LIVE IN GREECE: From Constantinople to California – Part Three

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.

II – Modern Choral Settings of Byzantine Chant

Under Venetian and later British rule the Ionian Islands fostered the performance and composition of opera and other forms of Western Art Music by such figures as the Corfiote Nikolaos Halikiopoulos Mantzaros (1795–1872).

Best known today as the author of the music for the Greek National Anthem, Mantzaros also composed liturgical music, of which only his setting of the Hymn of Kassiane from the Orthros of Holy Wednesday is still regularly performed. At all events, his sacred works mark the beginnings of a modern tradition of Greek Orthodox polyphonic choral music that through succeeding years has been variously cultivated, condemned, promoted and marginalised by clergy and laity. The ascent of liturgical polyphony in mainland Greece began in the late nineteenth century with the founding of a male choir for the chapel of King George I and his Russian-born Queen Olga by Alexandros Kantakouzenos (1824–92), reached its apogee in the first decades of the twentieth century and then gradually began to decline after World War II with the revival of Byzantine chanting.

Having served in his youth as one of the last directors of the Royal Chapel choir, Michael Adamis (b. 1929) has bridged the worlds of Byzantine and Western music throughout his distinguished career. After studying in university both theology and music, he subsequently taught Byzantine music at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts, founded the first electronic music studio in Athens, published scholarly studies of Byzantine chant (including the first discussion of polyphony by Gazes), and for ten years (1975–85) served as president of the Greek Section of the International Society for Contemporary Music. In his mature works Adamis eschews Western functional harmony for a free approach to polyphony in which individual melodic lines owe much to the modes and ornamentation of Byzantine chant and Greek folk music.

Three variations of his unique stylistic synthesis between the musical traditions of the Greek East and Latin West may be heard in the settings of liturgical texts from the month of August included on this disc. Composed in 1999, the first two are relatively straightforward harmonisations of beloved chants from the Great Supplicatory Service of the Mother of God, an office that is sung during the two-week fast that precedes the celebration of her Dormition on 15 August. Radiant Cloud, on the other hand, is conceived on a much grander scale. Adamis dedicated this work to the memory of choral conductor Yannis Mantakas, who in the 1970s directed the choir of the University of Thessalonica in premieres of landmark choral works by Adamis including Photonymon and Byzantine Passion. Premiered by Cappella Romana at the MusicFest Vancouver (Canada) in August 2003, Radiant Cloud is based on two hymns for the feast of Christ’s Transfiguration (6 August). In his transformation of the traditional melodies, the composer sonically evokes through his superimposition of highly ornamented melodic lines both the divine radiance on Tabor—itself an important concept for the contemplative tradition of hesychasm (‘quietude’)—and the world of Greek cantorial practice.

— Alexander Lingas

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