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Music

“The Reigning Moon”: Sublime Summer Concerts on Siphnos

SIPHNOS – Yes, it’s the same beautiful full moon everywhere, but our experiences of it are not equal – the concerts presented by the Greek Archaeological Service at the ancient citadels of Kastro and Agios Andreas last weekend on the island of Siphnos added the charms of music and the mystery of place to Greece’s renowned full moon fetes, drawing many locals and visitors alike.

There are reasons certain places we visit make us want to go back again and again – energy from deep in the Earth and the depths of human history draw us – and if we are lucky, we encounter people who create lifelong memories once we arrive.

The two concerts, were titled ‘Σελανα Βασιλευουσα – The Reining Moon’ and on Sunday evening, with the lights of neighboring Cyclades islands glittering in the background, the voice of Savina Yannatou felt like it was emerging from the depths of the Mediterranean Sea, rising up to the audience on Agios Andreas, and continuing its ascent to the shells of light emanating from the moon, a hypostatic union of human and heaven, of silvery light and a voice that is golden. 

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The archaeological space of the citadel of Agios Andreas is one of the most remarkable sites in the Aegean region. The spectacular vistas, commanding views of much of Siphnos and the islands of the Western Cyclades, have long drawn mesmerized visitors but the brilliance of the military engineering of the Mycenean Greeks exhibited by the site only fully came to light with the recent completion of the excavation and the exceptional presentation of the Citadel, the fruit of decades of work and dedication of archaeologists and the love for the place of Siphnians – public officials and private citizens alike.

The concert took place in the space before the ancient walls – at the height of Mycenean glory the defensive structure that crowned the hill now dominated by the late 19th century church of Agios Andreas consisted of inner and outer walls sandwiching an ingenious ditch that signaled doom to unfortunate attackers who found themselves there.

The Sunday concert beneath a lovely full moon, however was an offering of peace and harmony in turbulent times.

Many of those in attendance were lovers of culture from throughout Europe, especially France and Italy. Perhaps some were descendants who now come in peace of the ‘Frangoi’ who seized much of the Aegean Sea from the decaying Byzantine Empire in 1204 – but the symbol par excellence of siblinghood and understanding was Yannatou herself with her remarkable international  repertoire and rich, lilting voice which brought to life songs from across the Mediterranean – Sephardic Spain, Sardinia, Corsica – and most enchantingly, the still-Greek speaking areas of Southern Italy. Her singing, deftly moving from the sweet to the dramatic, also ventured deep into the Near East with a song from Armenia.

The notes and chords struck by classical guitarist Kostas Grigoreas at Agios Andreas added to the charm and mystery of the evening – and both artists displayed an element of the heroic apropos of the original purpose of the citadel by battling an unexpected wind storm. With the help of a volunteer page turner and layer upon layers of scarves and sweaters of varied colors good-naturedly donned by Yannatou, the two fine musicians presented Greek and foreign music that delighted the audience that, as with the Kastro concert, exceeded expectations, overflowing the chairs that were set up and availing themselves of ancient walls and stones.

Composers whose music gained nobility from the magnificent plateau floating in the air above Aegean – the lighting of the site as seen from below is also enchanting – included John Dowland, Benjamin Britten, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell – and the wind-swept audience also warmed to the transition to beloved Greek composers like Manos Hajidakis and Lena Platonos.

On Saturday, the concert at Kastro – both were held with proper COVID distancing – was especially charming. The guests filled the courtyard of the Church of St. John the Theologian in the heart of Kastro and literally spilled out of the adjoining homes and streamed up the side streets.

The concert poured forth moon-inspired pieces as Queen Selene herself danced above the picturesque and storied town that rises sheer from the Aegean Sea and has seen more than 5,000 years of continuous settlement.

The music began with George Melies’ La Voyage dans la Lune and La Lune de un Metre masterfully performed by Vassilis Papavassiliou on double bass and Semele Sophia Kostourou on cello.

The second half of the program took a northern and dramatic turn with songs by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff presented through the artistry of mezzo soprano Victoria Maifatova accompanied by Marios Kazas on piano. It was one of those events which so delighted everyone present that no one wanted to leave.

Each night the free concerts were preceded by informative tours and informal discussions personally led by Giorgos Gavalas, archaeologist and official with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture & Sports’ Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades who spearheaded the endeavor and was the gracious host both evenings. He welcomed Hellenes and fellow Europeans alike to the well-planned and executed events that offered proof that culture, ancient and contemporary works presented by gifted Greek artists, are vital parts of a sustainable tourism, realizing especially the longtime goal of the Ministry Tourism to attract ever-higher quality tourism to the homeland. He thanked all who made the events possible, colleagues, and volunteers, and supporters like The Society of Friends of the Greek Islands and Seas, the Energy Community of Siphnos, and the Municipality of Siphnos.

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