One man turns Syros into a music destination
Every summer for the past 13 years, the International Festival of the Aegean transforms Syros into a destination for classical music and opera aficionados from all over the world, but few know that this institution owes its existence to one man’s admiration for a theater.
Greek-American producer and conductor Peter Tiboris, organizer of hundreds of concerts at New York’s magnificent Carnegie Hall, visited the Cycladic island’s restored Apollo Theater in 1991 and instantly got a yearning to to plan a festival there. Six years later his dream came true and Syros – with which he had no personal connection until then – became a second home for himself and his wife, Canadian- Finnish soprano Eilana Lappalainen, founder in 2010 of the Greek Opera Studio.
“Even though most of my work is in New York, the International Festival of the Aegean has become very important not just for Syros or the global audience, but also for me personally,” Tiboris said earlier this month, just hours after arriving in the country to prepare for this year’s festival, running July 16-30.
Even though he was born in the US, where his grandparents had settled many decades earlier, his musical journey was intrinsically linked to his Greek roots. Proficient at the piano by the age of 9 years old, young Tiboris started taking organ lessons at the Greek Orthodox Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and a year later was appointed organist of the parish. Years later, in 1984, he was asked to organize a concert in New York in tribute to Archbishop Iakovos of America, an event that eventually led to MidAmerica Productions.
Since then, Tiboris has conducted more than 1,300 concerts at emblematic theaters around the world and directed concerts, operas and ballets. At the same time, he has strengthened his cultural ties to Greece even further, and not just with Syros festival. In July 2020, for example, he will direct the world premier of “Eleni” in Athens, an opera based on the novel by his friend and author Nicholas Gage, taking the pro- duction to Carnegie Hall at the start of the following year.
Tiboris has described the performance as an oratorio for a big choir, five soloists and one narrator, adding that Gage himself has been cast as narrator.
With state funding pulled because of cutbacks, the festival in the past few years has been bankrolled by Tiboris himself and by private sponsors. “The festival costs around 400,000 euros a year and proceeds from the tickets barely come to 30,000 euros,” he admits.
The conductor, however, is not losing heart and believes the crisis has an expiration date. “Greece is a small but an important country and this is something that the European Union, as well as the United States, are starting to realize. The 2008-2013 crisis in the US was horrific, but we were ultimately able to recover and the same thing will happen here, even if it takes a little longer.”
Among the exciting events on this year’s program at the International Festival of the Aegean are the premier of “Madama Butterly” directed by Johannes Weigand and conducted by Giovanni Pacor, a gala with the stars of the National Ballet of Bucharest choreographed by Renato Zanella and a concert by 100 choirs from the US and Greece.
Peter Tiboris, renowned conductor and founder of the International Festival of the Aegean.