For the first composer in our Canadian Composer Series, Palliser Music Publishing is excited to present the music of Greek-Cypriot-Canadian composer Michalis Andronikou.
Palliser has published five of Michalis’s compositions at the time of this article, with the intent of publishing more.
Table of Contents
- Musical Training & Background
- Musical Influences
- The Role of Contemporary Music in the Modern World
- Compositional Output
- Canadian Works & Palliser-Published Works
- Other Critically Acclaimed Works
- Other Recent Works by Michalis
Musical Training & Background
Growing up in Cyprus, Michalis recalls that his early exposure to music was to Byzantine-style music, which he encountered in both the liturgical worship he cherished during Church services and the folk songs he enjoyed at celebrations and family gatherings. At age five, Michalis began taking music lessons on the bouzouki, a Greek folk instrument, and later began learning guitar and clarinet, too.
At age twelve, Michalis began his classical music training, and this training was continued alongside his education in the folk music idiom. By age fourteen, he began performing folk music in restaurants and pubs, and he also joined the Cyprus Youth Symphony Orchestra as a clarinetist.” By age twenty-two, Michalis received diplomas in classical guitar, clarinet, and music theory from Trinity College, London and the Royal Academy of Music. By this time, Michalis had also comprehensively studied the lute, tamboura, and bouzouki—all important folk instruments.
Shortly after attaining these certificates, Michalis went on to study at the Hellenic Conservatory in Athens. At the Hellenic Conservatory, Michalis studied with world-renowned composer Theodore Antoniou and theory professors Kostis Porfyris and Dimitris Katsimpas, among many other important professors of music. It was at the Conservatory that he gained credentials in harmony, counterpoint, fugue, and musical composition. He later received his Integrated Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in musicology from the Department of Music Studies in the University of Athens, as well as a Diploma in Byzantine Music from the Argyroupolis Municipal Conservatory after studying privately with Anastasios Eliopoulos.
In 2002, Michalis began his PhD in Musicology at the University of Athens with the intent of studying traditional elements in the works of contemporary Greek composers of the 1980s and 1990s. In 2008, Michalis moved to Calgary, Canada, and, in 2013, he completed his PhD in composition at the University of Calgary. You can read about his thesis, entitled “Osmosis/Zymosis: The Integration of Eastern Mediterranean Musical Elements in Contemporary Composition,” below. While studying at the University of Calgary, Michalis composed prolifically in his spare time and was also employed as an instructor there.
In addition to his extensive compositional work, Michalis has participated in several conferences and has written articles that have been featured in Polytonon, Intersection: Canadian Journal of Music, and the Alberta-based Tempo magazine. You can access his paper, “Centring the Periphery: Local Identity in the Music of Theodore Antoniou and other Twentieth-Century Greek Composers,” co-authored with Professor Friedemann Sallis, here.
Currently, Michalis resides in Calgary, Alberta, where he teaches guitar, clarinet, music theory, and composition and composes daily. Michalis is an associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre, a member of the Canadian League of Composers, a theory examiner for the Royal Conservatory of Music, a member of the Greek Composers Union, and a member of the Center of Cypriot Composers.
Michalis's Musical Influences
KE: In a recent interview, you mention that Arvo Pärt is one of your most significant musical influences. How has Pärt influenced your musical style?
“Arvo Pärt has been one of my most significant musical influences. For me, contemporary composition typically lacks two aspects: expression of spirituality and connection to tradition. Pärt’s composition and ethos, however, are heavily tied to both of these aspects—through his tintinnabuli minimalist aesthetic, he situates his music both in Eastern Christian spirituality and in his own cultural tradition. In embedding these aspects within his work, Pärt ultimately challenges the sameness of music in the academy. To find your own language as a composer, I believe, you must do what Arvo Pärt has done… You must locate spirituality in your music and connect it to your tradition and community.”
KE: How do you reference tradition and spirituality in your own music, especially in those works which are absolute?
“Even when my compositions are absolute, I find a way to reference tradition and spirituality in my music. While Pärt expresses these aspects through his unique tintinnabuli aesthetic, I express them through reference to the Byzantine style by using drones, tetrachords, and pentachords.”
Growing up in Cyprus, it wasn’t just the Orthodox Church that used the Byzantine musical system; this style was also embedded in the secular folk music all around me. I would hear this style of music in the morning Church liturgies and would then perform folk music in this style in restaurants and pubs in the evenings. I started performing when I was fourteen. For me, the Byzantine style embodies all these important qualities—spirituality and tradition, faith and folk, and Church and community.”
