Decoding the composition
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Zeibekiko was conceived as an entire programme of music celebrating the heritage of Greek music from antiquity and the present day. The work was commissioned by The Eduard van Beinum Foundation at the request of the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble, and was composed for that ensemble with the addition of two traditional Greek musicians, the clarino player Manos Achalinotopoulos and the percussionist Vagelis Karypis. The work comprises works and arrangements by myself alongside compositions by Christos Hatzis and improvisations by Achalinotopoulos, Karypis and the percussionists of the NBE.


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Project Details


with the Netherlands Blazers Ensemble

Commissioner: The Eduard van Beinum Foundation for Nederlands Blazers Ensemble

Collaborator: Manos Achalinotopoulos & Vagelis Karypis

Instrumentation: Greek Clarino (soloist) & Traditional Greek Percussion (soloist) + fl(pic), ob(ca), cl(ebcl,bcl), ssx(asx,tsx), bn(cbn), 2trp, 2tbn(btbn), 4perc, 2db(bgtr), tape

Premiered by Manos Achalinotopoulos, Vagelis Karypis, Nederlands Blazers Ensemble on 21 April 2004 in Oosterpoort, The Netherlands

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‘I was given the Greek language’ Odysseus Elytis

Part One

Salpinx Call the ‘Sappho Painter’ (5th century BC)
The salpinx is a straight trumpet, often depicted with a bulb or domeshaped bell.

From a painting on a ceramic knee protector used in sewing, depicting an Amazon salpinx player apparently performing the syllables ‘tote totote’. These could be syllables traditionally used in the playing technique of lip-activated instruments. The t represents the articulation, and the vowels may indicate relative pitches (i.e. the ‘o’ shape favours a lower harmonic whereas the ‘e’ shape favours a high harmonic). The type of bell depicted on the knee- protector and other period iconography effectively raises the third harmonic by about a half- step from the pitch one would normally expect to hear. The result, in modern relative pitches, would be G-EÏ-G.

Ancient Greek Music

It is fortunate for the pursuit of Ancient Greek Music that a large legacy of writing on this subject survives. A number of authors, including Aristotle and Plato contributed information on theory, musical education and the role of music in society. Aristoxenus, a student of Aristotle, wrote on the practical aspects of musical performance and along with Euclid, Pythagoras and Ptolemy, was an important early writer on acoustics. A treatise by Alypius provides us with the principal source of information for the interpretation of Greek musical notation. Such writings served as models for later theoretical treatises and helped shape the course of Western and Middle Eastern music. Other information can be gleaned from surviving objects – especially sculptures and vase paintings – that depict musicians and instruments. It is often lamented that only a small number of actual compositions now exist. Fortunately, all is not lost; in light
of recent research, over 50 examples of this exciting ancient repertoire are known to survive. (Note by the Ensemble de Organographia)

Tecmessa’s Lament Anonymous
Fragment (lines 16-19 and line 23) from the tragedy Aias. (Berlin papyrus 6870) 2nd-3rd century AD

with suicidal hand and...your sword, Ajax son of Telamon...because of Odysseus, the villain... wounds, he whom we miss...(blood on the ground...)

Tzamara Traditional, arranged by Manos Achalinotopoulos
The tzamara is a pastoral melody, the basis of improvisation, played in different versions in many parts of Greece on the clarino, floghera, skaros, etc. Tzamara is also the name of a type of flute.


Bacchic Manos Achalinotopoulos

A. Diatonic
B. Sound from the region near the borders C. Kissing of the flute

Tradition, as I first came to feel it (as a child of nine years), was given to me by grandfather when he was teaching me how to play the clarinet. To me this traditional musical language
is not ‘an old loveless spinster who raises her threatening finger like an old-time teacher’.
My feeling about traditional ways of musical expression is exactly the opposite. It resembles
a young girl full of juices, pleased and sorry, vivid and loving, that dances barefoot on the ground; as if being taken by a desire to sin, but then again she repents it. Later she falls in love, wishes to break the rules so to live and breathe freely. No concrete use of instruments, no formal orchestration, or particular musical formation can capture her essence.

