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October 17, 2000

The Greeks Come Bearing Gifts, Kotzia Opens MCMS Season

A review by Pat Pinson

The fortieth season of the Mobile Chamber Music Society opened Sunday, October 1 at Bernheim Hall, and it looks like another virtuoso year. Greek guitarist Eleftheria Kotzia presented this premier performance in connection with Greek Fest. She is an attractive performer with an illustrious career who plays Greek music much of which has been written for her. In her hands, the guitar seems to bloom in celebration of Greek heritage, which is quite different from its native Spain.

What was most interesting was the programming -- we are so used to hearing the traditional Spanish music by the great composers for guitar and the transcriptions of Bach, of lute music or folk music, that finding a new persona is a balmy breath of fresh air. The music Kotzia performed ranged from contemporary to traditional dances and captured the same glimpse into the Greek soul that the flamenco does for the Spanish.

A highlight of the program was "Chant" by contemporary composer, John Tavener. A dreamy, introspective piece written for Kotzia, this work is based on a Byzantine chant that the performer hums or sings along with the guitar. Tavener has the ability to write very haunting works and is often compared to Estonian Arvo Paart. While they both have the ability to conjure the vastness of northern climes or of religious ecstasy, this work is warm and sunny, but equally as introspective. Here a woman sits remembering a chant from the Greek Orthodox liturgy, singing to herself sometimes with a soft, quick rubbing of the guitar strings as if heard from a great distance - a tour-de-force of evocation.

Two works by Greek composers spanned time from contemporary pop to Pericles. Boudounis, who was at one time a rock artist, composes works colorfully reminiscent of the blues or of the electric guitar of rock music. Another Greek work by Domencioni uses the oldest fragment we have in the history of music (which happens to be Greek) to make a rhapsodic portrayal of the golden lyre of Apollo. Both of these works were dedicated to Kotzia who also premiered them.

The traditional dances were from different areas of Greece sometimes using the haunting minor scale over a drone bass and sometimes strong and percussive rhythms. These traditional Greek dances were a nice balance to the inclusion of works by Spanish composer Villa-Lobos. But her choices here were also interesting -- one work was discovered only recently so has not been often heard, and another was an especially demanding study of parallel harmonies and repetition on one string.

Her performance was a veritable platter of different touches from covered to bright, and her strong technique was always subordinate to the musical rather than an exhibition of sheer bravura. The introductions to the works added to the intimacy of the setting in this small hall and the often quiet murmurings of the instrument. This charming Greek bore gifts to an appreciative audience and to the fine reputation of the Chamber Music Society.


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