New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Sweeping melodies, passionate interludes, exquisite humor; Dino Constantinides’s compositions are full of surprises. You never know where he’s going to take you, but you can be sure it won’t be where you expected to go.
The acclaimed Greek composer and Louisiana State University professor once cited the first lesson in Composition that he gives his incoming students: “… you can make up a beautiful melody and go nowhere with it; it can be static; it can be boring… sometimes we fall asleep when we hear it! In other words, it has to have a design; it has to have a direction; it has to have climaxes, reposes, all these elements that are needed in classical music, and in addition, you have to be correct. There is no room for wrong uses of the instruments and voices and all the forces you are using.”
As has been true of all of this composer’s concerts I have attended, “falling asleep” was simply not a possibility during “The Music of Dinos Constantinides, In Homage to the University of Macedonia—Greece”, at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on November 20. Constantinides’s optimism and fine sensibility left me feeling that this is a beautiful world. I was also in total agreement with saxophonist Athanasios Zervas, who told me after the concert, “Dino is humble about his music but he is a great composer, and this will be proven in posterity.”
“I am glad that I have six excellent performers to present my music,” Constantinides said about Yova Milanova, Dimitris Chandrakis violin; Michael Gurt, Maria Asteriadou, piano; Athanasios Zervas, saxophone; and Dimitris Patras, cello. “In this concert in particular, four out of my six soloists are Greeks from Thessaloniki, Greece. Also, the concert is dedicated to the University of Macedonia which has honored me with an Honorary Doctorate.”
“I was in Athens this past September and there were concerts of my music and I gave lectures. Some of the musicians you heard performed and continue to perform my music, such as Zervas and Patras, who in October, did my first Saxophone and Cello concerts respectively with the Constanta Symphony Orchestra in Romania. They are in three new recordings of my music this year, on Centaur.”
Greece is ever present in Constantinides’s work. “Of course, I always wanted to improve my technique, but I believe I always wanted to present my voice in one way or another,” he said. Born in Ioannina, Epirus, the composer travels to Greece frequently, where he also visits his sister, in Athens. “I believe that all my music, regardless of style, corresponds to my Greek heritage. This is the reason that I have included works that I composed when I was still a composition student. One of them was composed in 1966 and another a couple of years ago.”
Of the nine pieces performed in the concert, three focus specifically on Greece. The first piece in the concert, the whimsical and humorous Landscape V for Violin and Piano, Constantinides writes in the concert program, “describes various images of my birthplace, as crystallized in my mind over time,”
Recollections for Theofilos for Solo Saxophone, “is comprised of two ideas: slow and meditative, and a folk dance.” In the second part is an unusual element: the saxophonist brings his foot down on the floor intermittently as if in a dance.
The lyrical, song-like, Ballade for the Hellenic Land for Solo Cello, “a reflection of the lyrical, song-like Athenian serenade (the kantatha), and a rhythmic and fast dance-like section,” is an example of Constantinides’s shifts in mood, at which he excels.
His father encouraged Constantindes’s love of music and its pursuit as his life’s occupation. “I’ve told my friends I wished I could use the sounds he was making here in my compositions now,” Constantinides said of his father’s folk violin. The composer shared the defining moment in his life, the realization that music was his destiny. “The first time that I thought ‘there is no way out’ for me was when during World War II I heard on a radio–we didn’t have a radio, of course; we were very poor at that time–a sonata by the Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli played by the great violinist Jacques Thibaud. He played that sonata and I thought I was at the top of the world. At that point I decided, ‘I’ve got to be a musician’.”
Basically an Orchestra composer, Constantinides has been influenced by various composers at different times in his life. “First, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms… later, Schoenberg, Berg, Stravinsky, Ravel, and then all the romantics: Wagner, Mahler, Ravel and all. But above all, myself, in all arts.” He is currently “working on his third symphony, which was written for Wind Orchestra, making it for Orchestra.”
Asked if having his work performed at Carnegie Hall was his goal as a young composer, Constantinides answered, “Carnegie Hall is the place of all the greats. And the acoustic is wonderful. I play there every year lately and it feels good. I don’t see it as a goal. My goal is to compose good music. Carnegie Hall is a place we all want to have our music played.”
Dinos Constantinides studied at The Juilliard School, and is presently Boyd Professor, the highest academic rank at Louisiana State University, and head of the Composition area with a studio of 25 students. His music has been performed around the world and features on over 65 recordings. He is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, as are his students, who now hold professorships internationally.