A Musical Tribute to the Poetry of Iakovos Kambanellis

Jan 15, 2018

Last month, the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies, together with the Department of Music and the Orange Pan-Hellenic Association, presented “A Musical Tribute to the Poetry of Iakovos Kambanellis.” The concert featured the talents of mezzo-soprano Lina Orfanos, along with seven musicians who are active in the Greek music and jazz scenes in the New York Area: Igor Begelman (clarinet); John Benitez (bass); Charles Blenzig (piano); Spiros Exaras (guitar); Mathias Kunzli (percussion); Chris Papson (bouzouki/mandolin); and Brandon Phelps (cello).

Iakovos Kambanellis was a Greek poet, playwright, screenwriter, lyricist and novelist. In 1942, Kambanellis was arrested after attempting to escape Nazi-occupied Greece. He was imprisoned at Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp for the remainder of the war. Kambanellis wrote extensively about his haunting experiences as a Holocaust survivor, including several poems that were sung at the Oct. 22 concert.

The tribute concert featured songs from for Mikis Theodorakis' Mauthausen and Orfanos’ recently released album, On the Shores of the Moon, which is comprised entirely of Kambanellis' poetry. “What made this concert particularly special was that we had the opportunity to hear the world premiere of the ten-song set, On the Shores of the Moon,” said Nikitas Tampakis ’14, a Hellenic Studies certificate graduate and the concert’s organizer. “These previously unpublished poems were entrusted to Orfanos by Kambanellis’ daughter.”

On the Shores of the Moon was composed by Spiros Exaras, who has previously performed in Hellenic Studies' 2015 concert tribute to lyricist Lina Nikolakopoulou. “Many of the songs performed at the concert are part of the standard Greek repertoire,” Tampakis observed. “Particularly the song ‘Strose to stroma sou gia dio’ (‘Prepare Your Mattress for Two’), which was the basis for Theodorakis' Zorba's Dance.”

While the music may have sounded familiar to many, Exaras’ compositions are a genre of their own. “Exaras' music work is dynamic and eclectic, blending Greek, jazz, classical, and hip-hop elements,” Tampakis said. Exaras even brought in Greek actor Stratos Tzortzoglou to perform a dramatic reading of “August Moon.”

From the upbeat tunes of songs like “Dolls from Pangrati”—the Princeton Athens Center’s neighborhood—to the haunting melodies of “Song of Songs” and “The Fugitive,” the audience thoroughly enjoyed the moving performance of Orfanos, Exaras and the other talented musicians.

“As a music major with a master’s degree in fine arts, Stanley J. Seeger ’52 valued the important role of music in Greek culture,” said Dimitri Gondicas ’78, the Center’s executive director. “Concerts like these embody the vision he had for Hellenic Studies at Princeton: a collaborative endeavor that connects disciplines across the University.”