KE: Are there other composers who have played a significant role on your compositional style? In which ways have they influenced you?
“Apart from Arvo Pärt, several other composers have been paramount in my musical development: most significantly, the Second Viennese School; twentieth-century composers such as Witold Lutosławski, Luciano Berio, Krzysztof Penderecki, Paul Hindemith, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, and Igor Stravinsky; and several lesser-known Greek composers.”
KE: How was your composition teacher, the late Theodore Antoniou, formative to your development as a composer?
“Theodore Antoniou, my teacher in Athens, was most directly influential to my musical style from early on in my career. Antoniou was himself highly lauded by many of the best-known twentieth century musicians, including Oliver Messiaen, Darius Milhaud, George Crumb, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and György Ligeti. It was always special to study with someone who had a connection to these other composers, and I hope to pass on this tradition to my own students, too.”
“Studying in Athens with Antoniou was a very grounding, humbling experience because the working relationship between students and professors was completely different than those in North American institutions. Antoniou was a demanding teacher, but he imparted to his students great knowledge, and they revered him as one of the ‘greats.’”
“After coming to North America, I studied with David Eagle, Allan Bell, and Laurie Radford, all of whom also had a substantial influence on the development of my musical style.”
Michalis on the Role of Contemporary Music in the Modern World
KE: What role do you think contemporary music has in the modern world?
“When we speak of the role of contemporary music in the modern world, its importance lies in reminding us of the present. Contemporary music shows us that we are human and not relics of the past; we are living in the now. It criticizes our life and wakes us up from eternal sleep, from the Sisyphism monotony of everyday life. It is a way to help us think of the future while contemplating the past and realizing our path is different from our ancestors.”
“At the same time, contemporary music helps us find who we are, and it precedes future events. Importantly, it gives us a chance to rethink the past and the future and sometimes to do so in a sarcastic way. It does this by challenging our principles and biases, as, for example, Alfred Schnittke did in his subversive rendering of the traditional ‘Stille Nacht.’”
With over 225 compositions under his pen at the time of this article, Michalis is one of Palliser’s most prolific composers.
Michalis began composing in 1997 and has composed for a wide range of solo instruments and instrumental and vocal ensembles, as well as for theatre plays, art exhibits, movies, and songs. He has received commissions both locally and internationally, and his music has been performed extensively throughout Canada and Europe. Seven CDs with his works have been released since 2003, including by the EMI Music record label and Aquarius Recordings, and his scores are published by Palliser Music Publishing, the Bulgarian Balkanota, the Italian Da Vinci Edition, the English Trübcher Music Editions, and the American Alea Publishing & Recording.
Canadian Works & Palliser-Published Works
Jazz Suite, 2015
Jazz Suite was commissioned by and dedicated to Linda Kundert in the summer of 2015, and it premiered in November of the same year at an Alberta Registered Music Teacher’s Association (ARMTA) event. According to Michalis, the piece “was written to inspire pianists of all levels to explore music that was influenced by non-western, classical music […] in order to improve their musical skill and perception” (Jazz Suite, YouTube description, 2017).
Michalis further explains his conception of this piece in his article “Rethinking ‘Jazz Suite’ for two pianos: Context, Aesthetics, and Meaning of a Contemporary Music Work, influenced by Jazz.” He relates:
Although the four parts (Ragtime, Waltz, Fox-Trot, and Polka) are named after jazz dances of the 1920s and ’30s, these were only the starting points for the compositional process. “Jazz Suite” aims at the exploration of the atmosphere and the musical gestures of the mid-war jazz music tradition, in a free and creative way. It is not jazz music. Instead, it is closer to the tradition of composers like Dmitri Shostakovich or Béla Bartók, who were influenced by non-classical music to enrich their own musical palette. (“Rethinking ‘Jazz Suite,’” ARMTA Tempo Magazine, September 2017)
In creating a work that blends the jazz tradition with contemporary idioms, Michalis hopes to bring to the forefront important questions about the present and future of art music and “open up a discussion about the influence of jazz on contemporary music today, the effect on the reception of the work, and the importance of enriching a composer’s palette with jazz music, or any other external influences” (“Rethinking,” 2017).
You can watch Linda Kundert and Sandra Joy Friesen perform Jazz Suite in the video below, and you can order the score here. The piece is approximately equivalent to a Level 10 Royal Conservatory of Music work.
Harmony Within, 2015
Harmony Within is a collection of ten miniature pieces for the piano, the second of which (“Waltz of Memories”) has been included in the 2022 Royal Conservatory of Music piano syllabus for Level 7.
