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Reanimating Cavafy, a Poet of ‘Future Generations’ Whose Time Is Now

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When I was about ten years old, a teacher at a Catholic school I attended in Massachusetts asked students to bring poems from home to share with the class. I looked at my bookshelf and pulled out a thin book by Constantine P. Cavafi. Many of the poems were short, read aloud, and had a wonderfully plain narrative. I chose “Looked very good…”.

I’ve been so obsessed with beauty
That my sight is full of it.
body line. red lips.voluptuous limbs
Hair that looks like it was stolen from a Greek statue…

I knew who Cavafi was. like our familyhe was from. once you grow up And the once-thriving Greek community in Alexandria, Egypt, is now all but extinct. Kavafi is a hero to us and remains a hero throughout the Greek-speaking world. Many of his recurring motifs – alienation, homosexuality, mistrust, a life shaped by the frontier – still feel remarkably contemporary, nine decades after his death in 1933.

The Athens-based Onassis Foundation claims that Cavafi is the right person for us in this moment. “Archive of Desire” A nine-day celebration of the poet throughout New York City ends Saturday. The festival, which coincides with Cavafi’s 160th birthday on April 29, will bring his work to new audiences through the prism of a contemporary artist working across mediums such as music, poetry, film and visual arts. It is intended to New commissioned work.

When I was a student, my father encouraged me to read the less explosive poems of Cavafi. “Ithaca” is one of his most famous works. At that young age, I completely missed most of his Cavafy theme and background.

Came to get a taste of his life as a homosexual in early 20th century Egypt, his writings on lust, and more. His global disgust view of the end of empire and power. His deep meditations were punctual.An astonishing gap between his rich inner life and decades of bureaucratic day-to-day work in a purgatorial ring Third irrigation circle office. In his work, his three different forms of Greek are carefully superimposed. artificially constructed, “Purified” 19th century. and sometimes ancient forms.

Cavafi often thought about his belonging and not belonging to the place. That feeling resonated throughout my childhood. And I had a firm grip on the pure music of Kavafi’s words.

Many composers also heard its music and wrote settings for his works – Greek artists etc. Mikis TheodorakisAs well as Ned Rorem and John Tavener.

Archive of Desire curator Paola Prestini has assembled a new set of creators for the festival. They approached his writings thoughtfully, resulting in a sometimes bright, striking, sometimes sloppy work that takes Cavafi’s self-assessment as a ‘ultra-modern poet, a poet of the next generation’ as a collective starting point. produced.

Opening the festival on April 28th at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust was an intimate project between visual artist Sister Sylvester and Egyptian electronic musician and vocalist Nada El Shazry. They named it “Constantinopoliad” after their collaboration. journal Cavafi began at the age of 18, when his family moved briefly to his parents’ hometown of Constantinople to escape the British army. bombardment of Alexandria.

Sister Sylvester leads the audience through an intricately designed hand-crafted book, while El Shazry scores with moody electronics and vintage Egyptian recordings interspersed with her own smoky-tinged vocals. played live. The story deftly explores short episodes in Cavafi’s life as well as her musings on queerness, ethnic identity, immigration and the complex history of the Mediterranean region.

Musicians from the National Sawdust Ensemble, led by cellist Geoffrey, performed Monday at Columbia’s Miller Theater, juggling poetry readings, recent works by American composers, and Cavafi’s old musical setting. A winding program called “Days of 2023″ was held. Zeigler. The highlight was the complete performance of groundbreaking Greek electronic musician Lena Platonos on her 2010 album ”.Cavafis 13 TragoudiaIn this piece, he collaborated with Greek singer Yannis Palamidas to set the music for Kavafi’s 13th poem.

In this version of Platonus’ work, composer Hannah Ishizaki created an imaginative arrangement for live instruments, sung passionately by Palamidas. It was effective and moving, especially in the raucous, percussive setting of one of Cavafi’s most famous poems. “Waiting for the Barbarian”” In this arrangement, an imminent horde was not threatening a long-dead kingdom. Their horse hooves were here and now, rattling in the drum set as the stage vibrated.

Unfortunately, the organizers did not present the texts or translations at any of the musical performances. In the case of Platonus, the titles of the 13 poems were not even mentioned in the program. If the festival’s mission is to raise awareness of Kavafi’s work, why omit information vital to most New York audiences? He said the decision was a creative choice intended to spark audiences’ curiosity about Cavafi.)

“Waiting for the Barbarians” was the program at St. Thomas’ Church on Tuesday night and was also the starting point for an even more spectacular musical interpretation by multidisciplinary artist Laurie Anderson. death of classic. The performance featured the delicate Knights Orchestra conducted by Eric Jacobsen. And the exemplary Brooklyn Youth Chorus led by Diane Burken Menacer.

Before Mr. Anderson begins, his sharp, sarcastic narrative matches perfectly with Cavafi’s tone, suggesting that our own angular parliament and Cavafi’s imaginary empire in decline with its do-nothing Senate. (“This sounds familiar!”). She proclaimed “Barbarians” and “Ithaca” in English as she layered electric violins, two keyboards, synths and other electronics over an orchestra and chorus.

The program also includes works by Helga Davis and Petros Crampanis, as well as works by Prestini, who uses Cavafi’s poem “Voices” for the chorus, with dazzling textures and beautiful counterpoints. provided. The Davies and Crampanis composition “Cavafi Ghost” featured Davies’ deft vocals spanning several octaves and collaged several of Cavafi’s poems. In one striking section, double bass players Davis and Krampanis read “Barbarians” (again!) in parallel, Davis in English and Krampanis in Greek to captivating effect.

For the Greek-born Krampanis, Cavafi’s work is part of a common cultural dictionary. But it was clear from their writing and live performances how deeply Anderson, Prestini and Davies had each tackled Cavafi’s themes of loneliness and memory. The choir solemnly chanted “Voices of the beloved, the idealized, the dead, or those who, like the dead, died for us.”

The parallel reading was also reminiscent of the polyglot Kavafi. He was raised partly in England during his childhood and reportedly spoke Greek with an English accent. (It was common in Alexandria for Cavafi to speak multiple languages ​​with ease. My father spoke English as a fourth language after Greek, Arabic and French.)

On Wednesday night, I returned to National Sawdust for a meditation with poet Robin Coste Ruiz, composer and pianist Vijay Iyer, Zeigler (here composer and cellist), and visual artist Julie Meletu. I watched “Archive of Desire”, which is a unique collaboration. While Lewis weaves his own words with frequent quotes and allusions from Cavafi, Iyer and Zeigler sometimes in dialogue, sometimes in dialogue, arcs contained in individual sonic worlds that coincide with Cavafi’s sense of loneliness. I played the melody I drew. Mefretu’s work, full of her signature dart lines that allude to movement and displacement, was projected onto a screen behind the other performers.

At the end of the “Archive of Desire” performance, Lewis returned to the microphone and proclaimed, “Cavafi forever!” The festival was not about rediscovering long-dead voices. Instead, it offered an opportunity for today’s artist to meet her Cavafy’s ever-present future.

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