Although Greek arts and culture are most assuredly considered classical, most people don’t associate Greece with classical music. And while almost everyone knows and loves the music from the movie Zorba the Greek, by noted film-score composer Mikis Theodorakis, not many people know that he also wrote chamber music earlier in his career. That’s why the Greek Chamber Music Project (GCMP), which presents concerts with strictly classical Greek composers, is such a delightful surprise.
The GCMP will be putting on their first Bay Area concert on March 9 at Knuth Hall at San Francisco State University — a collaboration with the Center for Modern Greek Studies at San Francisco State. The concert is titled “From the Village to the Concert Hall, Inspirations from Greek Folk Music." The program includes Ironic Dance Suite, a playful piece by contemporary Athens-born composer, Petros Sakelliou, who played and arranged music for Cirque de Soleil for several years; Island Songs by John Psathas, who GCMP founder Ellie Falaris Ganelin calls “one of the most major living composers in the Greek diaspora” The concert also features the U.S. premiere of Greek Dances by Thanos Ermilios and Mikis Theodorakis’s Sextet. In addition to a trio including Ganelin on flute, Elektra Schmidt on piano, and Schuyler Karr on bass, the concert will also include the Amaranth Quartet.
Ganelin, a classically trained flutist of Greek descent, started the Greek Chamber Music Project in 2011 while living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She says her mission is to expose classical audiences to music by Greek composers they have never heard of. She says her interest for starting the GCMP was piqued after hearing the Aegean Festival Overture, an orchestral piece by Greek composer and violinist Andreas Makris. She moved to the Bay Area two years ago.
But are there really that many classical Greek composers? Genelin says there are “quite a few,” even though their music is not performed very often, not even in Greece. And she finds them in quite a variety of ways, which she says is “much of the excitement.” In fact, she discovered one of the pieces that will be performed at the upcoming concert, Ermilios’s Greek Dances, in the library of the Athens Concert Hall.
Although Ganelin calls herself a “one-person show,” she loves finding collaborators for the concerts. “I find people that are inspired by the mission, to collaborate with — they always bring something new to the table, and that’s very inspiring to me,” she says. “It always seems to encourage a creative spark.”
But is there a larger mainstream audience out there for Greek chamber music? Probably so. Even though it’s arguably a niche market, it’s exciting to discover new music — not only for the audience, but also for the players. “It’s kind of a win-win for everyone,” says Genelin. “It’s been a great journey so far.”