NEW YORK – Pianist Athena Adamopoulos will be the featured performer at a special fundraising concert in support of the Greek children’s charity Mazi gia to Pedi – Together, for the Child,” at the Greek Consulate in New York on May 2. The program will consist of a mix of classical and her own arrangements of Greek songs.
The gifted young musician is in the midst of her doctorate at the renowned New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. The preparation is intense because when the time comes for her dissertation defense “they can ask you anything,” she told The National Herald.
Although she will continue performing, Adamopoulos said “I am being trained to teach. You need to be able to whip up a lecture on any topic in day,” at her defense.
She is in her fourth year, but because she finished her classroom work last year she can study remotely from home in New York. She is happy to be near her parents, Sylvia and Panos Adamopoulos and her younger brother Constantine.
But she is also glad to be back in touch with people she met studying for her Master’s degree at the Julliard School.
She is especially close to the faculty that teaches the compositional technique known as counterpoint. According to Adamopoulos, they are so serious, believing in very strict ear training, that “they are their own little sect.” She chucked and said she is one of them.
She looks forward to the attending the upcoming annual counterpoint program in Paris for the first time since she was 19. “It’s really exciting because I will be able to come back as adult and meet some of my prospective colleagues.”
She is now 27 she doesn’t look it. She might have to show them some kind of musical ID. Perhaps she can just dazzle them on the nearest baby grand.
Asked why a musician playing a pre-tuned instrument needs intense ear training, Adamopoulos explained that performers still have be able to hear the notes before they strike them.
“If we didn’t do that, we would sound like machines. Ear training allows you to determine the hierarchy of musical events as they go by listening to a piece: what happens, what develops and what changes in that material, how it grabs you from one place or another,” she said.
“When your ear is in tune with those things, your performance is exponentially more vigorous, more all-encompassing and passionate – more human.
Ear training is how the people playing a sophisticated instrument like a piano connect with their emotions, she said. “Seeing those musical relationships is how you can bring out the human experience…That’s the point of music.”
It is remarkable how early it can begin with some gifted students. Adamopoulos began taking piano lessons at four and was composing by the age of seven.
“They just couldn’t get me off the piano.” When her parents saw her playing her toy piano incessantly as early as age two, “they said ‘OK, she is addicted to this. We have to get piano lessons,” Adamopoulos said.
“When they saw me making up songs, they got me composition lessons,” which became an advantage because “pianists and performance majors in general do not have the same training as composers – so by starting composition so early I had early access to advanced analysis courses that benefited my interpretive abilities as a composer.”
Her progress continued through high school, Harvard and beyond.
Asked about her parents’ musical background she said – by now her sense of humor is as apparent as her musical skill – “my dad can turn the stereo on and off.” She then immediately emphasized the importance to her of their deep appreciation of music and constant support.
Growing up, she said “I was exposed to all sorts of classical music – Beethoven in the womb. I wasn’t even born yet, and they were listening to that stuff…without a doubt their love of music may be the single most important thing in my life that’s made me continue. They’ve done so much to support me I feel I owe them a debt forever.”
Some parents are lucky to hear the words. Adamopoulos’ parents get their reward in the form of free concerts for life.
If she is choosing the pieces, it would be the three B’s forever – Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.
There are a few composers that have grown on her thought the years, however, like Franz Liszt, whose pieces she first considered overly precious technical exercises – “technical for no reason,” she said, “but as I got older I better appreciated the beautiful pianistic elements of the songs that he transcribed for solo piano.”
She is not a big fan of most of the 20th century’s classical music, that is dominated by atonality, especially serialism, “where no one not is favored over another, but in traditional music, notes have functions. In tonal music, some notes want to go places and other notes want to stay places,” as opposed to the intellectual but for many people, sterile random walk of serialism.
Adamopoulos said the essence of music is a journey. “And you want to make – at least at the end – some reference to where you came from.”
On the other hand, she understands how modern music was born. After the horrors of WWI and WWII artists “were less and less inclined to write music that directly stirred the emotions.” Music was being used as propaganda “and music’s ability to move became feared,” she said.
As a composer she finds it very constraining. “Teachers say ‘you can’t do this…you’re being too romantic here, too effusive there,” she said agitatedly. Adamopoulos caught herself, and then burst out: “I can do whatever I want. I’m an artist, I’m a human being. I have emotions and I want to share them.”
Those who have heard her before cannot wait, those who have not are in for a treat, but the concert is more than a musical experience for her.
Like her parents, Adamopoulos is dedicated to philanthropic work. “To support Mazi Gia to Pedi in any way I can is something I must do. I cannot pass it up. It’s a noble cause and the situation in Greece is dire,” especially for needy children.