Kyriakos Kalaitzides sheds light on the hidden musical treasures of the Byzantine world — Stir


WITH HIS SHAPPED CREST and determined gaze, Kyriakos Kalaitzides could easily be cast in a Hollywood action thriller, even if, being an “outsider”, he would inevitably be cast as the villain. In real life, however, he is a hero, a sort of Raiding Lost Archives determined to restore the sonic treasures of the Eastern Mediterranean to their rightful place in the history of music.

Examining dusty monastery documents and unearthing long-forgotten hymn books, he embarked on a journey of discovery that has already shed surprising and benign light on a land often torn by conflict.

To narrow his quest down to the essentials, he discovered written records of music once thought to be a purely oral – and secular, tradition – preserved over the centuries by monastic scribes. It’s the musicological equivalent of finding a treasure trove of royal gold in a ruined abbey.

“I split my time between music and research for many years,” Kalaitzides says in a phone interview from his home in Thessaloniki on the Aegean Sea. “By playing the musical traditions coming from this part of the earth – that is to say, today, Turkey, Greece, the Arab world, Iran, etc. who has used the notation since the 10th century continuously, until today. So, around 1999, I was preparing an album of music by an eminent composer from Constantinople, Zakharia Khanendeh, who lived in the 18th century, and I found a composition of him in some manuscripts of Byzantine church music, using the same notation that was standard for writing church music.”

Further research revealed that hundreds of secular compositions – by Turks, Greeks, Arabs, Jews, Armenians and Persians – have been slipped into liturgical music files throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, and Others are discovered every year. A sampling of Kalaitzides’ favorites make up the program he, his band En Chordais and Montreal musicians from Constantinople will present in Treasures from Byzantine Manuscripts, at the BlueShore Financial Center for the Performing Arts this weekend. Go there and you will hear music that has never been played in British Columbia. But you can also enjoy Kalaitzides’ virtuosity at the oud and his reunion with the founder of Constantinople, Kiya Tabassian, who has been part of this musicological journey from the start.


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