Several Vangelis fans visited the new Mythodea concert at the Temple of Zeus in Athens (2001) and wrote down their experiences.
Totally worthwhile, that´s the best way to describe this event which after so much trouble took place. At first I wasn´t going: I was supposed to be working on the 28th so I just intended to sit opposite my computer screen and read what the lucky ones had to tell about the concert. But, well, each news on the event (on the Direct list, Elsewhere, E-kathimerini), each new pic, each new directer telling he was going made me get involved more and more in all this thing so, in the end, I just couldn´t help it. The turning point was when I saw that huge picture of the ticket in Elsewhere, and when I realized how easy it was to get one (really the most important stumbling block), thanks to a group of people who had been working hard on this (Dennis, Sufian…). Then, I called to Ticket Hellas and to my surprise, I was buying the ticket!! I had nothing prepared: I had to tell (beg) my boss, had to buy the plane tickets (both here in Spain and in Greece pilots were on strike so it wasn´t easy, in the end I had to fly Alitalia) and there I went. A warm Athens received me in the small hours of the 28th. The city was so lively and welcoming that I decided to walk my way from Syntagma to Karaiskaki (where my hotel was) through Panepistimiou, with all its neoclassical buildings (Academy, National Library…) beautifully lit in the night.
This little odyssey, together with the fact of course that Vangelis does not often indeed give concerts, explains my degree of excitement at the gates of the temple of Olympian Zeus. And I wasn´t the only one. Lots of eager people were at the entrance, too small for all of us. Till we finally got our seats there was a bit of a mess. As Yorgos, a nice student of Law sitting next to me told me, "chaos" is a Greek word (I replied that living myself in a Mediteranean country I was used to the concept). Then, before the concert began, we spoke about all the fuss created around the concert, the Real Madrid (he didn´t believe Zidane was to come to play to the Real…), the colonels, Franco, Cyprus, the Basque conflict, Calatrava (the Spanish architect that is going to design the 2004 Olympic Games stadium: he told me there was a exhibition on him at the National Gallery, which I visited) … And then, the concert started.
A cosmic, intriguing, atmospheric beginning made me hold my breath: it was the man in person, and was playing live my favorite of his many styles. Then, he would get more and more into the background yielding protagonism to the chorus first, to the orchestra next, and finally to the powerful sopranos. Some moments (especially the "dialogues" between the fantastic choir and the sopranos, on top form) were really moving, touching you well inside. Nevertheless , this "choral symphony", as it is defined in the classy leaflet we were given at the entrance, is no "easy listening", I thought. It needs some work to really get the gist of it, a bit like El Greco, a first listening is just not enough (so the concert left me with a sort of deep yearning for the CD): that´s probably why people were a bit cold during the play and the little torches we were given only flashed during the encore of Chariots and Conquest, although in the end, a reprise of the introductory theme was accompanied by clapping. This theme (somewhat in the line of Conquest or Voices track 1) is probably the most catchy, and as I´m reading these days in the list, it may have been composed for the NASA project especially, as a "hook" perhaps, whereas the rest of the movements tend to be more like El Greco (but more powerful and moving), Mask (but less sinthy and more balanced), Antigona (but more elaborate and developed) and a bit like some moments in Athens 97 (but less raw and much better achieved in its clasicism). Did I miss something? Well, more synth solos adding to the orchestra here and there and an explanation as to which myth had inspired each movement (or just the names of each theme).
As to the location: simply superb. The columns of the temple were in fact a continuation of the huge canvas were images were projected , reflecting different colors according to the mood of the movement (very subtle light effects changed the stage apperance in each movement). Lots of class. Probably it was worth the risk. Mars, shining in the clear sky, became also protagonist of the concert: a voice in off told us its location in the sky. I often have a look at it since, and it reminds me all this wonderful experience (the concert, but also the hectic flea market of Monastiraki, the picturesque streets of Plaka, the impressive Acropolis and Thisseion, the quiet port of Mikrolimano, the Archaelogical Museum, those beautiful Byzantine churches like Agia Ekaterini…).
Finally I´ll say that I have the feeling we have attended something more than a simple concert. Mr Theodorakis´ ego and the public money issue (always a sensitive topic) apart, it´s been an epic struggle between people who think traditions must remain pure and untouched and more innovative people who believe that those traditions can be enhanced with technology joining old (a temple 2000 years old) and new (NASA Mars Odyssey Mission) and showing Greece has a future, not only a past.
