Greek Pianist Plays Cavafy Poems as Part of the 2017 Cavafia in Egypt


Greek music composer and pianist Stefanos Korkolis concluded the events of the 14th International Literature Symposium, Cavafia 2017, in Alexandria, Egypt on October 13 until October 15.

In celebration of the poetry of the renowned Alexandrian Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, Korkolis performed pieces of Cavafy’s famous poems such as Desires, Faraway, An old man and the Land of Ionia.

Cafavy (1863-1933) was born to Greek parents in Alexandria and would become one of the most important figures in the revival of the Greek poetic canon. However, to Alexandria, he, together with British writers Laurence Durrell and E.M. Forster, came to play a more important role in the creation and maintenance of the image of the city as a cosmopolitan melting-pot of different languages and cultures.

These three European writers became the foremost literary representatives of the so-called cosmopolitan Alexandria. Critics highlight their elitist perspective on the city, particularly, how their writings first and foremost focus on the city’s European inhabitants while excluding the indigenous Egyptians.

Some, such as Alexandrian literature professor Hala Halim, even go so far as to call their literary productions “a quasi-colonial historiographical narrative of Alexandria’s cosmopolitanism” – a fantasy that merely helps reproduce the illusion of a supposed ‘golden age’ of European hegemony over Egypt.

The 2017 Cavafia event was held in collaboration with the Hellenic Foundation for Culture, the Greek Embassy in Egypt, the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports, in addition to the Greek Cultural Centre in Cairo, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, Cairo Opera House, Bibliotheca Alexandria, and the Greek community of Alexandria. The event was officially sponsored by the Hellenic Parliament and the National Bank of Greece.

The event included talks and seminars with international writers, translators, and professors from many international universities such as University of Oxford and Columbia University among many others.

In an interview with Maydaa Abo El Nandar from Egyptian Streets and , Korkolis spoke about his passion for music and transforming poetry into musical compositions.

How did you start your musical career?

I was lucky to have a piano at home which allowed me to start playing at the age of four years old.

Also, I was able to easily memorize classical pieces and reproduce them on the piano almost intact. I performed my first real concert when I was seven years old.

And then, I began my studies at the Conservatory of Athens where I was guided by Marika Papaioannou and instructed by Phoebe Vallinda.

Finally, I received my diploma in piano in Paris where he studied composition, orchestration and cinema music.

How did your experience in Paris influence your career?

Paris gave me the chance to attend classes instructed by praised figures in the world of music including Pierre Boulez and Astor Piazzolla.  Although the time I spent learning with Vladimir Horowitz. I learned about the true value of music and the techniques that only an efficient musician could master.

I won my first prize for modern ballet composition at the Val-de-Marne International Festival.

Was your career focused on classical music only?

For me, music cannot be divided into pieces. So after returning to Athens, I started a pop-rock career, and it was a very successful experience.

I made an album titled the “First Touch” which was sold all around the world, and became platinum in around 13 or 14 countries. The album opened the doors for a new career and gave me the opportunity to travel a lot.

I composed music for the play of “Theodora” and the film of “Up, down and sideways”, both directed by the memorable Michael Cacoyannis, a Greek Cypriot filmmaker best known for his film “Zorba the Greek”.

The figure who influenced me deeply is Mikis Theodorakis, a legendary Greek composer who composed the music of “Zorba the Greek”. I consider him my godfather and I could describe our relationship as more of son and fatherI am honored to be officially the ambassador of Theodorakis’ music in Greece and abroad.

Tell us more about your visits to Egypt

I came to Egypt around 20 years ago to compose music for the episodes of Ion Dragoumis, who is quite a prestigious figure in the Greek history.

Dragoumis was a Greek writer, philosopher, revolutionary and a diplomat who served as a vice-council of Greece in Alexandria.

As he spent a time of his life in Egypt, parts of the episodes were shot here.

In order to compose music for this work, I came to Egypt to be inspired by the place.

Along with the preparations for the Cavafia 2017’s event, I am ready to release a CD next month based on Cavafy’s poetry. On the CD Cavafy’s poems are articulated while my music is being played. And this was challenging because it was difficult to compose music depending on Cavafy’s way of writing poems.

I will be performing Cavafy’s CD not only in Greece, but also in France, England, and many countries worldwide.

And finally, could you explain the process of transforming a poem into a musical composition? 

I had to search and learn about Cavafy’s life and soul in order to get him closer to me. So I had to read not only his poems but also about his life and his detailed biography. I spent around one year to study his life and get inside his soul.

When the time came to accompany his poems with music, it came very naturally as I was composing music not for written words but for Cavafy’s soul. When inspiration comes, nothing can stop it.

I performed my first live concert, of that CD, at the Cairo Opera House.

Also, I performed pieces from Cavafy’s CD in Alexandria, the birthplace of Cavafy and the place where he spent most of his life, this was, of course, very charming.