By Ted AYALA
It may come as something of a surprise to many that, pace Norman Lebrecht, classical music refuses to die. That the flames of its popularity have decreased in the past few decades there is no doubt. But through it all, the fire of creation and music-making is still there – a flickering ember waiting for better times.
New performers that equal (and sometimes surpass) the mastery of past great virtuosos are still being produced. Great composers are, however, a comparative rarity these days.
“It must be something in the air,” the great poet Anna Akhmatova responded to a journalist that had asked her about the dearth of good poetry in the Soviet Union of the 1920s. Her comments may as well apply here. While there perhaps has never been another point in history when new composers abound as they do today, very few are worthy of any mention. But among the multitude of chaff, there are some few precious grains of golden wheat that awaits harvesting by inquisitive musical minds. The music of George N. Gianopoulos, resident of Los Angeles, is surely the work of an artist that breathes the air of a higher plane.
I first came across Gianopoulos’ music last spring at a Positive Motions chamber concert held at the First Baptist Church of Glendale. His Sonata for Two Cellos (“Splashes of Spring”), which was played at that concert, immediately gained my attention. It is exceedingly rare to come across music that is so winningly melodic and so unpretentiously joyful and spirited.
“I didn’t have any formal music training until I was 18,” recounted Gianopoulos. “I went to State University of New York at Oswego and didn’t go into music until I took a music appreciation class called ‘The World of Music.’ One day, my teacher played a piece by Debussy on the piano. I had never heard anything like it before in my life.” The scales fell from Gianopoulos’ eyes and the desire to be a composer was set right there and then.
The following semester, Gianopoulos enrolled in a music theory class where he excelled. He soon began taking private lessons with Dr. Robert M. Auler. Reminiscing about his teacher, Gianopoulos said, “Auler was my sole musical instructor. He was my mentor.”
The career of a musical composer can be an arduous one. Asked why he chose to venture onto that path, Gianopoulos said, “Growing up I always wanted to travel a creative path. By the time I came to music at 18, I was too late to become a professional classical musician. But my heart was always with creating, so it felt like a natural direction to go into composition.”
“No man is an island,“ quipped Robert Schumann in regards to composers and the debt they owe to their musical influences and predecessors. George N. Gianopoulos is no different. But whereas other composers’ music can sound derivative and second-hand, Gianopoulos’ music is able to fuse diverse elements and influences into a very personal and highly original voice that is unmistakably his.
“So many composers have influenced me,” he explained. “Russian music, in particular, I love: Rachmaninoff, Prokofieff, Scriabin, Tchaikovsky. I also love French music too: Debussy, Poulenc, Françaix, and so on are all composers I love. I also have always had a strong appreciation for American jazz.”
When asked whether jazz music has strongly informed his work, he responded, “I would like to think so, yes. I like to interpret jazz harmonies through a classical lens.”
One of Gianopoulos’s exciting prospects is the possibility of having one of his piano works recorded on the Naxos label by pianist Avguste Antonov. “[Antonov] is a great pianist […] who has formed a niche playing virtuoso piano works by living American composers. I’ve written so much piano music, that it was a natural choice for him.”
Antonov has taken his campaign to fund this important project online. (Links to help support this project are at the end of this article.)
Yesterday, Jan. 12 was the premiere of his new “String Quintet, op.22” at the Paper or Plastik Café in Los Angeles, where it was paired with Franz Schubert’s valedictory opus for the same musical forces. Members of the Symbiosis Chamber Orchestra performed this youthful program.
“I was asked to write it around mid November, but I literally just finished it a couple days ago!” commented Gianopoulos in regards to his String Quintet. “There’s probably elements of French music in it, especially that of Jean Françaix. But I can’t really say that any composer really influenced this piece.” Asked what he hoped his audience would feel when they heard his new work, Gianopoulos replied in his characteristically humble way, “I want them to get an enjoyable experience.” Then with an almost audible grin he added, “I just hope they don’t feel like they wasted the last few minutes of their lives!”
For more information on George N. Gianopoulos’s music, visit: http://www.georgengianopoulos.com/. can His Facebook page can also be found at http://www.facebook.com/pages/
To find out more about his debut CD project and how to help fund it, visit http://www.indiegogo.com/Debut-CD-American-Music.