Symi FestivalSymi Festival 2009 › Interview with Symi Festival Co-Ordinator Giorgos Papakalodoukas 29/07/2009, 14:36

"The artist sees the sea, his voice goes out to the sea"

Interview with the Symi Festival co-ordinator Giorgos Papakalodoukas
given to Christos Byron for The News of Symi newspaper in July 2009

The 15th Symi Festival opens in a few days. What can you single out from this year’s programme and how does it compare with previous years?

What I generally single out is its wide variety. As in every other year, there are many different kinds of performances. It’s not a themed festival, that’s why it’s so interesting. If it were a themed one and had the same duration, it could have been monotonous and boring. This year it has nothing to be envious of previous years, quite the contrary... and while we were initially talking about 15 performances, it expanded come the end.

This year’s programme has many quality performances but on the other hand it’s lighter. There are events which some may think aren’t highbrow enough, but this doesn’t mean the quality of the festival drops. Kaiti Garbi, for example, may have sung more commercial songs, but she has also sung folk songs as she is primarily a folk voice. Dantis is a rock singer despite having sung commercial songs to sell more CDs.

Each year the festival offers something different, because it is always related to a different theme. This year the spectrum it follows is a more sensitive one as it is dedicated to the child. There was a painting competition where children from nursery and primary schools painted and specialists judged the best, without this meaning the initiative was a competitive one.

Will children’s painting be presented in any way?

The four paintings that were judged the best have been included in the Festival Programme. The children who painted them will each recieve an award during the Premiere as representatives of all the children who took part. This seemed the best way. During the premiere, there will be a special section about children, the child who studies, those who occupy themselves with special activities, the child that plays and laughs, and also the unhappy child who doesn’t experience the conditions that it should experience as a child, because it suffers hardship, is a victim of exploitation, etc.

What happened with Eleytheria and why is she not coming to the premiere?

It was my choice to bring Eleytheria Arvanitaki. We made her an offer and there was a positive response, but later on a number of Council members disagreed putting forward the opinion of those who are not her fans, that she was not the best choice for the premiere. As you know the elected representatives have more power than I, so their view prevailed. On the other hand, her “budget” was quite expensive...

So the problem wasn’t just a financial one.

Generally you either like or dislike Arvanitaki’s voice. I personally like her very much, I think she has a unique voice and one of the best we have in Greece, but on Symi maybe names more widely accepted are more successful.

How was Tsaligopoulou chosen? Tsaligopoulou would have come anyway in August, so she was just brought forward to the premiere. In any case, she is a very big name and is accompanied by her husband Giorgos Andreou who is a great musician and by Manolis Karantinis who is one of the best bouzouki players in Greece.

How were things this year when it came to funding for the festival? What is the prospect for the future and what is the way for more sponsors to support the festival?

The money available from sponsorships has been reduced a lot. This is because Symi is not offering something original in the sense that she may have a festival that was the first in the Dodecanese and has been acclaimed and recognised, but there many festivals now in many islands and many Municipalities ask for public funding. This year a lot of money (€15,000) came from the Greek Parliament which also prints the programme, poster and invitations free of charge.

Couldn’t there be other sponsors beyond the state?

A private sponsor, or a private company will not pay €15,000 or €20,000 to be advertised at a festival that is not advertised on the television and where the programme will be read by just 10,000 people. Of course we do have some sponsors who have been giving for years. OTE gives €5,000 and the Duty Free €2,500 But when the festival costs now about €200,000 (previously the cost was as high as €350,000), a large part of the expenses will be paid by the Municipality. At the end of the day, the Grand Sponsor of the festival is the Municipality of Symi.

There are still some who think the artists come for free, but this is not the case especially with the big names.

We try to use the money from sponsorships to pay the artists’ fees so that it doesn’t seem like the Municipality pays for the big names. It would be unfair if good musicians didn’t get paid, simply because they weren’t widely recognised, while only those who are considered big names got paid. Travel, accommodation and food costs are always covered by the Municipality, but other than that our aim is to find sponsors.

In the past there have been various criticisms about the Festival: some talk about a lack of identity, others about the lack of an artistic director, others about insufficient facilities and lack of advertising/promotion. How do you respond to such criticism?

The artistic director who would mainly have knowledge of classical music would maybe find it difficult to cope with a multi-theme festival. He or she could be involved with the piano part for example, but may not be in a position to organise a whole festival. And of course he/she will not be paid less than 5 or 10 thousand euros for putting the programme together something that would strain the festival financially.

