NEW YORK – Every great institution, commercial or cultural, is founded on and flourishes to some degree by generating a feeling of family among its people. That is how the members Metropolitan Greek Chorale feel, which celebrated “half a century of musical excellence” in the words of its current Music Director Marina Alexander, with a Golden Anniversary concert at Manhattan’s Kaufman Music Center.
Titled “Odyssey: A 50-Year Journey of Extraordinary Music,” the music was interspersed with tasteful tributes to members and music directors past and present, including George Tsontakis (1978-1995) who served longest and was present and whose music was performed, inaugural conductor James Stathis (1965-1967), and Dino Anagnost of blessed memory (1968-1977). Constantine Kitsopoulos, currently Music Director of the Queens Symphony Orchestra, served conducted the Chorale from 1999-2004.
The Odyssey has been both geographical – from Carnegie Hall to the ancient amphitheaters of Greece, and musical – with composers as diverse as Hadjidakis and Handel.
The program put together with care by Alexander was as diplomatic as it was tasteful and enjoyable. The first part began with Mikis Theodorakis’ Canto Olympico: Ode to Zeus and after intermission the guests first heard the same composition’s Ode to Apollo. “Three Byzantine Hymns” arranged by Tsontakis represented the glorious middle period of Hellenic history and modern and traditional songs were presented also by the chorale and guest singer Grigoris Maninakis, whose Mikrokosmos Ensemble added Greek spice to the offerings of the classical musicians who stretched across the stage.
Alexander, who told the audience “I am so delighted you could join us for this august evening,” arranged the second song, “Kapios Giortazi – Someone” is Celebrating, begun by soloist Kristina Semos, soprano, later joined by the full chorus.
The emphasis of the occasion was equally on the achievements of the past and moving forward into the future with pieces like “Megales Kyklades – Petites Cyclades,” also by Theodorakis, which
Alexander believes had is choral premier that night.
here were moments when chorus and orchestra blended perfectly, especially with “Saranta Palikaria – 40 Brave Lads” when the ethereal females voices were complemented by the modern harmonies of the instrumentalists.
The men’s voices resonated in the hall, joined by the audience – who were often invited by Alexander to sing and clap – for pieces like “Ena to Helidoni – A Solitary Swallow” and “Tis Dikeosinis Ilios Noite – The Transcendent Sun of Justice.”
Oriental strains transported the listeners deep into Asia Minor for Two Greek Dances, arranged by Anagnost and Alexander. Its passionate climax evoked loud applause to end the first half.
The audience was thrilled by Tsontakis’ dramatic and modern setting of Hadjidakis’ “Milise Mou- Talk to Me” and Megan Gould’s poignant passages on violin. A member of Mikrokosmos, Gould was joined by Konstantinos Psarros, whose bouzouki veritably sang “Kathe Limani kai Kaimos – Every Port and its Sorrow.” Richard Khuzami on percussion, and George Stathos on Clarinet.
The concert featured two fine pianists as Glafkos Kontementiotes of Mikrokosmos alternated with the Chorale’s Yannis Xylas.
The program drew to a close with Hadjidakis’ “O mythos – The Legend,” prompting Alexander to declare “I have had fun; I hope you did, too.
She said “My tenure has been a continuous joy.” She praised the orchestra and singers and said “It was a great pleasure to collaborate once more with Mr. Grigoris Maninakis.
Marinna Colitis, Board member and concert co-chair acknowledged all who contributed to the evening’s success, including her dear friend and co-chair Tina Padas-Mavroudis, and Chrissi Nicolas, singer and treasurer, who created the attractive and informative commemorative journal.
Padas-Mavroudis presented awards to the Chorale’s longest-serving members, including Matthew Bistis, still singing tenor at 90 years old. The chorale honored the 50 year memberships of Kolaitis, George Haikalis, Peter Lewnes, and his wife Barbara Lewnes, who was the musical glory of Good Friday services at Three Hierarchs in Brooklyn for decades. Helen and Peter Kehayes were cite for their 48 years of service.
The chorale was established in 1965 by the Council of Greek Orthodox Choir Directors of Greater New York. Peter Lewnes said Chis Constantakos, the choir director at Three Hierarchs in Brooklyn, Ernest Villas, the director of the Metropolitan Greek Choir, Spiros Semos, and James Stathis “got together and said ‘why don’t we set up a mutual choir group from all the Churches.”
Photo credit: Stavroula Nicolas Raia