First and foremost, we must learn to treasure our own country’s musical heritage.

Simos Papanas

There’s no match for a live concert!

Text: Chryssa Nanou || Photographs: Yannis Gutmann
Portrait photographer: Nektarios Basdekis

Simos Papanas, this time around, would normally be touring in Asia and Europe. That’s at least what the multifaceted violinist and composer from Thessaloniki had in mind, having committed himself to the usual heavy workload of live appearances both in Greece and abroad. This year, though, springtime was withered by the pandemic and check-ins for Taipei, Odessa and Dresden were turned into opt-outs.

“My last pre-pandemic concerts were held in March, in Norwich and Dresden,” he recalls. “In the aftermath of the latter, things had already started to feel awkward. As I was heading back to Greece, flights were empty, while the prospect of a lockdown was already looming over the cities. It goes without saying that all scheduled concerts were either cancelled or postponed.

The industry of art events is picking up in a worldwide scale, adjusting to the newly established conditions. For the time being, I have a series of international concerts in line, provided that things don’t get radically worse. A silver lining can be found, though, in people’s yearning for live concerts. During the lockdown, many voices claimed that we are up against a newly formed reality, where concerts will be attended on line. As omnipotent as the Internet has grown to become in our lives, it cannot substitute for live concerts.”

Simos Papanas is endowed with the rare gift to track down light even amidst the darker paths. The lockdown period proved quite creative in a variety of ways, as he points out: “For example, in April I found myself longing to perform alongside other musicians. Driven by this desire, I composed a sequenza for two violins in distance. On top of that, it was the first time in ages I had the time to delve into the study of the violin, as if I had returned to my years as a student. In my opinion, everyone in our field had the chance to re-value the importance of devoting time to the fundamentals of our art and I sincerely hope that, following this unforeseen crisis, we’ll come back stronger and improved as musicians.

Taking back a look at the last six months and the upsets sustained by the music industry, one notices that each drastic change in our everyday life’s framework makes us reevaluate the significance of things used to be taken for granted. “First and foremost, we must learn to treasure our own country’s musical heritage. The prominent place of art in a country’s scale of values is of the utmost importance, in any given circumstances: the musicians are the ones to undertake the task of inspiring and teaching the future generations. Sometimes, we tend to forget this, succumbing to the illusion that constructing an impressive building and relying on “imported” events is sufficient. We are currently reliving what we had experienced during the financial crisis: we are taking a closer inner look, asking ourselves if there’s anything worthwhile to be found here. And what we ‘ve seen so far is good enough a reason to be optimistic: it is not by chance that this year’s Athens Festival relies solely upon local artists and institutions. I must clarify that I have no intention whatsoever of undermining the significance of international communication between artists from all parts of the world. Such a contact is invaluable as to acquiring knowledge, exchanging ideas and drawing inspiration that paves the way for creation. At the end of the day though, it all comes down to the people you live with, the people who keep the flame of music burning inside.”

Who Is Who

Simos Papanas was born in Thessaloniki, in 1979. He studied violin, baroque violin, composition and mathematics. The New Conservatory of Thessaloniki was his jumping off point, before concluding his studies at Oberlin College and Yale University, in the USA. Among his teachers we come across names such as Petar Arnaudov, Taras Gabora, Erick Friedman (violin), Marilyn McDonald (baroque violin) and Christos Samaras (composition).

The list of orchestras he has collaborated with as a soloist has no end: Staatskapelle Dresden, the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, among others.

He has performed in some of the most prestigious concert halls of the world, such as Carnegie Hall (New York), Palau de la Música Catalana (Barcelona), the Grand Hall of St. Petersburg Philharmonia, and Herbst Theater (San Francisco).

Since 2003, he holds the title of Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster.