“Music has always been my companion” Alexandra Gialini told The National Herald. As a presenter on the ERT Trito Programma radio service, she brings music as most welcome guests into peoples’ homes in Greece as an antidote to the pangs of coronavirus isolation.
Likewise, at a time when we are cut off from world travel, she brings listeners into the great concert halls by presenting, in cooperation with institutions like BBC and the EBU, programs from festivals and concerts all over the world.
Coronavirus has not interrupted Gialini’s work, but performers miss performing.
Maestro Zoe Zeniodi is a conductor. She commands armies of musicians marching to transcendent heights and profound depths of feeling and conceptions with a glance, a gesture of fingers, or body movement. And she is also a mother, guardian in the crisis of her four-year-old twins, a son and daughter. Asked how she is doing she said naturally, simply: “we are healthy, safe.”
In less dramatic times her musical life began at the age of six prompted by the piano in her home but rooted in the rich cultural life of her family from Smyrna where her grandmother Zoe Zeniodi was a ballet dancer and her aunt played piano.
Her studies for solo piano brought her to schools and stages in London, Austria – and Miami, where chance introduced her to conducting. Establishing a career as a pianist in Europe, Zeniodi said “in my whole life I had never thought of conducting,” and her new path shocked many colleagues. “But as an accompanist I paired a lot of singers in song repertoires” which already entailed playing guiding others in performance. “You use your ear, and that is what conducting is about” – in addition to developing a deep understanding of each piece…” It’s about knowing” and feeling “what the composer wrote, not about using your hands in beautiful choreography” – indeed ballet dancing in youth enables Zeniodi to virtually dance her messages to the orchestra.
It is also an intense intellectual endeavor because a conductor must combine a holistic grasp of a piece’s architectonic structure with diving deep into each detail while embracing and nurturing its coloring and rhythm.
The purpose of her first conducting class was to lighten her courseload, but the professor, Thomas Sleeper, had a vision of her future, telling her to trust him and that she would have to work hard. That was not new. From the age of six she devoted eight hours a day to her art. That meant she sacrificed a normal childhood and adult social life. “In Miami I locked myself in my apartment, not going out in four years and studied 12-14 hours a day – so the coronavirus regime is no shock to her.
Much of her musical life has been a self-chosen ‘lockdown’ to be with her children and with her music. “But music for me is vital for life, like breathing, eating, sleeping,” an importance the crisis is bringing out for others, perhaps saving souls and minds. “Music does this, now and always, and we should bring it more into our everyday life” as an accompanist to our efforts in all times to transcend limitations and fulfil our potential, she said.
SOPRANO AND IMPRESSARIO
Music for soprano Katia Paschou was a surprise revelation along her chosen path of becoming a dancer and actress. “I wanted to broaden my acting experience to include musicals, which I loved to perform in middle school.”
There was a rich palette of actuality and possibility for a child of an artistic family. “My grandmother Katia and her sisters all had lovely voices, but I received my baptism from her.”
As active with cultural initiatives as she is in performances, the coronavirus postponed one of her beloved endeavors – the 10th gala concert of the B&M Theocharakis Foundation for the Fine Arts and Music created by its director Fotis Papathanasiou in order to bring opera to a broader audience in Greece. “But good things may come of the delay; it will be a great celebration” she said, brimming with the trademark passion and enthusiasm which colors her performances of operas and arias ranging from her recent turn in the Merry Widow to Carmen.
She is also the founder of the Katia Paschou Project which supports rising young singers. Dedicated and resourceful, she said, “I am still in touch with them and I just prepared special videos for them to continue their studies.”
For Paschou, the crisis is an opportunity to work on music she has long wanted to study but had no time for, like many, finding a silver lining in the crisis.
The music sustaining her is 100% classical, but the piece she returns to over and over is the Ninth Symphony. “It’s powerful music. Very uplifting,” embracing many diverse elements that Beethoven miraculously blends into a unity that seems “to have been written precisely to cleanse our thoughts and moods,” in times like this.
But she can’t wait to perform again. “I have a powerful need to be out singing. When you can’t sing you are cut off from your very self-expression, you lose a piece of yourself.”
Paschou is in the midst of participation in two musical series, one is Opera Night on Thursdays in the Winter Garden of the Hotel Grand Bretagne, the other is ‘To Treno sto Rouf’, a vintage railway car converted into a theater – think Orient Express.
Honored to be invited to participate by Tatiana Ligari and beginning in January, very quickly colleagues and friends circulated word about wonderful musical goings-on there, a musical journey to Johann Strauss’ Vienna with Manolis Papasifakis as Master of Ceremonies and pianist.
Paschou was surprised to see people returning a second and third time. “They seemed to want to keep reliving that experience,” she said. Indeed, more than with plays, audiences in such venues feel the glow of genuine friendship with the artists in addition to delight from the pieces – which are often experienced anew colored by the listeners’ mood and circumstances – still another illustration of the power and function of music in our lives.
And she strongly feels the appreciation of the audience and the value musicians bring. “Yes they come to be with you, for their own reasons we know nothing of, but they come!”
And they will come again…in the meantime, Gialini with the serenity of her silken voice and the efforts of her colleagues reach out to us through the air or cyberspace. What seemed so mysterious to our grandparents is no less magical to us today: at the mere turning of a knob or tap of a key, music, delightful and healing…in the time of coronavirus, embraced with a nation’s eternal gratitude.