On this day in 2018, Theodore Antoniou, the well-known Greek teacher, composer, and conductor, passed away at the age of 84 after a battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. Born in Athens in 1935, Antoniou studied violin, voice, and composition at the National Conservatory and the Greek Conservatory of Athens and continued his studies of composition and conducting at the Munich Academy of Music and at the Darmstadt International Musical Center. He taught at Stanford University, the University of Utah, and the Philadelphia Musical Academy and was a professor among the composition staff at Boston University, where he taught since 1978. He also led and conducted the new music ensemble Alea III at Boston University. The ensemble regularly performs new compositions, works with numerous renowned artists, and has toured Europe on many occasions. In 1989, he became the president of the Union of Greek Composers. Founder of the Experimental Stage at the National Opera, Antoniou was the artistic director from 2004 to 2011. Throughout his life, he composed over 450 works, many of which were commissioned by major orchestras and foundations.
On this day in 1991, the icon of St. Irene of the St. Irene Chrysovalantou Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Astoria was returned via a postal worker five days after it had been stolen by gunpoint from the Church. The icon was painted by a Greek monk in 1919 – but gained worldwide notice in 1990 when some worshippers saw the icon weep tears of grief on the eve of the Persian Gulf War. The icon’s jewel-encrusted gold frame, valued at more than $800,000 in 1991, was gone, but the renowned ‘weeping icon’ was intact. The icon, a 6-by-8-inch painting on wood of the Greek Orthodox patron saint of peace and of the sick, is believed by many to possess healing powers.
On this day in 1944, King George II of Greece abdicated his throne and appointed Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens as Regent after pressure from Winston Churchill following the outbreak of Civil War earlier that month. Many believe that the Archbishop’s integrity and impartiality made him the only person suitable for this position. During the subsequent 16 months, the Archbishop called for peace and order in the country following the Dekemvriana events. He appointed five premiers and formed an interim cabinet. He relinquished his Regent position after the fighting began to die down and formally recalled King George II four days after the Greeks voted for the restoration of the monarchy in 1946. Archbishop Damaskinos died in Athens in 1949.
On this day in 1933, Chryssa Vardea-Mavromichali (AKA Chryssa), the Greek-American artist known for her neon, steel, aluminum, and acrylic glass installations, was born in Athens into the historically famous Mavomichalis family from the Mani Peninsula. While not rich, her family was described as educated and cultured. Chryssa began painting during her teenage years and studied to become a social worker. In 1953, based on the advice of a Greek art critic, Chryssa’s family sent her to Paris to study art. After Paris, Chryssa set sail for the United States where she studied at the California School of Fine Arts. She then moved to New York in 1955 – finding inspiration in the spectacle of the advertising neon signs of Times Square. She started using neon in 1962 and was one of the first artists to transform it from an advertising tool into an art material. Chryssa worked in New York studios for the majority of her life, until 1992 when she began working in the studio she established in Neos Kosmos in Athens.