NEW YORK – Visitors to the Medieval Sculpture Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art have been enjoying more than its famous tree this season. Joined by friends of the Axion Estin Foundation, their holidays have been enriched by the Christmas music of the Orthodox Church during a series of free concerts.
The Foundation’s choir of the led by its artist in residence, Eleftherios Eleftheriadis, who is an instructor in Byzantine music at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and a chanter at the Church of St. Nicholas in Flushing.
The Met’s first ever “Byzantine Holiday Pop-Up” concerts of hymns and carols from the Byzantine Empire were performed three times a day December 5, 12, and 19.
Tourists and natives stopped their rushing from room to room when they heard the unfamiliar but entrancing sounds of Christmas in the East – that is, the land of Christ’s birth.
Children and adults of all races and places were happy to find themselves in one of Manhattan’s most unique spaces, enthralled by the rich, resonant voices of fine Byzantine chanters high above them on the balcony that is the home of a radiant icon of Christ.
Some of the listeners, identifying the icon that was the backdrop for the choristers, made the connection with the music. The image is as an excellent copy of the Deesis mosaic that graces the gallery level of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, one of the masterpieces of Byzantine painting and of religious art anywhere.
The choir sang a cappella and without amplification in Greek, Arabic, Armenian, and Russian. The melody and the ison, the drone note, or slow-moving lower vocal part, resounded in the hall filled with medieval statuary and golden Spanish choir screen. For Christmas, a Neapolitan Baroque creche draws holiday visitors.
“It was very beautiful. I really felt the Christmas spirit,” Katerina Kleiman, one of the Greek-Americans who made sure to attend told The National Herald. “As they chanted the trees lights gradually turned on and the concert closed with a beautiful Christmas hymn ‘Χριστός γεννάται δοξάσατε – Christ is born, glorify him,’ and I wish everyone a Merry Christmas.
The Axion Estin Foundation (AEF), Inc. AEF “was incorporated in November 2005 pursuant to the Not-for-Profits Corporation Law of the State of New York and produces programming, events and publications in a comprehensive effort to broaden understanding and audience for Byzantine Music in the United States,” according to its web site. Angelo Lampousis is the Foundation’s Director.
Partial support for the free concerts was provided by The Fr. Peter N. Kyriakos Endowment Fund and the Foundation has also benefited from the support of the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies of Queens College.