Saturday, February 4, 2023

Recalling a Catastrophe with Chamber Music

Elektra Schmidt, Lewis Patzner, Katerina Clambaneva, and Ellie Falaris Ganelin playing at O1C (screen shot from the video last night’s performance)

This site first wrote about the Greek Chamber Music Project in early December of 2021 when the eight-movement suite by Costas Dafnis, Talos Dreams, was live-streamed from the Technology Hall in the Bowes Center of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Last night two of the performers of that suite, flutist Ellie Falaris Ganelin, Director of the Project, and cellist Lewis Patzner, brought the Project to the Old First Concerts (O1C) series. They were joined by vocalist Katerina Clambaneva and pianist Elektra Schmidt.

The title of the program was Uproot, and it was conceived to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Asia Minor Catastrophe, the war that broke out between Greeks and Turks after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The Empire had been a major hub of both commerce and culture; and the diversity of cultures, which included Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Arabs, Gypsies, Jews, and Europeans, made cities such as Smyrna and Constantinople focal points for the performing arts. There even emerged a musical style that was called smyrneika, named after the city in which it flourished. All this fell apart in 1922 with war, genocide, and expulsion of entire cultures.

This occasion was memorialized last night by a cycle of twelve songs performed without any interruption for an intermission. The entire program lasted about an hour, and a text sheet was provided that included English translations. All but two of the songs were arrangements by Ganelin for the instrumental trio that she led. (The other arrangers were Costas Danis and Michael Malis.) Most of them were traditional tunes; and, with the exception of Mikis Theodorakis, the names of the composers were probably unfamiliar to most of the listeners. The style of the music itself was rembetiko, which emerged with Greek independence in the nineteenth century.

The performances were, for the most part, engaging. When the attentive listener began to feel as if (s)he was experiencing too much of the same, the style would shift into a new genre. The result was an hour well spent and a reminder that O1C still has a reputation for presenting programs that feature a wide diversity of world music sources.

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