Music is a way of life, a way of thinking, and a way of expression

Erato Alakiozidou

The boat I’m sailing on is the piano

Text: Dimitra Kehagia || Photographs: Erato Alakiozidou's Archive
Erato Alakiozidou
Erato Alakiozidou @ ph.Yannis Gutmann

For over two decades now, acclaimed pianist Erato Alakiozidou, artistic director of the Municipal Conservatory of Pylaia-Hortiatis, has been occupied with giving prominence to Greek composers, paving their way to the international scene. The first spark was ignited back in 2000, when she took part in Thessaloniki’s “Ihosygkyria”, while her work began bearing fruit in 2011, when Subways Music released an honorary album on the work of her mentor, Nikos Astrinidis, a prestigious maestro, pianist and composer. In 2021, the album was re-released online.

In 2014, she was asked to introduce the Greek contemporary music of the 20th and the 21st century to the Italian audience, which – to her enthusiastic surprise – displayed a keen interest, leading her to give a new boost to the project, through a recording that went on to be released by the label company Odradek, in 2017, under the title In Blue and White. Erato Alakiozidou selected works of Greek composers who are still active and continue to shape today’s music landscape, several of whom she had met on the occasion of “Ihosygkyria”. It was the first Greek album to include 14 Greek composers and 25 tracks of a total duration of 79 minutes that was released abroad, working its way its into the American and the Chinese market.

“The esthetic versatility that permeates in the album is one of its greatest upsides”, she points out. An offspring of this album is the Mediterranean Miniature Sketches project, featuring more than 60 works of Greek and foreign composers, supported by the Ministry of Culture and Sports, which has gained international acclaim, as it was unveiled both in Greece and Italy, in summer 2021, and is scheduled to be showcased in Spain in autumn 2021.

“The idea to bind together works of small duration written by different composers, in the form of a miniature, forming an undivided corpus of narration has an immense appeal on the audience,” she explains. The composers, as well as Erato Alakiozidou, draw inspiration from the Mediterranean Sea, “our sea” as she exclaims, a cradle of ancient and grandiose civilizations, a passage from the East to the West and from the North to the South, which borders three continents and has served as center stage for the most spectacular chapters of human history.

As head of the Municipal Conservatory of Pylaia-Hortiatis since last year, she aims at creating – in collaboration with the Mayor Ignatios Kaitezidis – an artistic and educational role model that will serve as a springboard of expression and critical thinking for children. From her standpoint, interconnection and partnership with a series of cultural and educational institutions, both in Greece and abroad, is a top priority goal. The first stone has already been laid, as the Municipal Conservatory of Pylaia-Hortiatis has joined the European Music School Union, having also established an active collaboration with Rockschool.

“My longstanding stint as artistic director offered me the chance to run an art institution and realize goals frequently ruled out as unfeasible by the “Greek reality”. Children are a source of inspiration that fuels my energy and motivation to achieve a well-rounded and multifaceted artistic result. Everything is a journey, with a beginning, a middle and end. And each destination is the jumping-off point for the next journey.”

She goes on to explain that Greece, due to the singularity of its historical identity and unlike most of the countries around the world, never rode the wave of classical music. Unfortunately, it never found the way to fill this void, mainly on account of the poorly drawn educational system of the country. In her view, our overriding concern should be no other than the gradation of music studies, “an issue that has been eating the Greek music system from the inside, as no government has taken a serious stand on the matter.” She goes as far to say that the Greek state’s approach towards musicians and music education has always been focused on appearances rather than substance.

“Artists are treated as a luxury item. However, art is no luxury. It is a dire need. All European countries place emphasis on arts as a vital part of the educational process. I regret to say that we have a long way to go to meet the standards of other European countries.” Another problem she detects in Greece lies in the fact that the works of Greek composers remain unreleased, while she pinpoints a major difference between the audiences in Greece and abroad. “In other countries, people come to a concert to live a wholesome and educational experience, as all arts are integrated into everyday life. There hasn’t been a concert where people interested in taking a closer look at Greek composers and their work haven’t approached me. This is my biggest reward.”

Erato Alakiozidou has been playing the piano ever since the age of six; naturally it has become an extension of her body and soul. “The bond crafted between a musician and the instrument selected is deeply erotic and full of tensions. Music is a way of life, a way of thinking, and a way of expression. Music is a means to travel both mentally and literally, to meet great fellow musicians and get to know new cultures and ways of thinking. The means to travel, the boat I’m sailing on is no other than the piano. I set sail and travel from one seacoast to another.”

And indeed, to many seacoasts she has set out to travel, as her upcoming projects include at least two albums scheduled to be released by Odradek Records. The first one is comprised of chamber music works for violin and piano by G. Kancheli, sent to her by the composer himself shortly before his recent death; her close collaborator and member of the Lutoslawsky Quartet, Marcin Markovich, will take part in the recording. The title of the second one, Silent Landscapes, was inspired by the recent work by Stathis Gyftakis, written in May 2021, and will be included in the miniatures’ project.

In addition, many more collaborations are set to be launched. For instance, a partnership with the string quartet Dafo, featuring premiere performance works, as well as with several chamber music orchestras from Europe, featuring works that are under creation and scheduled to be recorded. Moreover, she has embarked on a collaboration with numerous Greek and foreign institutions, targeting at the next Music Diaries international festival, as well as with the Dancers of the North ensemble and artistic director Tatiana Papadopoulou. On top of all that, the twinning between the Municipal Conservatory of Kalamata and that of Pylaia-Hortiatis is under way. Last but not least, a series of productions hosted by BeArtive, as well as two Erasmus programs, coordinated by Alakiozidou’s ex student and collaborator, Iro Menegou, are also part of the upcoming calendar.