The concept behind these pieces, Michalis explains, “is all about finding balance: balance between Eastern and Western music, hybrid rhythms and simple rhythms, atonal material and tonal material, virtuosic passages and simple passages. These elements are all part of our life and our music, and this is a lesson that I wanted to give to piano students.”
Enjoy Geoffrey Wilson performing the collection in the video below, and click here to access the score.
Remembering a Fenian Song, 2017
This miniature piece, composed for violin and piano, was commissioned by ARMTA in 2017 to commemorate the organization’s 85th anniversary, as well as to honour and celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. The piece is equivalent to a level six piece in the Royal Conservatory of Music program, and the melody is based on a traditional Canadian song—“A Fenian Song”—which Michalis found after extensive research into Canadian traditional folk song collections.
As Michalis reflects in his article “Re-remembering a Fenian song,” the original tune struck him because the “bold character of the melody” is reminiscent of the music of the Greek rebetika, the genre of Greek underground music from the early twentieth century created by those of the lowest socio-economic status. Listening to the music of these people groups is important because the tunes they sing “are the orally transmitted songs of certain subcultures or autonomous communities that tell their stories of marginalization and suppression” (“Re-remembering,” ARMTA Tempo Magazine, September 2018).
Michalis further describes how the instrumentation itself is meant to reference diaspora, tradition, and identity:
The violin in this piece is a direct reference to the Irish fiddle, which is one of the most important instruments in the traditional repertoire of Irish music. The piano is a symbol of Western music, which—in this piece—provides the harmonic environment and the “space” for the melody to exist. In a sense, the piano embraces the violin, the way immigrants like the Fenians were included in the Canadian society to contribute to the development of the Canadian identity. (“Re-remembering”)
While this piece is based on an original folk melody, this melody, performed only by the violin, never sounds in full and is constantly interrupted by repetitions of the notes and dialogue between the two instruments (as well as contemporary musical techniques that are idiomatic for each of the instruments). In incorporating the melody in this way, Michalis explains that he seeks to connect memory and imagination by having the musicians try to “remember” how the melody goes.
Melissa MacDonald (violin) and John M. Cabalsa (piano) perform the piece in the video below; you can shop the score for the piece here. According to Michalis, this piece should be interpreted “instinctively and joyfully” (“Re-remembering,” 2018).
Lullaby for Andreas, 2017
“Lullaby for Andreas,” for solo piano, is a personal piece that Michalis wrote for his son after he was born. Michalis hopes that “those who would like to learn a lullaby for their children or for their students will learn this lullaby and enjoy it.”
The piece was published by Palliser Music Publishing in 2017 and can be purchased here. You can observe Savvas Pavlidis performing the work in the video below. It is equivalent to a Level 8 Royal Conservatory of Music piece.
You Have Searched Me, Lord (Psalm 129), 2018
This piece, written for tenor voice, piano, and cello was commissioned by and dedicated to Trevor Schriemer, who approached Michalis for the commission when the composer was teaching at Providence University in Manitoba. Schriemer wanted Michalis to write music to his favourite Psalm, and Schriemer performed and recorded the work shortly after its conception. The work was published by Palliser in 2022.
Michalis hopes that tenors who can sing a high C will try their voice at this work. There is currently no public recording of the work available, but the score is available in the Palliser Music store.
Three Alberta-Inspired Pieces: "Banff" (2015), "Jasper" (2016), and "Kananaskis" (2016), unplublished
For these three pieces, commissioned by and dedicated to pianist Elisabeth Desruisseaux, Michalis drew on the Albertan landscape for inspiration. He fondly recollects: “I wrote these pieces to send to pianists around the world as ‘musical postcards’ to express the beauty I admired the first time I visited Banff.”
“After visiting Banff,” Michalis reminisces, “I was overwhelmed by the power of nature. Coming from an island, this is not the sort of nature that I grew up with; standing next to a mountain, a person really realizes how small he or she is.”
For Michalis, the Canadian landscape is strongly linked to the notion of diaspora: as a Greek-Cypriot Canadian, his sense of place always stands in contrast with the Greek landscape and identity. “Identities,” he ponders, “are masks because a person can choose to become what he or she wants. Our music, in an important sense, is us because it shows who we are and where we came from. And where memory of a place is lacking, there is always imagination to guide us.”