(Manos Achalinotopoulos)

Part Two

Song of Seikilos Seikilos

A skolio by Seikilos, a four-verse song whose notes and symbols for rhythms were found carved on a tombstone from Tralleis, Asia Minor, preserved in its original state. It was first published in 1883. The text of a separate inscription tells us that the stone was placed there by Seikilos himself. Its age is uncertain, although the shape of the letters indicates it dates from the first century AD.

as long as you live, shine man be not the least bit blue
life’s for a little span
time demands its due

Abhisheka John Psathas

The sanskrit equivalent for initiation is abhisheka which means ‘to sprinkle or pour’, or ‘annointment’. And if there is pouring, there must be a vessel into which the pouring can fall. So at last we might really give up all these complications and just allow some space, just give in. This is the moment when abhisheka – sprinkling and pouring – really takes place, because we are open and are really giving up the whole attempt to do anything, giving up all the busyness and overcrowding. Finally we have been forced to really stop properly, which is quite a rare occurrence for us.
(From Chögyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism)

Suk/Bazaar Manos Achalinotopoulos

To the memory of the teachers that were locals and at the same time foreigners, indigenous and emigrants and their looks had a honey-gold colour. I came to know many traditional instrument players, ‘old wolves’. Now the herd of the ‘old wolves’ is hiding and the musical style they used (and then was chased) today has become ‘in’, probably due to the prevailing tendency to like ‘ethnic’ music as well as the general trend to like whatever is considered ‘exotic’.

(Manos Achalinotopoulos)

Fertility Rites, Movements 1 & 2 Christos Hatzis

Fertility Rites for five-octave marimba and tape is part of a series of works all written in the 1990s. The connecting thread that runs through all of these works is Inuit throat singing. My fascination with the Inuit and their culture started in 1992 during the course of creating a radio documentary/composition for CBC Radio called The Idea of Canada. That was the first time

I heard this strange and haunting music. A few years later I got myself involved in a similar project this time focusing entirely on Inuit culture and throat singing in particular. This latter project took CBC producer Keith Horner and me to Baffin Island in arctic Canada where we spent two weeks recording throat singers and interviewing elders of the Inuit communities in Iqaluit and Cape Dorset. The recorded material was eventually used in four compositions (including this one). The title of the work derives from the throat songs themselves. In one of our interviews in Iqaluit Keith and I learned that throat songs were originally a fertility ritual,
a shamanistic mating call which the women performed while the men were out hunting. The katajjaq (vocal games) in this piece are used to evoke this primordial practice. Their sexual suggestiveness is further enhanced by electronic processing (lowering the pitch by an octave or more transforms the original sound into a semblance of heavy breathing), or through juxtaposing the katajjaq against other types of amorous music stylistically more familiar to the listener, such as the ‘French-sounding’ second movement or the tango-like music of the third (which is not included in this programme). In addition to the katajjaq samples, the tape part consists of pre-recorded marimba sounds (normal, ‘bent’ and bowed) which both in terms of timbre and musical treatment represent a virtual extension of the instrument’s abilities. In a programmatic sense they represent the performer’s ‘thoughts’ or ‘instincts’ in contrast to the instrument on stage which represents the performer’s ‘voice’. Sometimes what is being ‘felt’ and what is being ‘said’ are diametrically opposed, like in the first movement where the gentle, non-possessive music for the marimba and the dark, longing calls on the tape contradict

each other. But in the end both inner and outer worlds merge into uninhibited abandon and celebration of sexuality and life.
(Christos Hatzis)

Percussion Solo Vagelis Karypis and Percussionists

Part Three

Doxology Manos Achalinotopoulos (music and lyrics)
(Secular kratima, first in a byzantine plagal mode and later in a chromatic mode)

‘Ever shining light –Inner Desert-Multi-moded chant’

A. Supplicatory
B. Proclamatory
C. Libation praying

I don’t know if this way of expression is Greek, or whether its roots come from Byzantium or Ancient Greece. Simply, this is the way of expression given to us like our mother tongue, this strange sound that came into existence by the soil and water of this country. We express ourselves using the living musical idiom of this country, not at all foreign or unfamiliar; this musical idiom exists to give way to a human communication between loving persons; i.e. the truth expressed by the Word of God that is not to be forgotten.

