The composer Dimitris Marangopoulos was born in Athens where he began his studies in theory and composition which he completed with F.M. Beyer at the Music College of the BerlinBerlin University of the Arts.

His compositions have been performed in many countries including Canada, Turkey, Hungary, Sweden, Russia, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, the USA and the UK. His symphonic compositions have been performed by such orchestras as the B.B.C. Orchestra, the Moscow Philharmonic, Sofia Philharmonic, Karlovy Vary Symphony Orchestra, Athens State Orchestra, Armonia Atenea etc, with Operas staged by the Greek National Opera and special commissions for the opening ceremony of the new Planetarium in Athens together with a special music theatre piece for the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics which has been in repertoire at the Laterna Magica Theatre (National Theatre of Prague) in Prague.

The composer has also composed for film and stage, including productions of the Greek Classics for the Arts Theatre, Athens, under the direction of Karolos Koun, as well as collaborations with directors Spyros Evangelatos, Iakovos Kampanelis, Andreas Voutsinas and Sotiris Chatzakis. His church music has been performed at the Cathedral of Santa Margarita in Venice, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral, Munich and Linz –Austria (European Capital of Culture).

In 1993 he became artistic director of the musical cycle “Bridges” at the Athens Concert Hall/Megaron. He became also artistic director (1996 – 2010) of the International Festival of Music and Performing Arts in Volos (Thessalia). He is Professor of Composition at the Department of Music Studies of the Ionian University who has also given lectures at the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College, King’s College London and the University of Music in Vienna.

The Press & Communications Office at the Embassy of Greece in London arranged an interview with Marangopoulos, where he spoke about his remarkable career and his views on the cultural landscape in contemporary Greece.

You are a Greek composer with extremely rich and diverse musical work, having composed music for symphonic repertoire, orchestra, chamber music, opera, theatre, cinema, songs and of course for the popular children’s radio programme “Lilipoupolis”. What inspires you and prompts you each time to choose what to compose in a specific music form and genre?

All of the above genres are just an external stimulation for a composer to express his inner world. The composer is like a music transformer whose thoughts and feelings, born through his contact with external world, are transformed into structured sounds -that is how Stravinsky defines music- that make up this wonderful, non-verbal communication and expression that is music.

External occasions such as commissions, specific events and collaborations have driven me to all these different genres while I was often pushing myself towards a specific direction that I felt fitted to my musical DNA.

How much has Manos Hadjidakis, with whom you have worked closely for a long time in the ‘70s, influenced your musical work? Are there any other Greek or foreign composers whom you admire and whose works you wish you had yourself composed?

Hatzidakis has hardly influenced my musical work in and of itself. However, I was lucky to have met him and worked with him during the unique period that he was heading the Third Radio Programme of Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) and as a result I was influenced by his absolute authenticity and unique personality and by his holistic approach to music. He was one of the most important melody composers of Greek music while at the same time he was well-versed and he promoted deeply the whole of European artistic music, from Mozart to Mahler, including jazz, original traditional music and contemporary avant-garde music.

I admire works of composers like Riades, Skalkottas, Christou, the extraordinary symphonic works of Mikis Theodorakis, works of great Ioanian composers such as Rodotheatos, and all this only about artistic symphonic music. Besides, how can I not admire the power of a song of Attik, of Giannidis, of Tsitsanis, of Theodorakis, of Chatzidakis and of Vamvakaris?

Regarding your multifaceted symphonic musical work and your international career as a composer of classical music, do you think you are best known in Greece or abroad? How does the Greek audience differ from the audience in other countries when it comes to attending classical music concerts?

I was lucky to have my works performed both abroad and in Greece. The truth is that when you listen to your work being performed by an orchestra like the one of BBC or of Moscow, when you hear it performed in sacred and historical places like the Westminster Abbey and when it is presented for the first time and is supported by foreign institutions like Laterna Magic of the National Theatre in Prague, that is the point when you understand how much a composer depends on a good performance. The performer, the soloist, the orchestra consist the other half of the work that could either undermine it or elevate it.

You are a composer, a university professor and the main agent in important cultural initiatives (Volos Symphony Orchestra, Volos International Festival, GEFYRES Programme (BRIDGES), Open Platforms, Cinema Music Competition, etc.). How difficult is it to combine the introversion required for the composition of musical works with the extroversion required for academic and cultural activities? Which of these activities is at the top of your priorities?

The above activities originate naturally from my personality. It is not my livelihood needs that primarily contributed to this, without underestimating them. It is the love of teaching, and the fulfillment you get when you see joy and knowledge exaltation on the faces of the university students as well as the feeling of completeness that you experience when you contribute to an important artistic performance especially in places like the Athens Concert Hall, and in different regions of Greece where I headed important international cultural institutions. You get an underlying feeling of deep satisfaction when you see the audience feel and participate emotionally and mentally and change even slightly its view of the world.

