By Fotis Kaliambakos – Special to the Hellenic News of America
For many years, it has been the established Greek autumn gathering at Carnegie Hall, as Dinos Konstantinidis was a regular visitor to the institution for many years, attending the concerts organized every year in his honor by Distinguished Concerts International New York, in the beautiful small hall with Ionic columns and a European atmosphere, Weil Recital Hall. The distinguished Greek composer is no longer with us, and Athanasios Zervas, a longtime friend, student, and collaborator, who was present in almost all these concerts, will present the music of Dinos Konstantinidis along with his own compositions in memory of the teacher on Tuesday, January 30th. The concert program, titled “Letters About Three Luminaries,” will include music and songs from the “lyrical, nostalgic, and traditional” musical world of the Greek diaspora. With Athanasios Zervas, who will also serve as the chief musician, soprano Nicoletta Mitroussias, mezzo-soprano Xanthi Panayiotopoulos, and baritone Eleftherios Hasanidis will also participate, among others.
Dinos Konstantinidis (1929-2021)
Dinos Konstantinidis, born in Ioannina in 1929, studied violin at the local conservatory and later in Athens, then at the distinguished Juilliard School of Music in New York, with postgraduate studies at Indiana University. He earned his doctorate from the University of Michigan. He was a violinist in the State Orchestra of Athens for over ten years, later in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, before becoming the concertmaster of the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra. Since 1967, he has been a professor at Louisiana State University (LSU), where he held the composition chair (Boyd Professor of Composition) from 1986 until his death. In Louisiana, he also conducted the “Louisiana Sinfonietta,” which he founded himself, and the local festival of contemporary music. He composed over 300 works, many of them large-scale, including operas and symphonies, and received numerous awards in the field. His music has been performed in many countries, including Greece, and over 65 records have been made with his music.
The multifaceted musical explorations of the distinguished composer have brought him in contact with a range of musical languages, genres, trends, and styles. It is generally accepted that his personal “signature” is recognizable in his compositions. In his works, Konstantinidis ensured the incorporation of melodies and rhythms from his homeland, such as the works “Four Songs on Poems by Sappho” and “Four Greek Songs,” the “Ballad for Greek Earth for solo cello,” and the rhythms from Greek dances that he incorporated into the aforementioned concerto for flute, harp, and orchestra. His experiences from travels he had made, including one to the Far East, also influenced his music. There are also many references to ancient Greece in his music, while his opera “Antigone” received glowing reviews. Characteristic of this combination of modern Western musical idioms and explorations with melodies from Greece and a quote from a New York Times review from 1987: “Mr. Constantinides is at his best in music in which he determines to speak simply, often combining Greek modes with traditional Western harmony.” On another occasion, the same newspaper stated: “(His music possesses) an attractive quality of ritual mystery.” Referring to his choral works, the renowned Opera magazine mentioned: “On first hearing one was struck by the beauty of much of the choral writing…complex and often arresting score.”
Impressively, Dinos Konstantinidis continuously composed and maintained the freshness of his works well into his advanced age. Konstantinidis not only kept up with but also effectively incorporated the latest developments in composition. This was demonstrated in his presentation in 2017 in New York, once again at the Weil Recital Hall of his Second Percussion Quartet (Percussion Quartet No. 2, LRC 270, with the first having been composed in 1968!). The work was performed by “Hamiruge,” the percussion ensemble of Louisiana State University, led by Professor Brett William Dietz, for whom the piece was composed. In this particular work, the composer intricately manipulated rhythmic motifs using a wide range of percussion instruments. His approach not only paid homage to his experience but also assimilated new techniques and sounds from the 21st century, captivating the audience throughout the performance.
Distinguished Concerts International New York
The concert on Tuesday at Carnegie Hall’s Weil Recital Hall is organized by Distinguished Concerts International New York, as it has been in the past. The director of the organization had a close connection to Dinos Konstantinidis as a musician (flutist) and had performed the composer’s concerto for flute, harp, and orchestra (LRC 268) at the David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center a few years ago. In all these concerts, particularly the annual appearances at the same venue, the Weil Recital Hall, the composer himself was present. He traveled from Louisiana with his wife, and sometimes with his daughter, to attend these concerts and actively participated in rehearsals. Young musicians, students, or graduates from Louisiana State University, as well as distinguished musicians from New York and Greece, consistently collaborated in these performances. Among those who traveled for these performances from Greece was violinist Dimitris Chandrakis, a former founding member of the exceptional “Greek Quartet,” distinguished cellist Dimitris Patras, and pianist Froso Ktistaki. Froso Ktistaki, in addition to receiving acclaim and praise from Konstantinidis himself for her interpretations, recorded an album exclusively featuring the composer’s works.
Maria Asteriadou – Kurt Nikkanen
Regular performers in these concerts, with a close connection to Konstantinidis, are the distinguished piano soloist Maria Asteriadou and her husband, also a renowned soloist and violin professor. Kurt Nikkanen is of Greek descent, a graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, and has been the concertmaster of the New York City Ballet Orchestra for many years. Asteriadou, among her numerous roles, is a piano professor at the renowned Manhattan School of Music. She studied at Juilliard and in Germany and has cultivated a privileged relationship with the works of Greek composers of the 20th century, including Dinos Konstantinidis. In the 2022 concert, the first without the composer, Nikkanen performed Konstantinidis’ works on the composer’s personal violin. Nikkanen, as a violinist himself, had composed the works for this instrument and spoke to the audience about his experience.
Note: Fotis Kalamabakos is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA) and contributes to the international online magazine of MCANA, Classical Voice North America.