Who is Alkis Baltas?

6 - Phasma016 - cover

BALTAS: Panoria. Monologue* / *Theodore Kerkezos, a-sax;  Janáček Philharmonic Orch.; Alkis Baltas, cond / Phasma 016

Greek composer Alkis Baltas was born in Thessaloniki, graduated from Aristotle University in 1974 with a law degree, but then extended his musical studies at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin, where he graduated with a diploma in composition and conducting. His musical experience has all been in his native country: Artistic Director of the Thessaloniki State Orchestra (1983-1992), Artistic Director of the Greek National Opera 1994-1997) and holding a similar position with the Music Ensembles of Greek Radio between 1997 and 1999. Since then he has also worked for the Municipality of Corfu Symphony Orchestra, the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra, and other similar posts.

Panoria, composed during 2002-03, is freely based on the story of Panoris, or Gyparis, by Renaissance writer Georgios Chortatsis. The story is summarized in the booklet as follows:

Panoria and Athousa are Amazons – hunters – in Psiloreitis mountain.
Gyparis is in love with Panoria, and Alexis with Athousa.
The two girls do not believe in love and prefer hunting deer to starting a family.
The old woman Frosyni feels sorry for the two young men in love and promises to help them.
At the end, the goddess Aphrodite orders Cupid to throw his darts at the two girls, and they fall into the arms of the two young men.

Baltas purposely included some references to Renaissance music in his score, which is modern but essentially tonal. The opening section is mostly in D minor with some clashing chords tossed in for flavor; it is also highly rhythmic in the manner of Greek folk dance music.

Some of the music, i.e. “Dance of Cupid and Dance of Gyparis and Alexis,” verges on the edge of movie music, but Baltas manages to keep its quality and integrity a couple of cuts above this by means of exotic chords and frequent transitions, although the cello tune in the middle is resolutely tonal. In a way, this music reminded me of some of Nikos Skalkottas’ more popular, “Greek”-influenced works of the post-World War II period.

As ballet music, however, it is quite good and remains relatively interesting throughout its 43-minute length. Yet although I like it for the most part, I must admit that the musical style is not particularly original though the themes are and Baltas is clearly a skilled enough composer to hold your interest. His orchestration is also particularly colorful, which I also appreciated. I particularly liked the bouncy, harmonically-skewed waltz in “Dance of Couples” and the swirling exotica of “Sad Frosyni and Dance of Men.” These sections almost sound like a skewed Prokofiev ballet.

In fact, the longer I listened to Baltas’ ballet the more I liked it. It has contrasts, well-written and interesting music, as well as a good meter for dancers. By the time it was finished, I was fairly convinced that it was the best new ballet score I’ve heard in at least a decade.

The ballet is then followed by a 15-minute piece called Monologue for alto saxophone and orchestra. This was written in 2009 as a ballet for one dancer representing “various sentiments and emotions.” and was dedicated to the sax soloist here, Theodore Kerkezos. The music here is very different from that of Panoria: the harsh, grating opening orchestral chord tells you as much, and even when the music calms down a bit the orchestral sonorities are much harsher and the harmonic language more astringent even in the lyrical passages. Although Kerkezos is the principal soloist, he is not the only one; there are other string and wind solos woven into the score. Baltas uses many more violent rhythms as well; apparently, his dancer goes through a lot of very black moods.

A strange but interesting disc, then.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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