a look at the music of Vangelis Papathanassiou
Monday, June 25th 2001
Full of anticipation of the long awaited concert by Vangelis, we arrive in Athens late in the afternoon. Of course we immediately set out for the Olympieion (Temple of Zeus), the location Vangelis has picked to perform J
We’re in luck, as that evening is used as an introduction for the performers in the orchestra and choirs, who walk around freely on the premises. Although we have to stay outside of the gate, we can see a screen being lifted behind the temple, and the first tests are performed with projecting the images on it. The stage however can not be seen from outside, the view is blocked by the seats that have already been set up. In the meantime the Mythodea music is being played, undoubtedly pre-recorded.
Tuesday June 26th
The next night more rehearsals are held, and again we watch from the gates how Vangelis and his orchestra and choirs are getting used to each other. Everything is still casual, the actual dress rehearsal is only planned for Wednesday. The performances are recognisably live, as between rehearsals we can hear Vangelis play an improvisational piece once and a while J
In the meantime more fans from around the world have arrived in Athens, and gather at the gates to enjoy the rehearsals. Some however spend more time talking than listening, but then again most of us don’t get a chance too often to talk to so many other fans at the same time J
Wednesday June 27th
Late at night, after some more rehearsals the final dress rehearsal starts at 23:30, Vangelis apparently likes to work late, when the air has cooled a bit J This time the gates are swamped with people, everybody’s having a great time and enjoying the company, as well as the music that reaches us from the Temple…
Thursday June 28th
Thursday however is the big day, many of us have agreed to meet again at the gates of the temple at 19:30, and from then on the crowd grows and grows, until even the security can’t handle the pressure anymore and people just push through the gates….Thumbs up for the Greek organisation skills L
Before we are seated we are given a Mythodea-booklet, as well as a mini-flashlight.
The booklet explains that the music of Mythodea will not only be performed by Vangelis, but also by the London Metropolitan Orchestra, conducted by Blake Neely, the Greek National Opera Choir and sopranos Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman.
Also the booklet explains that the music of Mythodea is linked to a current NASA mission ‘Odyssey’, which has sent a probe to the Red Planet to arrive in October 2001.
The seats facing the Temple of Zeus are set up in a half-moon shape, and are divided in sections (Alpha, Beta, Delta, etc.) Right in front of it is a shiny black stage, with right behind it Vangelis’ setup, a shiny black half round ‘desk’ to cover up his machinery. Draped around the right side of the desk is a red velvet cloth. To the left of the stage is the strings and percussion section of the orchestra, whereas to the right of the stage is the copper and bass section of the orchestra. In-between Vangelis set-up and the right part of the orchestra is a beautifully lighted palm tree. Behind Vangelis and the stage are the choirs, standing dressed in ancient Greek fashion. On the left the female section of the choir, dressed in white, to the right the male section of the choir, dressed in black and white habit.
Behind the choirs a half-moon tympani section is set up. In the background is the Temple of Zeus, to the left is the section with most of the upright columns, to the right are the two solitary upright columns, as well as the one fallen column. Behind the temple a huge screen is lifted to project images during the concert.
Then it is time for the concert to start. First the people of the orchestra and choirs take their places. Then conductor Blake Neely enters. To build up even more tension Vangelis arrives only five minutes later, greeted by a heartily applause. Hurray !
The introduction slowly develops into the first movement, a bombastic energetic piece. In the background the temple and screen are used to project images of ancient Greek statues and star fields. What an amazing view! The second movement takes over from the first, a great dramatic piece which is based on the both male and female choirs. The second movement ends with applause, and the third movement starts, a very similar piece to one of the El Greco movements. Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman sing their first piece together. The fourth and longest movement ends in soft rumbling sound, while on the screen slowly an image of a red planet appears from an empty space, during which the rumbling grows stronger and stronger…. The piece ends in a strong crash, showing the image of a Mars in the shape which is used as on the sleeve of the upcoming Mythodea album! During the next short break a voice explains to the audience that above the Temple of Zeus the planet Mars has risen and can be seen next to a star from the constellation of Scorpio….
In the next part five more Movements are played, the next to last being a beautiful work, again including both soprano’s, and last one being a reprise of the very first one, an amazing suite with chorus, orchestra and Vangelis! Of course the encores include orchestral and choral versions of both Chariots of Fire and Conquest of Paradise, after which the concert is ended with a compilation of the original last two movements of the concert !
After the concert we walk to the Plaka and have a drink. This has been an experience I for sure will never forget J What a day !
But right at the moment when you think it is all over, we learn from a trusted source that Friday the concert will be repeated, for the sake of more recordings. This time however no public will be allowed....
Friday June 29th
When we arrive at the entrance on Friday night to our surprise we are allowed to enter and witness the entire performance again J This time all the Mythodea movements are re-performed, but not followed by the encores. Instead Movement 3 and Movement 9 are re-performed. After the last ‘take’ Vangelis plays a short improvisation on his keyboards, to end a magnificent experience !