All the above have not been obstacles to my work as a composer. I have always been offering composition my whole time and energy, and this helps me eliminate all fatigue either mental or physical.

EOS ensembleAngela Najaryan, Paul Evernden (EOS ensemble)

You have recently collaborated with EOS Trio, a music ensemble composed of three talented musicians, the clarinet player of Greek origin Paul Evernden, the violinist Angela Najaryan and the pianist Jelena Makarova, who premiered in the UK your work “On the Crest of the Sea”. Would you please tell us more about this collaboration and about this great ensemble?

I was really impressed by the dynamism and the high performance quality of this ensemble and especially by its attitude towards music. It is open to all contemporary musical expressions but moving with the same ease within the repertoire of older times. I was really glad when I was informed that the creative core of Paul Evernden and Angela Najaryan envision the scheme as a more versatile music ensemble that could be expanded embracing more musicians or operate in some cases as a duo. I believe that they have excellent prospects and they have already had a remarkable impact.

LILIPOUPOLI was one of the most successful children’s programmes on Greek radio in the 1970s. What do you think was the secret of its success? In your opinion, apart from its undeniable quality, how much did the social and cultural conditions of the ‘70s contribute to the success of LILIPOUPOLIS?

Lilipoupoli was the fruit of the unique creative freedom concept that characterised the period of the Third Radio Programme of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) under the direction of Manos Hadjidakis. Certainly, the refreshing post-dictatorial wind that blew at that time played an important role. The creative team of Lilipoupoli worked with imagination, spontaneity and without treating children like underdeveloped adults. Of course, we couldn’t predict back then that the radio show’s songs would travel through three generations and would reach our time fresh and alive through recordings, publications and concerts. Despite the reactions we worked uncensored in a state media by following Hadjidakis’ wise instructions. “You are in a public station. You will set the limits yourselves with responsibility and a sense of freedom”.

In 2015 LILIPOUPOLIS made a come-back, in the form of a spectacular show at the National Theatre of Greece. Did it have the response you expected from children as well as adults, or was it addressed to an audience over-satiated with shows, technological and artistic experiences and therefore harder to satisfy?

Indeed, the National Theatre proposed to Regina Kapetanaki, who together with Eleni Vlachou had conceived the original idea for ​​Lillipoupolis, to write and direct a new Lilipepolis which I would compose the music for. The decision to transfer a particular radio world to the stage with a challenging, multidimensional performance for which even the songs were newly recorded was a subtle issue, a sensitive initiative. It was a great pleasure to us when we saw tens of thousands of children attend the STAR OF LILIPOUPOLIS show, actively participate and enjoy the new messages of the ever-young Lillipoupolis that sensitised them on Environment and Nature issues.

The cultural project GEFYRES (BRIDGES CYCLE) completed 20 years of life in 2017. What was the purpose of its creation? How has it evolved with concern to its content over the years? To what extend did it achieve its goals?

BRIDGES project, which now goes on for its 21st year, has highlighted the Athens Concert Hall /Megaron’s pluralistic and integrated approach to Music. The so-called “classical” music of course has a major and particular weight, but BRIDGES along with other similar projects such as the Megaron Underground have shown that the the Athens Concert Hall can be both classical and also pioneering and it can approach fearlessly all the quality music genres but also the relationship of Music with other Arts.
BRIDGES CYCLE has managed to contribute in its way to the renewal and expansion of the Megaron’s audience and especially to the attraction of young people.

More than 20 years later, how does the audience -especially the young- respond to the multifaceted musical landscape unfolding through the BRIDGES?

One of the most important contributions of BRIDGES project was attractiong a young audience to which a wide range of events, jazz, ethnic, electronic, house, rock, multi-artistic performances and special projects were offered, connecting symphonic music with quality projects very popular and appealing to young people.

What are your expectations and your vision for BRIDGES in the future? What else would you like for this programme to offer? How, in your opinion, have BRIDGES contributed over the years to changing the character of the ATHENS CONCERT HALL (MEGARON) and the public’s view of it?

Great tributes with the participation of Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Dee Dee Bridgewater; musical tributes to the music of Greece from Crete and the Ionian Islands; live music and cinema with the Munich Symphony Orchestra, Athens State and Radio Symphony Orchestras; special tributes to Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Queen; music and Science in special programmes in collaboration with the Planetarium.

