Thursday, October 18, 2018

Zorba the Buddha


A recent discovery has been the music of Efi Markoulaki who is seen above. She was born in Athens in 1960 and has been a member of the Greek Composers Union since 2004. Among the composers who have influenced her through personal contact are Jonathan Harvey and Toshio Hosokawa. The Greek cellist Michael Heupel has recorded Efi Markoulaki's Cretan Suite for cello on Afierossis, a CD of 20th & 21st century works for solo cello. The disc is released on the German Ars label and delivers a splendidly visceral cello sound from its SACD layer.

Efi Markoulaki's Cretan Suite is most definitely not the usual folkloric pastiche. In her sleeve note Efi Markoulaki writes that: I "attempted to 'listen again' to a music that is deeply ingrained in my lived experience and my memories... My aim was to highlight the fundamental concepts of the source material for each movement while linking it to my personal aesthetic". She makes no allusions to supermundane agendas, but speculating about them is intriguing if not necessarily accurate. Crete's most celebrated cultural icon is the author of Zorba the Greek Nikos Kazantzakis. In Vienna in 1922 Kazantzakis studied Buddhist scriptures and began a play dramatising the Buddha's life. Writing in the autobiographical Report to Greco he describes how: "of all the people the earth has begotten, Buddha stands resplendently at the summit, an absolutely pure spirit". The wisdom traditions of the East extended beyond Nikos Kazantzakis, and in The Strong Wind from the East Markos Madias describes how Hinduism and Buddhism - particularly Zen - influenced prominent Greek intellectuals of the twentieth century including Nobel Laureate Giorgis Seferis. On more disputatious ground, the controversial Indian mystic and teacher Osho coined the term Zorba the Buddha to describe the anthropomorphic result of blending temporal and absolute reality. The term has transcended Osho's dalliances and has been adopted by a number of spiritual movements.

Intriguingly these strong winds from the East also blow through Efi Markoulaki's musical influences. Jonathan Harvey's debt to Buddhism has been covered here several times and Toshio Hosokawa considers the compositional process to be instinctively associated with the concepts of Zen and its symbolic interpretation of nature. However Efi Markoulaki's Cretan Suite really does not need speculative sub-agendas to make its case. One of the movements played by the Suite's dedicatee Michael Heupel can be auditioned on a YouTube video, and its provenance is indicated by the company it keeps on the cellist's recital disc:

William Walton: Passacaglia
Bertold Hummel: Fantasia II “In Memoriam Pablo Casals”
Krzysztof Penderecki: Per Slava
György Kurtág: Pilinsky Janos: Gerard de Neval & Memoriam Aczél György
Miklós Rózsa: Toccata Capricciosa
Efi Markoulaki: Cretan Suite
Aulis Sallinen: Elegia Sebastian Knight’ille
György Ligeti: Sonata for solo cello



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