Saturday 1 July 2023

Delving into her Greek background: Lisa Archontidi-Tsaldaraki's debut recital places 20th-century Greek composers alongside Bartok, Szymanowski and Ravel

Pianist Panayotis Archontides and violinist Lisa Archontidi-Tsaldaraki
Pianist Panayotis Archontides and violinist Lisa Archontidi-Tsaldaraki

London-based Greek-Australian violinist Lisa Archontidi-Tsaldaraki has just finished her final year at the Royal Academy of Music, when we spoke she had recently given her final recital, and next year moves on to the MA course. She has recently released her debut disc, Rhapsody: 20th Century Violin Masterpieces, a recital of 20th-century music with pianist Panayotis Archontides on the Convivium label where alongside works by Bartok, Szymanowski and Ravel there are works by two 20th-century Greek composers, Manolis Kalomiris and Yannis Constantinidis.

Manolis Kalomiris (1883-1962) is the founding father of the national Greek school. He trained in Vienna at the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien (1901-06), returned to Greece in 1916 and founded the Hellenic Conservatory in 1919 and the National Conservatoire in 1926 . His fearsomely difficult Violin Sonata, written in 1948, features on Lisa's disc in its first international recording (the two previous recordings were issued only in Greece). Also on the disc are works by Kalomiris' younger contemporary, Yannis Constantinidis (1903-1984), his Petite Suite on Airs from the Dodecanese (1947).

Lisa loves 20th-century music and was keen for the recital to have a collection of pieces that are her favourites, so Britten's early Suite Op. 6 for Violin and Piano, Szymanowski's Nocturne and Tarantella, Op. 28 and Ravel's Tzigane are there. But she also wanted to delve into her Greek background, which provided a target for the project.

Manolis Kalomiris
Manolis Kalomiris
Manolis Kalomiris created the school of composition in Athens and is very famous in Greece with displays devoted to him at Athens' concert hall and the library.  But his Violin Sonata is nowhere near as widely played as Yannis Constantinidis' suite which is popular in conservatoires. Kalomiris' most famous pieces tend to be his piano works and orchestral compositions. Lisa describes Kalomiris's sonata as quite Wagnerian in nature and definitely challenging. The heavy textures of the work link back to his education in Vienna. But the lively second and third movements also draw on Greek folksong; elements characteristic of Greek dances merge with more Austrian influences. Lisa learned the sonata, especially for the disc but has since included it in recitals. Though it is an interesting work, she admits that it is quite dense to listen to!

There are plenty of other Greek composers in addition to Kalomiris and Constantinidis. Some, like Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949) and Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) are known in the West (Skalkottas for his orchestra works, but there is a suite for violin and piano). But many Greek composers remained in the country, and their careers focused on Greece.

Looking ahead, Bartok is one composer she would love to explore further. She played his Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano at her final recital at the Royal Academy of Music and is, of course, familiar with the Romanian Dances but there is much more. She also wishes to expand her knowledge of Prokofiev beyond the Sonata No. 2 and Violin Concerto No. 1. Then of course there is Stravinsky, who brings interesting colours to his works for violin and piano.

Both her parents are pianists. Her father, Panayotis Archontides (the pianist on the disc) is Greek-Australian and her mother, Natalie Tsaldarakis, is Greek, they performed in Greece as a piano duet as well as being professors. After the financial crisis in 2005, they came to London and have been based here, ever since as the Ivory Piano Duo. When extremely young, she saw her father accompanying a violinist and kept insisting that she wanted to play the violin. Finally, aged between eight and nine, she started lessons and within two years, knew she wanted to do it for life.

Rhapsody: 20th Century Violin Masterpieces - Lisa Archontidi-Tsaldaraki and Panayotis Archontides - Convivium
She loves the playing of David Oistrakh and Jascha Heifetz and comments on Ann Sofie Mutter's pure crystal sound in Mozart. She has many other influences, many 20th-century, she mentions Isaac Stern and Leonid Kogan, as well as naming Prokofiev as one of her musical heroes. Whilst learning the violin, she moved through different schools of playing. She began playing on a modern violin but studied with a Baroque violinist. Other teachers have included Emanuela Buta who was trained by the French violinist, Maurice Hasson, and most recently she was studying at the Royal Academy of Music with Rodney Friend whose teachers were British, but influenced by the Russian school.

What's next is a bit of a break, though she has a further project at the RAM as well as attending her violin professor's masterclass. Next academic year, she will be busy auditioning for trusts and competitions. Also coming up is a collaboration with the composer Morgan Hayes. There is also the London premiere of a new work for violin, mezzo-soprano and piano at London City University. 

Rhapsody: 20th Century Violin Masterpieces - Lisa Archontidi-Tsaldaraki and Panayotis Archontides - Convivium

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