Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou’s collaborations with stage director Antonis Antypas have generated some of her most powerful music. Medea, like the earlier Trojan Women, comes out of this association. Created to accompany performances at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, the music vibrates with emotional intensity. Karaindrou gives her themes to a small ensemble, its sound-colours creating an ambiance both archaic and contemporary, as textures of santouri, ney, lyra and clarinets are combined and contrasted. Even with reduced instrumental forces the composer seems to imply an orchestral scope. Giorgos Cheimonas’ Modern Greek adaptation of Euripides provides the lyrics, movingly sung by a 15-piece chorus under the direction of Antonis Kontogeorgiou and, on two pieces, by the composer.
Euripides’ play, first staged in 431 BC, counts amongst the darkest of the dramas of antiquity, a harrowing tale of betrayal, rage, retribution, madness, and infanticide. When Jason abandons Medea to marry Glauce, daughter of King Creon, and thereby strengthen his political influence, Medea responds with a fury that knows no bounds. In a programme note for the Epidaurus production, Antonis Antypas writes “Medea’s divine lineage [in Greek mythology she was the niece of Circe, granddaughter of the sun god Helios] and preoccupation with the heroic code of honour gird her and put the knife in her hand. Her passion for Jason has humanized her, but when Jason’s betrayal reveals her sacrifice to have been in vain, she regains her divine stature and the right to punish her mortal husband for his hubris.”
Karaindrou counterpoints the plot with music that builds tension also through restraint and silences. Already the pulsing of the bendir on “Ceremonial Procession” and the baleful melodies for ney and clarinet seem to anticipate the misfortunes ahead. The themes passed from clarinet to cello in “On The Way To Exile” are laden with melancholy. In her liner note Eleni praises the commitment of the players, “travelling with me through Euripdes’ bleak world of poetry, unfolding their song, compassionate toward the play’s characters.” They convey “sounds of the Orient, Greek but also global” to underline the drama of the barbarian Medea, “whose love for the Greek Jason made her renounce her homeland, father and mother.”
Eleni Karaindrou’s is the first voice heard on the album, singing Medea’s laments. Thereafter the chorus take up the tale, enumerating the consequences of “love’s great malevolence”.
Eleni Karaindrou studied piano and musical theory at the Athens Hellenic Conservatory, history and archaeology at the University of Athens, and ethnomusicology and orchestration at the Sorbonne and the Scuola Cantorum in Paris.
Since 1975 she has composed music for numerous films, theatre plays and television productions. Collaborating most often with Greek directors – including the late Theo Angelopoulos – she has also worked with Chris Marker, Jules Dassin, Margarethe von Trotta and others. Karaindrou has written music for many plays staged by Antonis Antypas, in a wide range of idioms, from Euripides to Harold Pinter (Antypas and Karaindrou worked closely with Harold Pinter in Greek adaptations of his work). The recently released Concert in Athens also included music written for Antypas’ productions of Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee.
Karaindrou has received awards including the State Music Award (Greece) for her music for Eternity and a Day, the Dimitris Mitropoulos Award for her music for theatre (1994-96), and the Fellini Award from Europa Cinema, Italy. In 2002 she received the Golden Cross of the Order of Honor from the Greek president, for her life’s work. In 2004 she was nominated for the European Film Award for her music for The Weeping Meadow, which was also Oscar-nominated.
Eleni Karaindrou has been an ECM recording artist since 1991. Her albums for the label include Music for Films, The Suspended Step of the Stork, Ulysses’ Gaze, Eternity and a Day, Trojan Women, The Weeping Meadow, Elegy of the Uprooting, Dust of Time, and Concert In Athens.
Medea was recorded at Studio Sierra in Athens in June 2011, and mixed and edited by producer Manfred Eicher and engineer Giorgos Karyotis in June 2013.