The Christmas Early Music Festival

Festival that features Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque music organized by local website

How would you like the idea of a Christmas Early Music Festival in the very heart of Athens? Old musical instruments, such as the viola da gamba, the theorbe or the harpsichord, will revive Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque compositions in the hands of skillful soloists. Very slowly yet steadily, Greece is opening its doors to this early music, or the music written before the end of the 18th century, a very long period which has been recently enjoying great popularity on an international level.

Athens’ Christmas Early Music Festival, which will take place tomorrow through Monday at the Goethe Institute, is organized by the Greek classical music website www.classicalmusic.gr, a silent engine which was created in 2003 and has been growing day by day and serves as a forum for all classical music fans who want news and information. The festival now has its own website (www.christmasearlymusic.gr), highlighting the interest that exists in Greece for this kind of music, which so far had found no outlet.

“It is the beginning. We have many dreams and ambitions, but we are going ahead realistically, step by step,” said Thanassis Hadzitheodoridis, the man behind www.classicalmusic.gr. He was designing it for six years, before finally launching it. For Hadzitheodoridis and for all those who are hoping for greater promotion of classical music in Greece, this festival is a move forward in a series of cautious steps. The first cycle of classical music, which had consisted of six concerts, took place in early 2005 at the Benaki Museum and in the German Church. “We didn’t manage to get any sponsorship for the festival,” said Hadzitheodoridis, who has dedicated himself to classical music out of love and personal interest, and devotes as much of his free time as his professional obligations allow. “But the festival went ahead, because the musicians themselves wanted it to. They wanted to start something, finally.”

Soprano Maria Georgarakou, theorbe player Nikos Panayiotidis, the Lyrae Cantis ensemble, which will play secular music from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Baroque violinist Simos Papanas, viola da gamba player Angelos Repapis, harpsichordists Katerina Ktona and Katerina Michopoulou, viola player Andreas Georgotas, the Sinfonia baroque ensemble, with 16th and 17th century English compositions, Dimoklis Goudaroulis who plays an authentic old cello and the Concerto Ellenico under Costis Papazoglou with a dolce flute, with the support of the Austrian Embassy, will create the very special atmosphere this kind of music requires.

The venue > The Goethe Institute, where chamber music concerts often take place, is not an ideal venue but it suits this type of music. “It is extremely difficult to find venues suitable to host early music concerts in Athens,” explained Hadzitheodoridis. For instance, the Anglican Church is small, the Saint Dionysius Catholic Church is not available for concerts, Orthodox churches do not provide their premises for concerts and there are no castles or palaces in Athens, he said. “There are, nonetheless, certain venues outside Athens, in Corfu, Crete and even in the Cyclades,” he added.

The festival will feature two concerts daily, so as to facilitate those traveling from out of town to attend it. Fans of early music are scattered all over Greece and there is a vivid interest for the old instruments of the pre-classical period. The Koukourigou brothers from Macedonia, for instance, who make their own guitars, exact replicas of those used in Baroque times, will also be coming to the festival to exhibit some of their creations at the foyer of the Goethe Institute.

“Despite the meagre means of promotion at our disposal,” added Hadzitheodoridis, “we gain from the power of word-of-mouth. It is the most important thing. That is how a community of people who love music was gradually formed. But we have the feeling that we are not even at the beginning yet; we have a lot to do. What is important is that we are moving ahead and we have a lot of ideas for next year.”

The friends of the festival (www.friends.christmasearlymusic.gr) are highly active and there are plans for future lectures, presentations and small-scale recitals.

The Christmas Early Music Festival will take place tomorrow to Monday at Athens’s Goethe Institute, 14-16 Omirou Street, Kolonaki, Athens, tel 210 3661000. Nearest metro station “Panepistimio”. Tickets are available at the Ianos Bookstore, 24 Stadiou Street, Athens, tel 210 3217917. General admission costs 15 euros, 10 euros with a discount. An 85-euro ticket is available for those wishing to attend all concerts.

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