Laaris pays tribute to Tsontakis

Renowned classical pianist Nikolaos Laaris pays tribute to composer George Tsontakis and performs his epic “Ghost Variations” on Tuesday, October 21, 7:00 p.m. at the Onassis Center (Olympic Tower, 645 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan). Inspired by a Mozart theme, this work is followed by two pieces of the great Viennese master: a duo for violin and viola and a piano trio. Nikolaos Laaris is joined by Alexandros Sakarellos, violin, and Krystalia Gaitanou, viola.

“I decided to work on Tsontakis' ‘Ghost Variations’ in 2002, when I first listened to it in Wigmore Hall, London,” says Laaris in an interview with NEO. “The British pianist Stephen Hough, dedicatee of the work, performed it in a most compelling way. I was really astonished that a modern (composed in 1991) solo piano piece of thirty-two minutes would hold my attention so well and would end in such an astonishing and theatrical way: with knockings on piano's wood frame.” It was then and there that the idea about the upcoming concert was born. “I wanted to reproduce and convey Tsontakis' musical messages to my audience and speak Tsontakis' language: a language deeply rooted in tradition – the ‘ghost’ element of the piece is in fact a number of variations on a theme of a piano concerto by Mozart. Moreover, Tsontakis uses beautiful sounds, evokes theatricality and has vivid musical content. Stephen Hough even sees a Greek-disguised dance in the final pages of the work. I perceive this moment as a santouri solo.”

Not only music-lovers, but also music-experts are thrilled with Tsontakis’ compositions. According to Laaris, “no other American composer has indeed won so many prestigious awards in such a small time-frame: Last year George Tsontakis received the Charles Ives Living by the American Academy of Arts and Letters and two years before he had won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award by the University of Louisville.”

Nikolaos Laaris, who was singled out by the leading London critic Stephen Pettitt of The Times, as “a fine artist, incapable of making an ugly sound,” studied piano, violin, and theory at the Athens Conservatory, obtained his Master’s Degree at the Royal College of Music, London, and his Doctorate at the Manhattan School of Music, where he is the coordinator of Aural Skills. He has performed throughout Europe and at Carnegie Hall here, in New York. He has also appeared with orchestras in Greece, Germany, the UK, and the US. His piano teachers include Nina Svetlanova, Chun-Yee Yu and Martino Tirimo. Laaris has also worked with Tatiana Nikolayeva, Murray Perahia and Pierre Boulez.

Violinist Alexandros Sakarellos has performed as a soloist, recitalist, chamber and orchestral musician all over the world and in some of the most important venues, such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Wiener Musikverein and Sydney Opera House. Since 2006 he has been a leading violinist of the highly acclaimed Verbier Festival Orchestra and the same festival’s Chamber Orchestra, working with artists such as James Levine, Kurt Masur, Valery Gergiev, Zubin Mehta, Charles Dutoit, Martha Argerich, Maxim Vengerov and Renee Fleming.

Born into a family of musicians in 1982, Greek violist Krystalia Gaitanou started playing the violin under the tutelage of Dimitri Semsis. At the age of 16 she switched over to viola, studying with Natassa Anana at the Musical Horizons Conservatory in Athens. Upon her graduation she received a Viola Diploma and a First Prize, while at the same time she was honored with a Gold Medal for excellence (a superior distinction awarded for the first time to a violinist.) At the same time, she holds a Bachelor's Degree in Musicology from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. Ms. Gaitanou earned the "Alexandra Trianti" Scholarship from the Athens Megaron Concert Hall and pursued further studies in Paris with Vincent Aucante and Isabelle Lequien. She is currently pursuing her Master's Degree in the prestigious Orchestral Performance Program of The Manhattan School of Music, in the studio of Karen Dreyfus.


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