NEW YORK – The Greek Cultural Center based in Astoria, also known by its Greek acronym KEP, celebrated its 40th anniversary with a thrilling concert dedicated to Mikis Theodorakis at the Assembly Hall of Hunter College on Manhattan’s Upper East Side on May 3.
The audience greeted the musicians, all dressed in black, with warm applause as they walked onstage, and after one thrilling rendition of Theodorakis favorites after another, their night ended with a thunderous ovation, a tribute both to their performances and the community’s thirst for memories of better days for Greece, past and future.
After 40 pieces, the audience, which approached 1500 people, was on its feet for the encore, “Tis Dikaiosinis Ilie Noite – Son of Justice.”
And they wanted more.
The concert began with bouzouki rifts and pounding on drums for “Kratisa ti Zwi Mou,” followed by the choir singing “Arnieme.”
The guest vocalists entered last and Nikos Kouroupakis, Anna Linardou, Vasilis Lekkas, Giota Negka and Gerasimos Andreatos each took a turn singing parts of Theodorakis’ point poignat songs, backed up by the other four.
Lekkas then sang “Oi Dromoi tou Archangelou,” and then Linardou was left alone onstage to sing “Nichta Magikia.”
Andreatos’ first song was “Braxo Braxo” and the first of many opportunities for the audience to clap along came with Kouroupakis singing “Mana Mou kai Panagia,” with the poignant lyrics – You were the morning sun and the evening moon…my mother is crying at your grave; the Virgin Mary is Crying too.”
Negka followed with Xathika, with its sad lyrics and music, with Myrtia, with music that fuels hope – some of the most upbeat in the Greek repertoire – but lyrics that breathe hopelessness.
Costas Baltazanis was the music director and he played guitar. The orchestra included Panagiotes Andreou on base, Kostas Psaros and Christos Papadopoulos on bouzouki, Yorgos Maniatis on drums, George Spanos on percussion and Livio Almeid on flute.
During Anna Linardos’ moving performance of Asma Asmaton from The Ballad Of Mauthausen, with its lyric “Κανείς δεν ήξερε πως είναι τόσο ωραία – Who knew you were so beautiful” the video screen showed images of young Jewish women in concentration camps.
As the first half of the concert was drawning to a close, Kouroupakis and Andreatos and the choir sang a rousing “Tha Sumanoun oi Kambanes” accompanied by a powerful marching beat.
After the intermission, the audience watched a video of the great actor Manos Katrakis give a dramatic recital of the Axion Esti of Elitis.
The program noted the praise of poet Giannis Ritsos, who said “the poetry sent to music by our composers turned the beauty of poetry into the beauty of our lives.”
One of the evening’s highlights began with the audience wondering why a man dressed like an early immigrant was wandering across the stage as Lekkas was singing “Tis Xenitias.” They were delighted to realize it was Petros Fourniotes, who dazzled with a Zeibekiko.
“Apones Exousies” was sung as a duet by Negka and Lekkas, which they followed with an equally touching Drapetsona.
The concert’s climax song was also its theme “Romiosini Mhn Thn Klais” – Romisini being a complex word that encompasses modern Greece’s classical and Byzantine heritage – and more. The choir joined the singers on the lip of the stage and the entire audience rose as Lekkas shouted, his kefi unabated, “don’t sit, don’t sit – all together now.’
At that point some guests got chills and were moved to tears, and that was before the dance performance by Fourniotes and three others the theme of Zorba that triggered even more emotion and rhythmic clapping.
The music was tastefully interspersed with photos and video clips of Theodorakis talking about his life, which included enduring torture for his beliefs and the pain of political exile, conducting his music, and even dancing Zorba with Anthony Quinn.
Areti Giovani was the pianist and directed the vocal ensemble and Petros Fourniotis directed the dancers.
The guests were welcomed by Iraklis Kremmidas, president, who spoke in Greek, “the language of my heart because I am very touched by you support for KEP, and Eleni Drivas, vice president, greeting the audience, which included many non-Greeks who filled the entire lower level and half the balcony.
Kremmidas noted that Theodorakis himself was one of KEP’s first supporters. He thanked the audience and the organizers of the concert and KEP’s Board of Directors for its work through the years, and Lekkas later acknowledged each of the dancers and musicians by name.
The organizers expressed their deep gratitude to TNH for the singers who came from Greece, Lekkas, Negka, Linardou and Andreatos, who also developed the program under Lekkas’ leadership.
Dino Avlonitis said it was one of the community’s finest recent presentations and declared that “for us, Theodorakis is life and soul, and he is an inspiration for a new generation of young people, who are our hope for overcoming the current violations of our country’s sovereignty.”
Timoleon Kokkinos said Theodorakis’ artistic achievements make him a personality who transcends Greece’s borders, indeed April Renae, an American musician and photographer who loves Greek music, attended because her friend Yianni told her she must attend the concert.
Polys Kyriakou, who has organized numerous community concerts and is himself a poet and lyricist, told TNH, “Tonight we honored a great Greek composer, and I congratulate KEP for organizing concerts grounded with dignity and quality, and for gathering us here tonight to sing our country’s most beautiful songs.”