(Manos Achalinotopoulos)

Supersubstantial essence Ineffable speech
Unbuilt light
Thou are God Inexpressible beauty

the generation praise
in uncommunable participation

Mal Occhio John Psathas

Mal Occhio, the evil eye, is the ancient belief that the gaze of strangers casts unwanted magic into the lives of the innocent. The belief is that a person – otherwise not malefic in any way
– can harm you, your children, your livestock, by looking at them with envy and praising them. When I spent time in Greece one summer, my family and I experienced such a remarkable sequence of bad luck that some of those around us became convinced we had fallen under the influence of the evil eye, or mal occhio. When my sister had us tested (over the telephone!) by the local specialist in these matters, it was discovered that I was so utterly hexed my aura was opaque. This piece is dedicated to my sister Tania, who tried in her own way to protect her kid brother from the evil eye.

(John Psathas)

Taximi Kartsigar Traditional, arranged by Manos Achalinotopoulos

Hyacinth, in the ancient myth, became a flower in order to continue being forever alive in some form. In the same way the musical language of this country, from an experience common to all, alive in everybody’s dialect, has gradually been transformed to a flower – similar to a talking fountain for the artists. Not everybody nowadays wants to cultivate this flower, but all long to smell it, enjoy its odour, because they know it contains something that is theirs, something that is ours. As Hyacinth derives from communication between loving people, he loves to infuse sounds that are given the grace to exist by the light, the sun, as well as by the particularity of this country. Evenmore, he loves to break the rules (but not the law), and the artistic continuation of language as we perceive it through our senses, our life our personal experience. Therefore, the garden is still flourishing. Language is alive, people express their truth singing about love and crying; joy and sorrow deriving directly from the heart.

(Manos Achalinotopoulos)
First Pythian Ode Text: Pindar (522-446 BC) Music: A Kircher (1601-1680)

The poem is devoted to Hieron of Aetna, champion of the Pythian games. The poet here first praises Apollo’s lyre which charms both mortals and immortals and warns off enemies, like Typhon, and then describes the eruptions of the Volcano of Etna. Finally he praises his battle against the Carthagians. The ancient music written for verses 1-8 of Pindar’s first Pythian Ode is believed to have been found among old manuscripts in a Sicilian monastery by the German scholar Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680), who set the ode to music and published it in his first volume of Musurgia Universalis.

Lyre of gold, Apollo’s
and the violet-wreathed Muses’,
who hear you when the festival begins;
the singers and the dancers always follow you
when on your trembling strings you sound
the prelude to mark the beginning of the chorus;
you even quench the wounding thunderbolt’s flame... Petros Tabouris

Hymn to the Muse Mesomedes of Crete (c.130AD)

Sing for me, my beloved Muse,
intone my musical verse;
send a breeze from your groves to move my soul.

Zeibekiko Dance Improvisation

Mænads John Psathas

Draped in the skins of fawns, crowned with wreaths of ivy and carrying the thyrsos – a staff wound with ivy leaves and topped with a pine cone – the Maenads roamed the mountains and woods, seeking to assimilate the potency of the beasts that dwelled there and celebrating their god Dyonisos with song, music, and dance.

The human spirit demands Dionysiac ecstasy; to those who accept it, the experience offers spiritual power. For those who repress the natural force within themselves, or refuse it to others, it is transformed into destruction, both of the innocent and the guilty. When possessed by Dionysos, the Maenads became savage and brutal. They plunged into a frenzied dance, obtaining an intoxicating high and a mystical ecstasy that gave them unknown powers, making them the match of the bravest hero.

(John Psathas)

Programme notes courtesy of Promethean Editions.

From the Composer

A good friend of mine, percussionist Kostas Theodorakos, phoned me from Athens in early 2002 urging me to meet with his ex-teacher Peter Promel, who was about to visit New Zealand to perform with the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble at the 2002 New Zealand International Arts Festival. Peter and some of his colleagues from the NBE came to a rehearsal at the Town Hall of my new piece Psyzygysm (a Festival commission for percussionist Pedro Carneiro and Stroma), and subsequently invited me out for a coffee at the Lido. There, on the curbside, they plied me with NBE CDs and stimulated my passion for Greek music and culture. I had no idea this was a job interview. Shortly after returning to Holland, Bart Schneemann (artistic director) and Johann Dorrestein (managing director) of the NBE asked me to consider a concert-length programme of music by Greek composers. The brief was vague, I think, to give me freedom to respond in my own way.

