Columns of the Orthodox Typos
THE EVENT AT THE ATHENS CONCERT HALL
WITH THE ‘TROPOS’ BYZANTINE CHOIR
by Mr Lykourgos Angelopoulos, First Cantor
The laudable initiative of the ‘Musical Ensembles’ of ERT [Greek Radio and Television] last December (with a concert of Byzantine music given by the ‘Tropos’ Byzantine Choir) happily had its sequel in the holding of a second event on the 27th of last March, again at the Athens Concert Hall – in the large hall of the ‘Friends of Music’ – with the same choir, entitled ‘From the Passion to the Resurrection’.
This second collaboration vindicated the initiative of ERT’s ‘Musical Ensembles’ and gave the public an evening of sublime spiritual enjoyment. This was because the ‘Tropos’ choir, the creation of the first cantor and teacher of the cantor’s art Constantinos Angelidis, presented a programme of Byzantine music of the greatest interest which included chants from the tradition of Petros Lampadarios (18th century) in the exegeseis of Hourmouzios Chartophylax, but also chants by earlier composers (the priest Balasios, 17th century) or some later ones, e.g., Matthaios Vatopedinos (18th – mid 19th century), Petros Philanthidis (19th – early 20th century), among them some hitherto unpublished.
In the first part, chants extending from Palm Sunday to Good Friday were interpreted. ‘Today, grace … ‘, Allelouiarion, ‘Behold the Bridegroom … ‘, ‘When the Lord came … ‘, ‘The sinful woman … ‘, ‘Today he hangs … ‘ were the chants sung in the first part. Last in this series was the Doxastikon of the aposticha of Vespers (service for the Descent from the Cross), ‘You who are clothed in Light … ‘ to the argo sticherarikon chant by the important composer and exegetes priest-monk Matthaios Vatopedinos.
The verses of the 118th Psalm (Amomos – ‘Blameless’) with the old melodies of the three staseis of the enkomia and the interpolation of the Epistle from Matins of Holy Saturday (intoned in the traditional manner by the very fine voice of Nikos Grizis) set the tone for the second part. For me, this was reminiscent of the unforgettable Holy Week services at the National Music Association with the late lamented Simon Karas, who most conscientiously observed this order of service and tradition, when all around him everything had been levelled down. Fortunately, in recent years, following a circular from His Beatitude, the singing of the Allelouiarion before the reading of the Gospel has been restored, and I hope that one day that the prokeimena and the verses of the Amomos with the enkomia will start to be sung as well.
The second part closed with the Communion Hymn of Easter – ‘Partake of the Body of Christ … ‘, a magnificent composition by the priest Balasios, which the choir rendered with particular skill.
In spite of the fact that it has been active for only two years, the ‘Tropos’ Byzantine Choir shows an exceptional homogeneity, with a smooth sound and a rhythmic stability. There is, of course, an explanation for this conclusion, which is at the same time a hope – for well-trained cantors in the future. The greater part of the choir consists of young cantors, and of these again the majority are pupils of the choirmaster Constantinos Angelidis at the school for Byzantine music of the Church of the Fount of Life in Athens, which is so vigorous in its teaching and productivity, where he teaches. This school, which is directed by the Protopsaltes Anastasios Mentakis, is a personal success and vindication in the face of many adversities of both teachers – Mentanis and Angelidis – and the Holy Archbishopric of Athens, to which in any event it belongs, should be proud of it.
Returning to this event, I would note that a remarkable impression was created by the fact that at certain points there was a scarcely perceptible transformation of the single choir into two, and then its equally imperceptible re-uniting. This movement of the choir was, apart from hearing the music, a visual pleasure. Equally resourceful was the part played by the two talented young canonarches (Yannis Angelidis and Yorgos Tsourapoulis), who also sang.
Constantinos Constantatos again showed great devotion in his role as canonarches in the monastic style.
I must also take the opportunity to congratulate the President of ERT, the Director of Sound Broadcasting, and the Director of ‘Musical Ensembles’ of ERT on the inclusion of the ‘Tropos’ Choir in the programmes of the ‘Musical Ensembles’, and I hope that this successful collaboration will continue.
This was an authentic occasion, a testimony and an example amid this chaos of ignorant and of exploitative singers, musicians, and those others who besiege us mostly by way of television and with emphasis on the days of great festivals and degrade the high level of our church music, thus undermining the treasury of our Nation handed down to us by our forefathers.