LIVE IN GREECE: From Constantinople to California – Part Five

As we approach the release of LIVE IN GREECE: From Constantinople to California, we’ll be sharing some excerpts from the liner notes to give you a bit of background into the programming of this recording.

Younger Byzantine Contemporaries

Two younger contemporaries of Frank Desby who were strongly influenced by his early work are Theodore Bogdanos (b. 1932) and Tikey Zes (b. 1927), both of whom were professors at San Jose State University. By academic training a specialist in medieval literature, Bogdanos has served the Orthodox Church as a cantor and choirmaster while doing much to further the dissemination of inculturated forms of Byzantine chanting in Greek American churches through his transcriptions, publications and teaching. His monophonic Saturday Communion Verse recomposes Sakellarides’ melody for this chant, simultaneously drawing both on Byzantine and Gregorian precedents. In his polyphonic setting of the Kontakion of the Dead ‘With the Saints’ Bogdanos demonstrates his attraction for Renaissance prototypes, interpreted here in a manner reminiscent of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European composers influenced by the Caecilian Movement’s appropriation of Palestrina. Echoes of Renaissance polyphony are also common in the liturgical music of Zes, a violinist and composer of Neo-classical concert music who as director of the Berkeley Chamber Singers recorded late medieval masses by Johannes Ockeghem. In the two works for Pentecost recorded here, Zes clothes melodies composed by Sakellarides for the Introit and Communion Verse of this feast in refined forms of modal harmony and imitative polyphony.

Like Zes, Peter Michaelides (b. 1930) received his doctorate in composition from the University of Southern California. In the 1960s he composed a complete Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom together with a small body of elegant settings of Byzantine chants in Greek and English, all of which remained virtually unknown until their revival and recording by Cappella Romana. Presented here for the first time is his setting of the original chant Sakellarides composed for the ancient vesperal hymn Phos hilaron (‘O Joyful Light’), a melody so successful that it has all but completely displaced its traditional forbear. Now retired from his position as Professor of Composition at the University of Northern Iowa, Michaelides resides in New Mexico and has returned to choral composition, including a commission from the prominent American ensemble Chanticleer.

The harmonic enrichment of Greek American liturgical music in California has been pursued most notably since the 1980s by Steven G. Cardiasmenos (b. 1958). A prolific composer of sacred and secular works who only in recent years has devoted himself full time to music after a successful career as a software engineer, he has served the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Cross in Belmont since 1985 as its choir director. The Sunday Communion Verse is taken from his complete setting of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, in which he further extends the sonic horizons of the Greek American liturgical music in a variety of ways. In this setting of Psalm 148:1, Cardiasmenos takes a popular chant by Sakellarides and replaces the Athenian’s rudimentary tonal harmonies with the sophisticated chord progressions of Jazz.

— Alexander Lingas

Pre-order on