The outcome of this is Zeibekiko. Two years later I was touring Holland in a mini-bus stocked with Ouzo with members of the NBE, my sister Tania who had come from Greece to share this experience, one of my past students from Victoria University who had come from London, and Manos and Vagelis. Travelling through the countryside in the early morning hours, exhilarated by the energy of performance, I experienced the strongest moment in my musical life, listening to Manos and Vagelis sing songs I had never heard; only heard of. These were priceless jewels from the Greek oral histories, and I knew I’d never hear them again.

It’s in performance that music finally speaks. It was not easy to know for sure how integrated this programme of works would be in reality (in theory they worked fine). It was too obvious to put these pieces in a chronological order. I wanted them side-by-side, mixed up, to filter through and affect each other. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how strongly these musical works resonate together. These works are exceptionally isolated historically and geographically, and born in highly varied cultural circumstances– from Christos Hatzis, a Greek-Canadian engaging with Inuit and their culture; Manos Achalinotopoulos and Vagelis Karypis, contemporary folk-music composers – guardians of an ancient tradition – energizing and extending this tradition in modern-day urban Athens and myself, a lone New-Zealand- composer-of-Greek-descent, to the ghosts of Seikilos, Mesomedes, Pindar, and a 17th century scholar searching in a Sicilian monastery. What binds all of this together? What spirit is it that moves within this music? It is only in performance that this can be answered. Performance from within, where lives the need to speak, sing and dance.  


NAME OF WORK:     Zeibekiko, composed by John Psathas


In Zeibekiko, commissioned by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, John Psathas explores his ancestral roots in an evening length chamber work programme inspired by 2,500 years of Greek music. The ambience of the ‘zeibekiko’, a Greek dance traditionally performed by men, sets the tone for this Mediterranean-flavoured programme, which includes the first hymn to Apollo from Delphi, traditional folk music, popular music, as well as original compositions by Psathas and featuredfeaturedfeaturedfeatures two dazzling traditional Greek musicians Manos Achalinotopoulos (clarino), and Vagelis Karypis (percussion).

“An intoxicating collaboration … Psathas' own pieces balanced nostalgia with celebration.” The Guardian, UK

The workings are just here for you to see.  We would not show this to a presenter.  However this is going to take a bit of convincing as I have lowered everyone’s fee.  “ Karypis created complex polyrhythms on both sides of the drum. His percussion improvisation featuring Stroma’s Jeremy Fitzsimon was a thrilling delight, pulling the audience along as they traded furious beats played on the skins and rims of their instruments.”

Tyler Hershey – Scoop Review, NZ

John Psathas composed the key ceremonial music for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. With increasing numbers of commissions from international festivals and performers, he is New Zealand’s most internationally performed composer. He has created work for soloists, ensembles and orchestras around the world including Americans Michael Brecker, Joshua Redman, Portuguese percussionist Pedro Carniero, British percussionist Evelyn Glennie, the NZSO, the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, the NZSQ.  John has received many awards and his music is performed world wide by orchestras and ensembles.  
”Late in the concert,
Stroma gathered with hand drums in centre stage, and the audience was finally treated to a performance of the Zeibekiko, a libidinous traditional Greek slow dance. The dancer’s arms swept toward the floor as he moved with determined grace, lifting the feet high……” Tyler Hershey – Scoop Review, NZ  

“This was the essence of “world” music with themes, influences and sounds that crossed many boundaries and cultures.”
Garth Wilshire – Capital Times, NZ

”Psathas’ ability to span two cultures is a great talent and this collaboration with New Zealand and Greek musicians was a triumph.”

Zeibekiko was premiered in Holland in May 2004 by the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble.  It went on to tour around the Netherlands and was performed at the Brighton Festival in the UK.  The second season was with Stroma at the 2006 New Zealand International Arts Festival where it was an enormous success.  The performance was sold out, received hugely positive reviews and standing ovations.    

”The music was exhilarating with rhythmic pulse, sometimes loud and vibrant, other times more introspective and peacefully beautiful.”
”There was extraordinary virtuosity from both Greek soloists and real joy and involvement in their playing.”
”The improvisations of percussionist Karypis were marvelously vital and exciting and the extended dialogue with
Stroma percussionists was stunning stuff.”
Garth Wilshire – Capital Times, NZ

The Nederlands Blazers Ensemble recorded Zeibekiko and this recording is for sale.  It has also been recorded by Radio New Zealand and will be broadcast on Concert FM.