By Louisa Shepherd
Color. Soul. Spirit. These three words reflect the compositional style of Greek-Canadian composer, conductor, and pianist Constantine Caravassilis who joins concert:nova this Sunday at Rhinegeist Brewery for RE:BEL, a concert and “anti-gala” that is sure to be anything but conventional.
Constantine Caravassilis has been described as one of Canada’s most prolific and highly gifted emerging composers and his music is hailed as “Timeless,” “Visionary,” and “Astonishingly Powerful” by critics and audiences alike. Music has always played an integral role in his life and his musical roots have come to play a very important role in his development as a composer.
Caravassilis grew up on the Island of Samos in Greece in a family deeply involved in the musical arts. “My mother plays the piano, and my father and brother play a number of fretted instruments including the guitar, the tzouras and the bouzouki,” says Constantine. He has always had a preference toward the arts and it was apparent from a young age that there was something special about him.
“One day, when I was perhaps 3 or so, the second program of the National Broadcasting Network was on. They were broadcasting an orchestra (I think from Vienna), and a middle aged pianist was playing a Mozart piano concerto. If you know about the classical concerto form, you will know that the same thing happens twice, at least in the first movement. Well, by the second time around, I was at the piano and playing exactly what the pianist was playing, only adding some bass notes to fill the space up a little.”
“At school I was always the front person in any musical activity and was given a number of instruments to learn within days,” Constantine remembers. “This included the mandolin, the guitar and several traditional Greek instruments. The first lessons I had were in violin, but was never a violin performer,” he continues.” “Turning my left hand sideways and upwards felt very unnatural and uncomfortable to me, plus, I always thought I could do way more with the piano.”
Interestingly enough Constantine is also a synaesthete, which basically means he sees shapes and colors and even experiences tastes and smells when listening to certain instruments or pitches. His first experiment with synaesthetic composing was a work for 3 solo cellos and a cello orchestra called Concerto for Synaesthetes. “I wrote a piece starting with a gesture on which I had a particular synaesthetic reaction to, and then I continued from bar 1 all the way to the double bar line making sure that in no instance within the piece I lose the exact shape and colors that I saw. It’s astonishing that the piece is the most comprehensible and most deeply felt work that I have ever written.”
Constantine moved to Toronto at age 17 to further his studies in music. He attended the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto on full scholarship, studying composition, piano and conducting as a pupil of the some of the country’s finest artists. Canada has been his home ever since. But even so, the musical roots established in his early years have followed him along. “I consider my Hellenic background to be one of many influences but not all of what I write is connected to my Greek roots,” says Constantine. “My sound is not something that can be described as an assortment of influences, and this is simply because I am a composer of emotionally-based and feeling-provoking music. Rather than being influenced by one specific thing and then writing music that resembles it, I prefer to let any and all influences simmer on the backburner of my subconscious mind, and use my intuition when in the process of creating a new work.”
Concert goers will have a chance to hear Constantine’s dynamic and emotionally provocative music first hand at the world première of Proses Lyriques, a composition commissioned by c:n especially for RE:BEL featuring male soprano Michael Maniaci.
“I met Michael Maniaci while he was working at the Opera Atelier in Toronto and was astounded at his unique ability as a singer as well as his great technical prowess,” Constantine remembers. “At the time, I had just been awarded the Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music, for another song cycle called ‘Sappho de Mytilene’, which was also set in French. Michael and I wanted to find an opportunity to work together, and so concert:nova stepped in to make this happen with this commission.
Caravassilis’ Proses Lyriques is unique in that it shares a title with a work of Claude Debussy (Debussy’s Proses Lyriques will be performed earlier in the concert) “Although I know the music of Debussy (and can conduct a couple of his major orchestral works by memory), I never came across Proses Lyriques. We therefore decided that I would chose fragments of Debussy’s Proses and set them to music creating a brand new set of songs, but I decided not to listen to Debussy at all, until the piece has been premiered. I did this intentionally, for I did not want to be influenced by the melodies that are set to the words by Debussy, and I am pretty sure the music sound nothing like it.”
The work is scored for male soprano, flute, clarinet, 2 violins, viola, cello and piano. It’s a song cycle which uses a set and subsets of colors, moods and atmospheres that best depict the text. “I can‘t exactly tell you that this is ethnic, jazz, classical, new, old, minimalist, neo-tonal, or otherwise,” says Constantine. “I simply can‘t place it. It’s just the text, but in music, and it’s musically recited by someone with an accent. A musical accent, that is!”
Constantine Caravassilis will be traveling to Cincinnati and joining concert:nova April 6th for RE:BEL and the première of his new work Proses Lyriques. Not only will RE:BEL serve up an unforgettable musical experience, concert:nova will also be hosting a scrumptious Rhinegeist-infused 3-course dinner dreamed up by Jeff Thomas, and a creative re:bel cocktail and Rhinegeist beer. For more information about RE:BEL and how to snag a ticket to the dinner and performance visit http://www.concertnova.com
Filed under: bio, event, food, repertoire | Tagged: cincinnati, Claude Debussy, concert:nova, Constantine, Constantine Caravassilis, Debussy, gala, Michael Maniaci, music, otr, over-the-rhine, Proses Lyriques, rhinegeist | Leave a comment »