“It celebrates the Greek landscape, the sun, the blue, the sea,” said Kalliopi Giannatos, a board member of the Greek Cultural Center, conjuring up a vivid portrait as she praised the Greek poem “To Axion Esti.”
“It’s a masterpiece, an absolute masterpiece,” Giannatos said.
“To Axion Esti,” translated as “It is Worthy,” was written by Odysseus Elytis in 1959. Full of references to Greece’s rich cultural heritage, the work traces one man’s journey as he witnesses the horrors of World War II, then struggles to find beauty afterward.
Elytis became Greece’s second-ever Nobel laureate in literature when he was awarded the prize in 1979. Now, more than 100 years since he was born in 1911 on the island of Crete, the GCC will be celebrating his life’s work with a special tribute concert on Saturday, Feb. 25 at Astoria’s Frank Sinatra School of the Arts.
During the show, excerpts from “To Axion Esti,” set to music composed specifically for the poem by Mikis Theodorakis in 1960, will be sung by Vasilis Lekkas, whom the GCC has commissioned from Greece especially for the concert.
“All Greek composers have put [Elytis’ words] into music,” explained Anita Toumaras, the Greek organization’s treasurer. Giannatos said the work touches a nerve for every Greek, as it is about “the struggle to maintain and preserve our culture.”
Feb. 25’s two and a half-hour concert will take place in the FSSA’s Tony Bennett Concert Hall, which seats 800 people. In what is perhaps a sign of Elytis’ enduring popularity, or the enduring strength of Queens’ Greek Community, the show is almost sold out as of this week. There are two dozen or so tickets left, Toumaras said
The idea for the concert was formed 10 months ago, but work didn’t begin in earnest until the summer, according to Giannatos and Toumaras. While most of the show will take place in Greek, Toumaras thinks even non-Greek speakers can enjoy the works.
“Music is an international language,” she said.
In addition to Theodorakis’ musical version of “To Axion Esti,” other works that set Elytis’ words to music will also be performed, by composers including Manos Hatzidakis, Manos Loizos, Stavros Xarhakos and others. The actual pieces, however, will not be announced until the day of the concert, according to the Greek Cultural Center’s office, in order to maintain an element of surprise.
Organizing the show required bringing a total of four musicians, aside from Lekkas, from Greece, according to Toumaras: Stathis Savvidis, Apostolos Tsardakas, Ioannis Filipoupolitis and Panos Bousalis. In addition, local drummer George Maniatis is slated to perform along with a 10-person choir organized by the GCC especially for the concert.
“It’s been a lot of work,” Toumaras said. The cost of the show has been covered by and large by private donations, she explained. The Greek organization is putting together a commemorative book that will include the names of all those who made donations.
The GCC is also presenting a play, “In-laws from Tirana,” that will premiere on March 9 and run through April 29. English subtitles will accompany the Greek work, about Albanian-Greek relations.
When: Feb. 25 at 7 p.m.
Where: Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, Tony Bennett Concert Hall, 35-12 35 Ave., Astoria