In the evening of June the 28th we assembled near the entrance of one of the main archeological sites in Athens: The Temple of Zeus. We being a group of enthusiastic Vangelis fans who managed to get a ticket for the Mythodea concert. As the start of the concert drew nearer, more and more "fans" appeared. As did "other people". The main difference between these groups is the nationality, age, sex, and the dressing. The "fans" are practically from all over the world, around 30 in age, mostly male, and wear a casual outfit. The "other people" are mainly Greek people, 20-50 in age, mixed sexes, and well dressed for the occasion. I am one of the "fans". And although we stood there quite long, there was not much interaction between these groups.
Eventually, the gate was opened and people were let in in small groups at a time. Although security officers did not frisk people, somehow the ticket checking took quite some time. When people started pushing, the security officers could no longer control the masses and we could more or less walk in without any problem. Inside the gate, the path let to the stage and the stands. Along the way, we got a nice program booklet and a small flash light. According to that program, the piece to be performed was a "choral symphony". The music was also going to be used by NASA for their mission to the planet Mars, but I don't know what they are going to use it for.
From here we had to find the right section on the stands, but fortunately we were assisted by nice ladies who showed us our seats. Most of us were in section Gamma 8: First class seats. This section was a little to the left of the stage, on the 8th row from the front. Actually these were quite good places since seats further to the back sat much further away from the stage, although they could see a little bit more on the top of it. Seats more to the front had to look up a bit to see what happened on the stage and probably had difficulties seeing Vangelis.
The stage itself was large enough to fit a complete symphony orchestra. Remarkable was the setup of the percussion: On the left of the orchestra (behind the violins) were two large drums (timpani), and a rack of tubular bells. The brass section was located on the right side of the stage, together with an array of cellos and contra basses. Vangelis sat in the middle of the orchestra behind a kind of large circular desk, directly in front of the conductor. On each side of him was a harp. Behind the orchestra, on top of a kind of stage formed by an elevation in the terrain, was a row of about 20 timpani. Behind them stood a choir of about 150 people: Female voices on the left side, the males on the right side. And behind them was a construction that held up a huge white screen (more than 100 meters wide and some 20 meters high) with some spot lights. It was behind the remains of the temple.
Slowly, the audience came in. Finally, some hidden speaker announced the concert in Greek, French, and English. He also kindly told us what to do (switch of phones, wave the flash lights during some pieces), what not to do (make recordings, photographs, etc.), and informed us that the performance was being recorded for TV and DVD release. After the conductor came in, Vangelis walked to the stage and sat behind his equipment. And even though he hadn't played a single note yet, he already got a big applause!
The performance started with an introductory part of mainly electronic sound effects, noises and string washes. A starry sky was now projected on the screen. Soon, this part was followed by a strong, catchy opener that set the mood for the following hour. Originally, "Mythodea" was composed and performed already in 1993, shortly after "1492, Conquest of Paradise". Therefore, I find it not surprising that "Mythodea" at first sounds a bit like a sequel to this work. But there are huge differences. "1492" was composed for a movie, "Mythodea" is a work on its own. Moreover, "1492" is synth-based with orchestra sounds and some vocals, while "Mythodea" is orchestra-based, with synth parts and a strong emphasis on vocals. Another difference is that "1492" features quite some piano, where this instrument would prove to be absent in "Mythodea". In that respect, "Mythodea" also has some resemblance with the "Mask" album from 1985.
After this opener, which increased in volume towards the climax (just like Ravell's "Bolero"), and had a strong cadenza (like Orff's "O Fortuna" from "Carmina Burana") came a quiet choral piece with a tranquil timpani backing. Although this piece at first sounded as "dark" and ominous as "Mask", there were some dramatic, blissful moments.
The third movement reminded me of "El Greco", or rather "Foros Timis Ston Greko" from 1995. More precisely, the fifth movement of the latter work. Vangelis got Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle to sing the solo voices. In addition, the harp, string, and choir parts gave this movement a very Byzantine feeling. A picture symbolizing "from Alpha to Omega" was now projected on the screen. This movement seamlessly changed into the fourth movement, which lacked the Byzantine feel and sounded more like classic Vangelis (in more than one meaning of the word "classic"). The aforementioned sopranos were still present. To my taste, this movement was too long (over 10 minutes) because there was not much progression. There are some highlights, however. For example, where the "Mask phrase" returns, and at the very end where some strange, spacey noises lead to a big crescendo of percussion that culminates in a kind of Big Bang.