These are just a handful of the previous BRIDGES programmes that contributed to shaping the image of the Megaron along with all other initiatives. They have proved that Megaron is not just a luxurious building of exquisite aesthetic, which is often unfairly identified as an elitist venue, but a familiar, hospitable, warm venue, with many hidden and unexploited spaces apart from the renowned excellent auditoriums. Megaron is a place offering quality performances for a public with no age, social or cultural restrictions.

Marangopoulos westDimitris Marangopoulos at the Westminster Abbey

Part of the BRIDGES project is also the “Audiovisual Arts Festival” that is hosted by the ATHENS CONCERT HALL (MEGARON). In addition, the “Open Platforms” and the “Cinema Music Competition” continue to take place in MEGARON, giving step to young artists and enhancing modern creative initiatives. Please tell us a few words about each of these projects.

We launched a project last year in collaboration with the Ionian University in the Audiovisual Arts area bringing the cutting edge of Audio and Video technology to the Athens Concert Hall/Megaron. Three-dimensional projections, projection mapping, installations, lectures, workshops, mixed multi-artistic performances. Last year’s success led us to collaborate with the highly successful Athens Digital Arts Festival, which is inspired and coordinated by Elias Hadjichristodoulou. As part of the project, a vast array of modern audiovisual technology -with live satellite links, applications, performances, lectures- was displayed in many Megaron venues, during a four-day event attended by more than 15,000 people.

OPEN PLATFORMS is a successful project including live auditions of classical music, jazz, ethnic and rock bands from all over Greece. The conductor Miltos Logiadis as the Artistic Director of Megaron, pianist Thanasis Apostolopoulos as the Deputy Artistic Director and myself as a composer and head of the BRIDGES CYCLE, we form a committee that has the chance to come into contact with an exceptional and unknown musical potential and integrate several of these groups into the official annual programme.
Finally, the International Animated Film Music Competition that was launched last year has attracted the interest of more than 130 participants from all over the world. It will continue in the future and it will be enhanced with an international music contest for video games.

How much has the financial crisis affected music industry and especially classical music sector in Greece, both with respect to professional musicians and those who want to pursue studies in classical music? Is there a migration wave of Greek musicians looking for a career abroad (musical brain drain)?

The economic crisis has mainly affected, as expected, the funding of institutions that used to be supported mainly by the state and sponsors. At this point it is worth noting that the Athens Concert Hall tries to do its best by hiring its excellent venues for international conferences and, of course, relies on revenue from tickets and sponsorships. Interestingly, though, the crisis has not affected the public. In my opinion the crisis has stimulated a reaction of rediscovering the arts which, thanks also to the reductions of the tickets prices, has increased sales.

With regards to the wave of “immigration” with the purpose of studying, I would say that it has not increased. The musical departments of the Universities at undergraduate and postgraduate level have provided a reliable and cost-effective solution for many students.

In times of economic scarcity, culture is the first to be hit, as it is considered to be a luxury for many people. On the other hand, we observe in Greece a spectacular increase of cultural institutions (Onassis Cultural Centre, Theocharakis Foundation, Stavros Niarchos Foundation). Would you think that the audience’s interest in art and music has increased, or does art still remain an affair for the affluent, while the general public still sees art as a luxury?

The existence of so many entities can be viewed positively. Here the law of the market dominates. Competition, mobility, high standards have incited an audience and have created an unexpected public’s closeness to culture.

I wouldn’t say that the general public sees art as a luxury. Our task is to enrich this audience’s life with arts of the highest possible quality by abolishing different kinds of economic, cultural, age and social barriers that have prevented it from acquainting them and enjoying them.

Do you believe that currently classical music in Greece can ensure a financially satisfying profession or is it better to remain just a hobby? Which are the relevant conditions abroad?

At a professional level, even though there are career opportunities in Greece, many young people pursue professional opportunities abroad. But this is not to be considered as negative. In modern globalised society, mobility is a two-way procedure and gives prospects to worthy musicians.

Classical music is always an excellent choice. But a young person needs to know that apart from talent, it requires devotion, study and perseverance to reach the limits of passion, imagination and extroversion.

Through your experience over the years as a professor and artistic manager of the BRIDGES project, how would you assess our country’s musical potential and what are your views on music education in Greece?

Our country’s musical potential has improved considerably. That is why we have an obligation to open up areas for action and development for them.

What are your next cultural plans in Greece and abroad?

I am currently working on composing an opera for the Alternative Stage of the Greek National Opera and composing a chamber music work and on designing a musical project to be presented in New York.

Read also via Greek News Agenda: Composer Minas Borboudakis on his work in 21st-century classical music; Conductor Markellos Chryssicos on Baroque music and its dialogue with the Greek tradition; Athens Digital Arts Festival 2018: Singularity Now

N.M. (Intro photo ©G. Kanellopoulos)