The festival as it has been shaped is not boring and if it had adopted a particular theme it would distance the people of Symi from it to a great extent. On the other hand, it could acquire some thematical character within it, like the “Piano Days” that I proposed and we saw at the Festival for the past two years but has now stopped. There could have been a director for that part only and I had then proposed to the Mayor for Mimis Plessas to be the director and the Mayor asked him. Of course directors have demands too. That is Plessas or any other like him would say I want you to bring this person from the US and it costs that much. And when you try to reduce the cost it is not easy to meet the demands of an artistic director.

When it comes to facilities, there is no doubt that an amphitheatre would be nice, but even as the square is now with the background of the houses arranged amphitheatrically around the harbour with the wide space, the artist sees the sea, his voice goes out to the sea. I don’t think there is lack of facilities. Sound and light equipment is very good, the staging of the concerts is good and the organisation is also good because we know the mechanics. Compared with the big festivals elsewhere in Greece, we have fewer staff. There are very few people who contribute substantially to this institution. Based on all that, I think it is staged very well, if you consider that for other comparable festivals there are 20 to 30 people working.

On the other hand, in most events there is no one from the Council attending.

This is true for both the governing and opposition parties. There should be at least one councilor at each event. The Mayor cannot go to every performance but someone from the council should always be present. For me, a councilor rather than someone from the festival, should close each event and hand our the commemorative gifts to the performers.

What are you doing to improve the advertising and promotion of the Festival?

We try to advertise the festival as much as we can, by sending press releases to all newspapers and all TV channels before each event. Advertising is a very difficult thing, you have got to work really hard at it and have contacts with people that can promote the festival. Unfortunately the money that is being spent on advertising the festival is insufficient given how much the festival costs.

There are even some people on Symi that don’t know when the concerts take place. It’s really something to wonder at. When the festival program is distributed everywhere, and every concert is announced on the tannoy, and with press releases sent to all local newspapers... then everyone should know. Someone that doesn’t care may well never find out while someone who cares, even if no advertising happens, will find out. Unfortunately people’s participation is not as it was before. A very big name has to come, for the people to come and fill the square.

What in your opinion is the future for the Symi Festival? Is there something that may need to change for the Festival to become even better?

For me the festival needs to remain multi-themed and should not change but there could be thematical parts inside the festival that go on for 1-2 weeks and to be about piano, for example. I think if the festival is to have parts such as this it should have something to do with the piano which is also the logo of the festival, as this is how it all started with a piano that was sent from the Greek Parliament.

When it comes to material and technical equipment, the Municipality needs to acquire its own equipment with its own sound engineer, with our own light manager, our own electrician and the contracts should become easier to get... The Municipality is trying to achieve this, but it is not always easy for the Prefecture to approve so many contracts.

Is anything going to happen about the small children who run in front of the stage and shout at the playground during a performance?

This is a matter of education. The parents should explain to their children that a concert area is not the same as a playground.

It’s not very helpful having the playground next to it though.

This shouldn’t matter. Parent shouldn’t leave their child free to roam about the concert area. They should keep them close by and teach them to watch a concert. The parents should direct their children so that they watch the performances without making noise. Even if we had an amphitheatre, the child that wants to play will play. The open-air cinema was abandoned because of the same reason; we could not watch the movie, it was impossible because of the noise. And the argument of many “...ah they are only children” I think underestimates our and their intelligence.

Having lived with the festival all these years, which moment/concert/event can you single out as the most memorable and who would you like to see coming to the Festival that hasn’t been yet?

The biggest artist that has ever been to the festival is Nana Mouschouri. In the years that I have been the co-ordinator and helped with the organisation of the festival, the biggest name I think was Alkistis Protopsalti. For the future I‘d like to see someone comparable with Nana Mouschouri, Demis Rousos for example. Others that I‘d like to see at the festival are Yianni, Papathanasiou and Spanoudakis.

How easy it is for someone who does so many different things (teaching Greek, singing, etc. and this year also serving as a Municipal Policeman) to be responsible for a festival with the reputation and responsibility of Symi’s?

I occupy myself with teaching the Greek language, with the Municipal Police, and with the organisation of the Festival. It is true that when you do many things at the same time you can’t be perfect on everything. So please forgive any imperfections, omissions, even lack of professionalism. I‘m someone who does criticises myself hard. Other than that I try to be as good as possible. Fortunately, I have good colleagues at the Municipal Police and the Festival.

Will you continue everything you do?

I believe action is the enemy of loneliness and on Symi it is very easy to become alone. I think I do many things for this reason, because a lot of free time is killing me. I catch myself many times wondering why I took on something else and have not left a lot of time for myself. But, at the end, when you want something very much you will find the time to carry on your duties and to also see your loved ones and even travel!!!

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