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Manolis Mitsias Takes Center Stage in Astoria: A Musical Journey Through Greek History

Hellenic News
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By Fotis Kaliampakos – Special to the Hellenic News of America

The renowned interpreter of works by all the great Greek composers will perform in Astoria for a single concert on September 23rd.

Manolis Mitsias – The Living History of Greek Song

Entering the sixth decade of his uninterrupted presence at the highest echelon of Greek song, Manolis Mitsias needs no introduction. The popular artist, who has also maintained a close relationship with the Greek diaspora for over a decade, with numerous performances outside of Greece, will once again be in New York for a special concert that references his entire career, which almost perfectly aligns with the trajectory of Greek song. The veteran singer, with roots in Halkidiki and musical studies in Thessaloniki, made his stage debut at a young age and gained significant fame with his first album in 1969, featuring the highly successful song “Stin Elefsina Mia Fora” (Music: Dimos Moutsis, Lyrics: Vasilis Andreopoulos). With this song, Mitsias’ distinctive, tender voice, unique colors, and sensitive interpretations became known throughout Greece. Since then, this outstanding interpreter, who exudes a sense of familiarity and a natural sense of refinement, has closely collaborated with all the great composers of Greek song. To name just a few, Vasilis Tsitsanis, Manos Hadjidakis, Mikis Theodorakis, Giannis Spanos, and Giannis Markopoulos, who recently passed away. He also continues to collaborate with Stavros Xarhakos and Mimis Plessas.

Songs with Identity!

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However, beyond the great composers with whom he collaborated, most of the songs that Manolis Mitsias became associated with are the works of significant poets or lyricists. These songs, in addition to love and daily life, touch upon history, struggles, and the sensitivities of Hellenism. An illustrative story of the significance of some of these songs for Greek identity and self-awareness was recounted by Manolis Mitsias on ERT3 several years ago (and we relay it from memory, so some details may be incomplete). Two former prime ministers mentioned two of the songs he performed.

“Navigating History ‘With a Small Boat'”

The first prime minister (no longer alive) from the 1980s, referring to the song “Erotiko-Me Mia Piroga” (Lyrics: Alkis Alkaios, Music: Thanos Mikroutsikos), stated that this song narrates almost the entire history of Greece concerning its dependence on foreign powers, specifically alluding to the lyrics: “And I’m a cheap firing range where foreign soldiers practice insults!” The choice of this particular song was perhaps indicative of the perspective and the specific issue that concerned this politician.

Struggles of Hellenism “in the Marbled Fields of Charon”

A similar theme but with a slightly different perspective, also characteristic of political positioning, was the choice of the second prime minister from the 2000s. He characterized the song “Tsamikos” as the second national anthem. Indeed, the masterpiece by Manos Hadjidakis and Nikos Gatsos encapsulates in very few verses the course of Hellenism. It characterizes Greece as “a patch of land” (reminding us that according to Thucydides, Attica is “thinly populated”), referring to the struggles with great powers, the claim to Greek territory, and the timeless efforts of the Greeks to protect it – “to save this patch from the jackal and the bear,” the relationship with Orthodoxy – “but You, my Christ, bless them.” In a particular metaphor that emphasizes the tragic (in the ancient Greek sense), this struggle is portrayed as a celebration in which all the brave figures of Greek history dance, with only Digenes and Nikitaras mentioned by name in the eternal struggle for freedom. This “celebration” of Hellenism’s continuity takes place with a clear reference to the years of the Byzantine Empire and the folk tradition “in the marbled fields of Charon’s millstone”! In this journey, the ultimate judge and master, of course, is God, but the interpreter of His will and judgment, personified in the poem, is the Greek people!

“The Pan-Cypriot Organizer of the Concert”

Unfortunately, the struggles of Hellenism for the journey “from darkness to freedom” are not merely history, nor have they all been vindicated. Cyprus, in a short time, will mark half a century, fifty whole years since the Turkish invasion, and it remains an open wound for Hellenism. Manolis Mitsias maintains a close relationship with the Cypriot Hellenism. He has certainly sung songs about Cyprus and compositions by Cypriots, such as Marios Tokas and the younger George Theophanous. As previously mentioned, many of his songs also touch upon the history and struggles of Hellenism.

The concert organized by the Pan-Cypriot Federation, with proceeds going to support the Byzantine Studies Center at Queens College, represents an opportunity to both celebrate this center of Greek studies in the heart of New York and to honor the eminent Greek performer. Thus, the President of the Pan-Cypriot Federation, Philip Christopher, the Supreme President of PSEKA Savvas Tsivicos, and Queens College Professor Nikos Alexiou issued a call to the Greek community to gather on September 23rd at 7 PM in the central hall of Queens College. This event aims not only to support this cornerstone of Greek studies but also to pay tribute to the renowned Greek artist.

The Pan-Cypriot Choir – Fytos Stratēs

Accompanying Manolis Mitsias at the concert will be Nana Binopoulou and the Pan-Cypriot Choir under the direction of its permanent conductor, Fytos Stratēs. This choir, with its numerous annual performances, manages to keep the Greek community in touch with Greek music. Sometimes, their concerts are particularly “educational” when they focus on a specific composer or occasion. Furthermore, the choir provides an opportunity for young, talented musicians studying at prestigious music universities in New York to perform for the Greek community. In cases like this collaboration with Manolis Mitsias, the choir itself has the opportunity to work with and “learn” from the leading representatives of Greek music. A similar collaboration took place last year under the direction of Fytos Stratēs, during a tribute concert to Mikis Theodorakis in the iconic Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall.

Note: Fotis Kaliampakos is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA).

The copyrights for these articles are owned by the Hellenic News of America. They may not be redistributed without the permission of the owner. The opinions expressed by our authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hellenic News of America and its representatives.

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