After stepping into legendary Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis' parlor, photographer/producer Kevork Imirzian, classical guitarist Iakovos Kolanian, and I sat for about 20 minutes before the Maestro entered into the room. We leapt to our feet and greeted Theodorakis, thanking him for the opportunity to visit with him in his home in Athens. This was one of those rare moments in my life where I was completely awestruck. In the world of music, I have had some lucky moments. The first was meeting composer Alan Hovhaness a couple of times. At one of his concerts in 1991- his 80th Birthday celebration at Carnegie Hall- I was waiting in line at the end of the show to meet him backstage when the man behind me asked what time it was. He was old, scraggly, and had a jean jacket. A character if I ever met on. However, he looked so familiar. A minute later, a young man in his 20's approached the guy behind me and started saying, "Mr. Cage, I really love your work. It is an honor to meet you". Damn, what dumb luck, it was composer John Cage. He was waiting in line like everyone else, even though the contemporary composer of mythic stature could have just walked right up to the front of the line and asked for a one on one with Hovhaness.
When I worked at Tower Records in Boston back when I was in college around 1990, I did meet composer Philip Glass, Concertgebrow conductor Bernard Haitink, and in 1994 in Chicago at a record signing, pianist Van Cliburn right before one of his last public concerts opening the World Cup soccer games. He would play at Grant Park later that night. I still have the signed CD, along with Hovhaness' as well. Suffice it to say, I have long loved classical music, as did my cohort Kevork and of course, Iakovos.
Now that name dropping 101 is now in session, back to the story at hand- Mikis Theodorakis. To be honest, I had heard of Theodorakis through the Zorba The Greek connection. He was the composer of the music featured in the 1964 Michael Cacoyannis feature film starring Anthony Quinn. I just picked up the DVD a week ago and watched it. A great flick. I had also heard of Theodorakis through the voice of Yorgos Dalaras, the great Greek singer who once was the voice of the Maestro. They had a falling out and that was that. However, in my love of Greek music since I was about 19, the Theodorakis name kept coming up. However, it wasn't until I was in Greece during this current trip that I had to do a little research. I will spare you his history, instead deferring to the vast void known as the search engines of Google. However, before the meeting, I did my homework and asked Kev and Iakovos a lot of questions.
It seems that Mikis Theodorakis was well known in the following circles. First, the entire Greek Nation and Diaspora. His songs, compositions, political ideals, and revolutionary tendencies resonated with the Greek Nation for over 50 years. Now, at the age of 81, he has reached the Greek God status, mythic and legendary. He is an icon in Greece and the grand-daddy of roots music. The other crowd Theodorakis was huge with were the Communist. A hard core Communist even to this day, his buddies include Fidel Castro, poet Pablo Neruda, and the whole ciruit of Communists. Those darn 1960's. Then, we have the music community where he was friends with Dmitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein, Oliver Messaen, and the list goes on. Indeed, right now, Theodorakis is considered one of the most important living composers in the world. His consistant main female voice is the legendary Maria Farantouri.
As we sat down in his parlor and the 40 minute clock (that was the time alloted to us via his secretary when the meeting was made with Iakovos) was ticking for our meeting, I tried to play it cool. That was not working as I was uncharacteristically very nervous. Iakovos did most of the taking. Impresario Moraitis had told us that Theodorakis usually sticks to his time limits on meetings, however, if he liked you, be ready to spend hours over there. While seated, the conversation between Iakovos and Theodorakis was very pleasant. Invariably, I am sure Theodorakis wanted to know exactly why we were there. Thus, Iakovos wasted no time in offering the Maestro our CD, Shoror: Armenian Folk Music for Guitar
We asked if he would like to listen to it, and he agreed. As he sat down in his leather La-Z-Boy, Theodorakis rang a bell- Ding, Ding, Ding- and within a few seconds his secretary was in the room. He asked the secretary to put the CD in his machine. She did so, but, reserved the fun of hitting the remote control from the other side of the room to track 2, "Noubar Noubar". Armenian music playing in the home of the Greek Master of Music.
It's usually the way of musicians. You sit down, talk a little bit, and then offer up music for the room to listen to. They usually listen to the whole piece, then comment on it. I've been doing it that way since I can remember. Either with friends of musicians. Let the music breathe in your brain, let it soak in, and digest it like wine. Then, talk about it. Classical music takes patience, but, the reward is quite nice. It was the same with Theodorakis, as expected. After the first piece, we then offered up another song for him to listen to. This time, we chose "Vagharshapati" and then after that, the title track, "Shoror". With each song, Theodorakis listened intently, without a word, and completely focused. We were holding our damn breath, especially Iakovos. Aside from the bragging rights of saying we met with Theodorakis, we were there for several reasons. First, we wanted to refresh Maestro's memory on how good Iakovos Kolanian really was, a homegrown half Greek, half Armenian professional who represented Greece proudly on the classical guitar. First, let's prove to Theodorakis that Iakovos is a great talent. Within minutes, I am sure Theodorakis knew that as he smiled at some points during the intricately laid out Armenian masterpiece, "Shoror". At one point, he looked at Iakovos as forcefully asked, "who arranged these?" Without hesitation, Iakovos retorted, "I did". Eyebrows raised, Theodorakis listened more intently to "Shoror".
The other reason we were there, other than a photo-op, was to have the Maestro feel comfortable with the possibility of a direct collabortation with Iakovos to transcribe his music to classical guitar for an upcoming tour, and possible recording. Having a living, legendary composer greenlight a project under his auspices is huge for any performer of Iakovos's caliber. Ditto goes for a record label trying to make it in a business of sharks and sharlatons.
After the conclusion of the song, as Theodorakis got up off his chair, he turned to Iakovos and said, "you play very well". Then, in Greek, as it was explained later to me, Theodorakis told Iakovos "I want you to transcribe some of my music for classical guitar". The process thus began for both parties. Once that was said, Iakovos quickly responded that he appreciated the opportunity to do so. After that statement, Iakovos quickly moved on to the fact that he was going on tour through Pomegranate Music in the Fall of 2006 and that Theodorakis' music would be featured on the program. the Maestro seemed very pleased. I glanced over at the clock in the room and it showed, 5:59pm. Damn, our 40 minutes seemed to be over, Theodorakis was on his feet, it looked as though the meeting would end. Hey, I wasn't complaining.
Right at 6pm, Theodorakis picked up his bell, and rang it several times. He looked at us and laughed, "I have the Power". At that point, it was clear that we were going to be kindly asked to leave as our meeting had expired. While we waited for the secretary to show, he went over to his CD collection and when the secretary entered into the room, he said to her, "Please get me the new CD, with Maria. And, cancel all my appointments for tonight." Kev and I just looked stunned. Then, Theodorakis looked over to us, with one of Fidel Castro's Cuban sent unlit stogies in his mouth and asked, "Do you have time tonight? Can you stay and listen?".
Are you kidding me? Hell YES.
Photo by Kevork Imirzian.
Next time, more Theodorakis/ leaving Greece.