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Ioannis Angelakis: Interview

ioannisThanks again to everyone who came to the recent Wild Rumpus concert! The turnout truly blew us away. Recently, I interviewed Ioannis Angelakis, whose piece, Dreamplay, was premiered at our concert on February 28 at the Center for New Music in San Francisco. This belated interview covers Angelakis’s piece and his life in New York. 

How did you get into music originally?

I was ten years old. We had a family friend who was a guitarist, and my mother asked me if I wanted to take lessons on the guitar. We had no music education in our family – no one is a musician, so it just started by random. I took lessons with him for three or four years, then he told me that he’s not a professional teacher and I have to go to the conservatory. He recommended that I go to see a specific guitar teacher, and I was enrolled in the conservatory under his name. I got my diploma and graduated as a guitarist.

At the same time, while I was at the conservatory I started my theoretical studies – that’s how we call it in greece – I studied harmony, counterpoint, fugue, played the piano. During those years I decided that I want to be in music. When I was 18, I entered the university which is when I started taking composition lessons. I wanted to go to a specific university in Thessaloniki, and work with a specific composer, Christos Samaras, and I studied with him for 5 years.

Did you know before going to university that you wanted to be a composer?

When I was 15 or 16, I started improvising a lot. I didn’t write a lot of these things on paper, I did it sometimes, but I liked the idea of trying to develop my ideas on the piano. I discovered that I liked very much this process of having no idea what I’m going to do, sit at the piano, find an idea and then work on it for days.

Where are you living now?

I’m in New York. After I graduated in Greece with my bachelors, I went to Boston. I spent two years there for my Masters, at Boston University, where I studied with Joseph Fineberg. I applied for a doctorate and I got accepted at NYU, and I’m still there.

Do you like New York?

There are some cool things about New York and some not. I like the idea of having the opportunity to see so much music in the city. I’m studying at a university that offers so many possibilities, and I have so many chances to work with great ensembles and great players, and go and see what they play. Many composers from Europe come to New York very often. We have the chance to see how they work, to take lessons with them, so this is the good thing about New York. Many people come to visit, and we have the possibility to exploit them.

I was wondering if you could talk about your piece. What inspired you, what was the process of writing this piece?

The title comes from a play of August Strindberg, Ett drömspel in Swedish, Dreamplay in English. It’s one of his later works; he changed dramatically his style during the last years of his life. His classic works are like The Father, The Dance of Death, but later in his life he wrote 3 or 4 works, one is Dreamplay and another is Ghost Sonata where the themes are still the same, but he has a more poetic dimension. He believes that life is an illusion and our life within dreams is more real than our real life. He is trying to explore this, how crazy is our life, how vain, how irrational. At the same time compare it with the rationality of a dream.

How would you say that is reflected in your piece?

While the themes in his works remain the same, his work is a forceful critique against almost everything. He critiques family, sciences, morals of his time, religion, almost everything, art! But what is different is that he destroys the linear development of his events. He stops caring about time and about developing his ideas. His work is not an organic work of art; he is not a naturalistic author as he was in the past. The idea of destroying this linearity also comes into play in my piece. There are very different and contrasting sections, not logically connected. Sometimes there are whole bars that do not make any sense compared to what is happening before and after. In this way, it’s not linear.

If it’s not linear, how is your piece structured?

The piece is structured by a series of montages. There are different ideas constructing and you move very quickly from one section to the other.It’s the idea of montage that started in the beginning of the 20th century, not only in music, but in all arts. They wanted to do the same thing, destroy linear representations, whether that was in paintings or music. There is no obvious progression, no obvious linear development. it’s structured by the juxtaposition of contrasting material.

And yet, I find there is material that ends up repeating in your piece.

There are some obsessions. I have obsessions, and when we dream we also have obsessions, we keep seeing things again and again, something that we like, something we are afraid of. These things come back and forth all the time. What makes it irrational, or not logically connected, is the way that the sections follow one another. Not the material in the sections per se.

Can you elaborate on that a little?

I have my material and I work with it. There are repetitions, there are variations of the same material, but it doesn’t appear as a logical continuation or development. I’m trying to develop my ideas, to vary them a little bit, and then to cut them and do something else, go back again, and construct the whole piece with this process.

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