NEW YORK – Every spring the Mikrokosmos Ensemble presents a series of concerts. This year its musical director and lead singer, Grigoris Maninakis, was especially pleased to hold it with the cooperation of the Nisyrian Society of New York, which is celebrating its 110th anniversary.
“It demonstrates the motivation of different groups in the community to work together” Maninakis said.
Mikrokosmos, along with special guest artists from Greece, vocalist Stavroula Manolopoulou and bouzouki soloist Christos Vidiniotis, presented three concerts in tribute to Manos Eleutheriou at the Archdiocesan Hellenic Cultural Center in Astoria from April 25-27.
“He is a lyricist, a poet and an author,” Maninakis said of Eleutheriou,” adding that “although his name is not as recognizable as others’, he is one of the best in Greece – his songs however, are very well known.”
The evening began with video clips of classic performances of Eleutheriou’s songs. The screen was then raised like a curtain, revealing Mikrokosmos and the guest musicians. Maninakis then began the concert with “I zwi mou mi diabazis – Don’t Read my Life” which was set to music by Yannis Markopoulos.
Manolopoulou revealed a pattern when she followed with “Pios ti zwi mou Kiniga – Who is chasing my life?”
Maninakis told The National Herald that some words and phrases dominate the poetry and lyrics of Eleutheriou, such as “Zwi – life” and “Ta logia kai ta chronia – words and time” into which the first songs were grouped, and which was the theme of the concert.
There were also sections with songs inspired by “Ta Grammata tou Makrigianni – The Letters of Makrigianni” and the Asia Minor Disaster and the burning of Smyrna, the latter reflected in the title of Eleutheriou’s first album. “O Agios Februarios – Saint February.”
Manolopoulou’s rich voice reflected the vicissitudes of the lives of the people of Greece and even the Aegean , sometimes light and lilting as she sang of times of love and joy, at other moments darker and more dramatic, mirroring the storms of the sea and the human heart.
She greeted and thanked the audience for their support for Greece and its culture, singling out Nick Andreotis for his leadership at the Cultural Center, and Yiannis Constantinides, the president of the Nisyrian Society. She also praised Maninakis for his efforts in the name of quality Greek Music and for the transmission of Greek cultural traditions to young Greek-Americans.
The audience was thrilled by Vidiniotis’ solo passages, but they also delighted in the performance of local bouzouki player Kostas Psaros, who also sang.
The singers included young Greek American guest vocalists Elena Toumaras, Stavroula Traitses, Vasilis Sitaras, accompanied by the rest of Mikrokosmos: Glafkos Kontemeniotes on piano, Kostas Psaros on bouzoukis and vocals, Megan Gould on violin and baglama, Panagiotis Andreou on bass and Spiros Arnakis on drums.
Sitaras, an NYU student with roots in Chios – the latter fact prompted applause as a fine candidate for proxenio – made his musical debut singing the famous “O Xaros bgike Pagania – Death came looking for recruits.”
Toumaras led off the second half of the concert with a poignat rendition of “Piran to Anapli – They captured Naflion” and Traitses, the youngest of the singers, delighted with “S’avgi ti gitonia.”
When Maninakis thanked all who made the concerts possible, including Thanasis Jouvelis on lighting and Thanasis Psaros on the soundboard, he asked the audience, “What was most important to you tonight? The lyrics of Eleutheriou, the musicians who came all the way from Greece, the members Mikrokosmos, or the young?”
He voted for the latter, the 2nd and 3rd generation Greek-Americans to whom the baton of Hellenic culture in being passed.
The concert, was narrated by Stelios Taketzis, who undertook his usual research but this time had the privilege of supplementing it with a recent visit with Eleutheriou at his longtime home at Neo Psychiko in Athens.