You can watch several performances of these pieces in the videos below:
"Banff" as performed by Charles Foreman
"Kananaskis" as performed by Charles Foreman
All 3 pieces as performed by Christos Fountos
"Banff" as performed by Panagiota Tsoka
"Jasper" as performed by Panagiota Tsoka
"Kananaskis" as performed by Panagiota Tsoka
Other Critically Acclaimed Works
Michalis wrote this twenty-minute work in partial fulfillment of the requirements for his degree of Doctor of Philosophy, and it uses a mixed chamber ensemble (augmented “Pierrot ensemble”) comprising flute, clarinet, violin, violoncello, piano, and unpitched percussion.
Michalis explains the concept behind the work:
The underlying concept […] is based on the integration into contemporary Western music practice of musical gestures derived from the Eastern Mediterranean tradition. The title consists of two scientific terms used to describe chemical and biological processes: “Osmosis” refers to the gradual absorption of one solution by another, and “Zymosis” refers to both the process of fermentation and the development or the spread of an infection. These Greek words are also useful for the description of the blending of cultures and especially for individuals who face displacement or immigration […] In many ways the integration of music elements from one culture into another is a glimpse to the future, which could be helpful in bridging cultural and aesthetic differences. (“Osmosis/Zymosis,” PhD thesis abstract excerpt, University of Calgary, 2013)
In 2012, the Juno-nominated Land’s End Ensemble of Calgary performed “Osmosis/Zymosis,” and the work was well received by the music community.
The Journey of Jason, 2018
Written for violin and piano, this piece was commissioned in 2018 by Greek violinist Iason Keramidis, who is based in Munich. The piece conveys the pre-Trojan war adventures of the Greek mythological hero Jason, who led the Argonauts in a tireless quest for the Golden Fleece and for Medea, his wife. As one listens to the soaring lines and the conversation between violin and piano, he or she might imagine the hero Jason leading this tireless quest with a spirit of longing and adventure. This piece has been professionally performed five times (which is remarkable in the world of contemporary music, where pieces are most often performed once only).
In the video below you can watch Iason Keramidis and pianist Carlota Amado perform “The Journey of Jason.”
We Say Farewell - In Memory of Dmitri Hvorostovsky, 2018
Scored for solo baritone and piano, Michalis wrote this song in 2018 to commemorate the life and musicianship of the late Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (1962-2017). The words are based on a poem by Dr. Luann Hiebert of Providence University, who wrote the poem specially to honour Hvorostovsky.
Michalis never anticipated the international attention the piece would draw upon its premier in Steinbach, Manitoba in the Spring of 2018. Since its premier, featuring Manitoba-based baritone David Klassen and pianist Tracey Regier Sawatzky, the piece has been performed on several occasions by both male and female singers, including by renowned Canadian mezzo-soprano Maria Soulis and pianist Evelina Soulis, Calgary-based mezzo-soprano Jeanine Williams and pianist Alena Naumchyk, and London-based mezzo-soprano Maria Zoi and pianist Yumi Hashimoto. In the description of the premier performance, you can read the poem upon which the song is based.
The score for “We Say Farewell” has since been published by the Italian Da Vinci Publishing house and can be purchased here.
In Memoriam Theodore Antoniou, 2019
Michalis composed “In Memoriam” in 2019 to commemorate his composition teacher, the late Theodore Antoniou. The piece is written for trombone and harp and was recorded by trombonist and Canadian Brass member Achilles Liarmakopoulos and world-renowned harpist Coline-Marie Orliac.
You can watch Liarmakopoulos and Orliac’s affectionate interpretation of the work below, and you can view the trailer for an upcoming documentary of Antoniou here.
“Aphrodite” is one of Michalis’ most adored symphonic pieces and was recently performed by the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra (video below). Its juxtaposition of hauntingly beautiful flowing lines with gestures of regality harkens to the myths related to the birth of Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love and war. In it, Michalis reapproaches the primordial essence of beauty by recalling her timeless birth, or rising from the froth of the sea, which is said to have occurred near Paphos, on the island of Cyprus.
In writing about the ancient goddess, who is both part of the broader collective tradition and his own particular Greek-Cypriot identity, Michalis situates his music in tradition and spirituality while simultaneously connecting this tradition to the present through the use of the contemporary idiom.
Other Recent Works by Michalis
Apart from the compositions listed above, here are some other recent works by Michalis that you may wish to explore:
Dum Spiro Spero
For soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone and bass; composed for Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart to explore extended vocal techniques and traditional material to emphasize the diversity of the nature of voice; premiered 2017 by Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart.
For solo violin and string orchestra; commissioned by Georgia and Mikis Michaelides, in memory of their uncle Solon Michaelides (1905-1979), the great Cypriot musicologist, educator, composer, and conductor; premiered 2022 Commandaria Orchestra.