For this energetic conductor with his exuberant expression on the podium, every new collaboration invites exploration and soul-searching, and every concert is akin to a journey

Vladimiros Symeonidis

The conductor as a spiritual guide

Text: Chryssa Nanou || Photographs: Vladimiros Symeonidis' Archive
Vladimiros Symeonidis
Vladimiros Symeonidis

In the past two decades, Vladimiros Symeonidis’s name is everywhere, on a global map dotted with his collaborations with numerous music groups in Greece and abroad (Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sofia Philharmonic, Vienna Boys’ Choir – Wiener Saengerknaben, Athens and Thessaloniki State Orchestras), his presence in positions of responsibility (Principal Conductor of the Greek National Radio Symphony Orchestra (ERT), Founder and Music Director of the Contra Tempo Chamber Orchestra), and his recordings for Greek and Austrian radio and for the Naxos classical music label.  

For this energetic conductor with his exuberant expression on the podium, every new collaboration invites exploration and soul-searching, and every concert is akin to a journey. “I know where I want to go but I don’t know in advance what I will find on my way, neither am I always certain about the route,” he says. “Furthermore, in every new concert I feel I am given a new opportunity to do things better than before. That sounds very reassuring and optimistic, but it also hides a lot of worry and anxiety about whether I will make it.”

Vladimiros Symeonidis graduated from the University of Music and Performing arts in Vienna, where he acquired an MA in Orchestra Conducting under the legendary Uros Lajovic, and an MA in Composition under Erich Urbanner. He has also studied at the School of Music of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, as well as Advanced Music Theory with Christos Samaras. He was led into the realm of music by an intense personal desire, which had shown itself all the way back in childhood. “I grew up in the Evangelika neighborhood of Katerini, which echoed with the sound of the local church’s organ every evening and Sunday. I remember being impressed by these strange hymns, as I was playing with my friends,” he says. “Then, after I heard a classmate play the piano, I asked my parents to sign me up at the conservatory, which they did.”

He describes every new collaboration as a new relationship, as they have similar stages. “At the start, we are trying to get to know each other. We send our signals and wait for the reply,” Vladimiros explains. “What’s more important, I think, is to establish a relationship of trust, so that conductor and orchestra can truly communicate what matters. I strive for that for the first moment. Since every orchestra has its own personality, I try to be as open as possible so I can successfully convince musicians about my way of approaching each piece we perform. If I fail at that, the collaboration will end with a bitter taste.”

With Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra, Vladimiros Symeonidis has developed strong ties through the years, as they have been collaborating for over two decades. “I know all the musicians personally. With some, I studied together at the music school; others, I am friends with and so on. They know me well and I know them well. They are the orchestra with which I feel the most intimacy. This makes me very relaxed and allows me to be productive and creative in rehearsals and concerts. I have shared the most memorable experiences in my career with this orchestra. They are, simply put, my music family.”

What makes a good conductor, in his opinion? “Someone who makes the orchestra play better. It sounds simple but it’s very complicated at the same time,” he replies. “For this to happen, it’s necessary for the conductor to first earn the orchestra’s acceptance, as well as to have the skills to make use of that acceptance. Music is a spiritual art and a good conductor functions as a spiritual guide.”

He acknowledges it is not easy at all to make a name for oneself on the global music scene as a conductor. “These days, there is immense competition. For a conductor to make a name for themselves internationally, I believe, a combination of several things is required, along with a large dose of luck. When I say ‘luck,’ I mean favorable or unfavorable conditions, which play a very important role in any career trajectory. It goes without saying that unique talent, exceptional musical ability and great charisma are fundamental requisites for all the above.”

In reference to the role of one’s country of origin in forming their identity, the celebrated Greek maestro considers it important. “In music, we see this more in composers than performers. The ‘national collective unconscious’ functions as a source the conductor taps into to draw elements to be combined and processed according to one’s aesthetic codex. I think this is still the case even in today’s globalized landscape. But we should not underestimate the importance of an artist’s social roots, which together with education, shape the artist’s worldview and thus the artist’s stance towards Art and towards society.”

An important element in his work is Vladimiros’s keen interest in contemporary compositions, which is reflected in his numerous (160) world premieres of new pieces by Greek and foreign composers. After all, as he also remarks, the ‘classic’ repertory is by nature dynamic. “We consider classic(al) that which has claimed its place in the audience’s consciousness,” he says. “In this sense, the classic repertory is constantly renewed – although not at the pace we would like it to be. Today, works that were not met with acceptance in their own time have been added to the classic repertory, such as those of A. Webern, A. Schoenberg, I. Xenakis and many others. Of course, the general public is still very attached to pre-1930 music, but that is gradually changing, especially in the big music metropolises of Europe.”

Since 2019, Vladimiros Symeonidis serves as Assistant Professor of Music Ensembles in the School of Music Studies of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, while he also teaches conducting at the State Conservatory of Thessaloniki. “Teaching is an integral part of my artistic identity. I have been teaching all these years as well as conducting,” he explains. “And what I’ve realized is that teaching has expanded my spiritual horizons to an extent that I had not anticipated. Revisiting my own studies from the past, I feel lucky to have had the teachers I had, and I strive to continue this flow of learning to my own students in the same way. Teaching is a huge responsibility and a great blessing. For me, contact with young people who have a love and a passion for music is a constant source of joy and of affirmation of the endless circle of life.”