The announcer now asked our attention for a (coincidental?) phenomenon. Right above the few remaining columns of the Temple of Zeus shined a bright star. This star was actually the planet Mars, and to the right of it was the star Paris from the constellation of Orion.
The next movement started a bit like the boring (again, my opinion) middle part of movement 4. However, after a few minutes, the mood changed to become more ominous (choir). The solo voice, sung by Kathleen Battle, expressed some uncertainty on what to expect next, even a bit of desperation. Fortunately, the next movement showed relief. It had strong resemblance with a typical opera aria, but a Vangelis feel was still present. Towards the end, there was a slight change to the Byzantine mood, only to seamlessly continue into the next movement. This movement had a stronger beginning than the former and after the second soprano joined in, the choir added even more power to the piece. Quite abruptly, a short purely orchestral intermezzo followed. The movement finished with a quite uplifting, rhythmic vocal part.
The next movement was more of the same as in the first half of movement 5. Some wind noises introduced the next movement, that started with a nice, quiet duet. Later, the choir took over and the Vangelis sound came back. Suddenly, the bombastic theme from movement 1 returned. After a short crescendo, the movement and the whole "Mythodea" work, ended with space noises, similar to what it started with.
All in all, "Mythodea" lasted a little over an hour. I think that the overall quality of the work was outstanding. It was unlike any of his previous works, although the Vangelis signature was present throughout, of course. About the vocal parts I can only say that I could not recognize any language. It could be word painting like in "1492", but also a twisted variation on some language. It is the most classical thing he has done so far and in that respect it may averse some existing fans. Whether it will attract new fans, either from the classical audience or the mass audience, that probably will be bombarded with advertisements soon, remains to be seen.
Following "Mythodea", 3 encores were played. First "Chariots of Fire" and "Conquest of Paradise". After the latter, a group of press photographers was let in. The poor people on the first rows couldn't see anything anymore... The beautiful aria from movement 9 was redone.
This concluded the beautiful performance. When the "fans" reunited outside the temple complex, we all came to the same conclusion: Wonderful! We would not have wanted to miss this. Even though, we learned from people at other places that some of the obviously "not-fan" people kept on talking or phoning during the performance...
The next day started with a small surprise. We heard from the editor of a magazine about electronic music, who stayed in the same hotel as we, that the whole work would be reperformed that day. The reason for this second performance was that the record company wanted to take more shots, to fill the gaps of the original recording. Nobody knew if there would be people allowed to watch it. So we tried our luck and went back to the Temple of Zeus. One of us politely asked the security officer at the gate if it was possible for us to enter because we had heard about the reperformance. The man told us that it was the request of Vangelis himself that anyone who wanted to see it, should be let in.
So, there we were again to see the master perform for a second time in only two days. We were quite free to choose where we wanted to sit, but we had to remain in the second class section, behind the cameras. The performance was exactly the same as the day before, except that there were no announcements, no introductory sound effects, and no encores.
After the performance, most people left, but we hung around for a while. That was a good decision since Vangelis also hung around. He appeared very relaxed and mingled with some groups of people. Some of us, including myself, managed to approach him and thank him for the great performances that day and the day before. We also managed to get behind the stage and have a look at Vangelis' setup. Very impressive - mostly custom built - equipment! Soon after this, some movements were redone again. This time, the cameras were even on the stage.
The movements that were redone were movement 3, which was restarted halfway because of wrong images being projected, and two times movement 9. In between, Vangelis played some phrases (a few bars) in his own, very recognizable style. Of course we gave him a big applause for that, which he acknowledged by waving at us. Two of the pieces were waltzes, one of them being "The Blue Danube" by Strauss.
After these repeats, the crew started breaking down the stage. However, someone apparently asked Vangelis to play something or to show his equipment, and he did. Although what he played could not be heard over the PA, we could hear some noises coming from the monitor speakers. Most of us therefore rushed to the stage and could watch his hands while he was playing. Unfortunately, he played very briefly, but still it was fantastic to see the man playing close up!
John Van Houtert