnotic melismas and subtle tremolos evoked emotional responses all night long. Wastor, who was also the musical director, was an exceptional accompanist and Lynch’s soulful sax – he also added flute and percussion to the artistic mix.
Known as the soul of Greece, Farantouri, paid tribute to New York of Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” a stirring rendition that felt like a prayer.
The more light-hearted songs included “Thalasaki Mou – My Little Sea” which was one of a number of songs delightfully jazzed up by the gifted ensemble.
Farantouri invited Orfanos to the stage for another solo turn and the concert reached its thrilling conclusion with “Synefiasmeni Kyriaki – Overcast Sunday” and Romiosini mi tin Kles – Don’t cry for Greece.”
The beloved artist dedicated songs three people in the audience. “Wraia Poli – Beautiful City” which is about Athens, was offered for Rena Dourou, the recently elected Attica regional governor, to whom she exclaimed “good luck,” prompting laughter and applause.
Farantouri also honored Nikos Papaconstantinou on the occasion of his retirement from the Greek Foreign Ministry, and Panos Adamopoulos, outgoing president of the Athenians’ Society.
Most of the concert’s music was composed by Theodorakis and Nikos Gatsos and Yannis Ritsos were the poets most represented by the songs – some of the poems were recited by Theodoratou, who also offered commentary.
Theodoratou, who thanked all who helped, said she had been trying to bring Farantouri to New York for many years and added that they also aimed to highlight the continued vibrancy in Greece and to spotlight the new government, which she said restored people’s hope.