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'I hope we will all slip into another world.' Calliope Tsoupaki writes Bosch Requiem 'Liknon' for November Music

In 1988, Calliope Tsoupaki (1963) came to the Netherlands from Greece to study composition with Louis Andriessen. Exactly 30 years later, she was appointed 'Composer of the Fatherland'. In that capacity, she has already composed some highly topical pieces. When on 15 April the Notre Dame de Paris caught fire Tsoupaki immediately climbed into the pen. Five days later, the world premiere of Pour Notre Dame, performed by Jan Hage on the organ of the Dom in Utrecht. This year she is festival composer at November Music. For this, she is composing the traditional Bosch Requiem, which will be premiered on All Souls' Day.

Over the past three decades, Tsoupaki has become one of our country's most important composers. Unlike other students of Louis Andriessen, she did not embrace his percussive, contrasting-block style, which caused a furore as the 'Hague School'. Instead of crafting her compositions from an amalgam of minimalism, jazz, popular music and modern-classical, Tsoupaki seeks inspiration from her personal background. She weaves her own style from musical traditions of Greece and the Middle East as well as old and new European music. Her work has an almost archaic, timeless beauty.

Death as a threshold

Tsoupaki does not deny her Greek roots in terms of themes either. Back in 1993, she scored high marks with Orphic Fields, later followed successful oratorios such as Lucas Passion, Maria and Oidípous. Last October, the world premiere of Salto di Saffo for pan flute, recorder and orchestra. This double concerto is directly inspired by her own life. When she came to the Netherlands in 1988, her boat sailed past the spot where the renowned poet is said to have jumped off the rocks. Just as Tsoupaki, too, plunged into the deep end by trading her homeland for unfamiliar surroundings.

For the Bosch Requiem, she again drew on her Greek background. 'I didn't want to make a lament in the tradition of the Latin Requiem Mass,' she says. 'In that, death is seen as something irrevocable, but for me it is more of a threshold, a transition into the unknown. That's why I chose the title Liknon, which means something like "rocking cradle". I like that as an image of the elusive position between life and death.'

Beauty in darkness

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Two icons were guiding during the composing process, Tsoupaki explains enthusiastically. 'Last summer I was on the Greek island of Kythira. There I saw the icon Panagia Myrtidiotissa, on which Mary's face is completely blurred into a black spot. According to myth, this effigy is said to have been found in burning myrtle bushes, hence its name, Madonna of the myrtle.’

'I find it immensely moving, as if hundreds of years of Mary worship were condensed into that black face. It has an unprecedented depth, you can surmise so much behind it, project your own thoughts, hopes and fears onto it. For me, it symbolises beauty in the darkness.'

She was also inspired by a 1392 icon by Theophanis about the Ascension of Mary. 'She lies on her deathbed surrounded by the 12 apostles and her son Jesus. He towers high above her, carrying his mother as a baby on his hand. This completes the circle: life and death are actually one, a comforting thought.'

Countertenor as fleshly elusiveness

She perhaps likes El Greco's icon from the 16th century even more. 'That has a poignant expression of feeling, which is actually at odds with the tradition of icons as neutral objects of faith. But it fits wonderfully with the Marian songs of Cretan monk Agapios Landos (1580-1656), from which I have used verses. In my composition, I also oscillate between objectivity and passion. It is a musical prayer to Mother Mary in times of doubt and distress.'

Tsoupaki wrote Liknon for tenor Marcel Beekman, countertenor Maarten Engeltjes and his baroque ensemble PRJCT Amsterdam. I consciously chose two high voices because of their angelic appearance. Moreover, a countertenor is the elusiveness incarnate: a rarefied voice that carries you away to the higher things, he moves on a threshold. That fits exactly with what I want to express with my piece. In the instrumental accompaniment too, I have strived to capture that hesitation, that moving back and forth.'

Five-part sound and smell chord

Liknon is not the only piece by Tsoupaki to be performed at November Music. On 3 November, a new version of Narcissus, which she composed for the festival in 2013. 'It is about the young boy who falls in love with his own reflection in the water and eventually dies from it. In that spot, a flower with an intoxicating scent sprang up. I designed the five-tone Narcissus chord that receives a counterpoint from a scent chord by Tania Deurloo, also consisting of five layers. Together they carry the whole composition.' Whereas in 2013, violin and piano - the two 'lovers' - were accompanied by alter-egos, now they operate purely as a duo.

Still in the pen are new solo pieces for trumpeter Eric Vloeimans and recorder player Erik Bosgraaf. And, last but not least, to kick off the Bosch Requiem, Tsoupaki is also composing a new ritual choral work. This will be sung in the open air, by Bosch choirs, visitors to the Requiem and everyone present on the square of the Parade.

Tsoupaki: 'I hope we will all slip into another world. - And, of course, return again.'

Good to know Good to know
November Music, 1-10 November, Den Bosch
More info: https://novembermusic.net/

Thea Derks

Thea Derks studied English and Musicology. In 1996, she completed her studies in musicology cum laude at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in contemporary music and in 2014 published the critically acclaimed biography 'Reinbert de Leeuw: man or melody'. Four years on, she completed 'An ox on the roof: modern music in vogevlucht', aimed especially at the interested layperson. You buy it here: https://www.boekenbestellen.nl/boek/een-os-op-het-dak/9789012345675 In 2020, the 3rd edition of the Reinbertbio appeared,with 2 additional chapters describing the period 2014-2020. These also appeared separately as Final Chord.View Author posts

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