Christos Galileas: ‘I Feel 100% Greek and 100% Armenian’

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By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN/ATLANTA — Hailed by many music critics as “a genuine old school virtuoso,” “an incredible mixture of dazzling virtuosity and immaculate musicianship,” “an artist of rare originality and utmost integrity,” Greek-Armenian violinist Christos Galileas has enjoyed an active international career as a concert violinist, chamber musician and teacher.

Born in 1975, in Thessaloniki, Greece, he had his first violin lessons at the age of 4 from his father, Kosmas Galileas, the distinguished Greek violinist and conductor, and continued studying with Prof. Stelios Kafantaris. He was awarded first prize and the gold medal for his outstanding musical abilities upon graduating from the Conservatory of Athens in 1994.

His first public appearance at age sixteen was with the Symphony Orchestra of Thessaloniki with an impressive performance of the Paganini Violin Concerto No 1. From 1994 to 1995, he studied with Zachar Bron in Lubeck, Germany, then at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, where he was accepted to the studio of renowned Professors Roland and Almita Vamos and received the “Dean’s Talent Award” and from where he received a bachelor’s degree in music.

In 1995 he won the first prize at the “National Competition for Scholarships” of Greece, and two years later he was awarded the Alexandra Triandi scholarship of the Megaron of Athens. Since then, he has appeared as soloist with many orchestras and at the international festivals worldwide.

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In 1999 he continued his studies at the Juilliard School with the legendary violin pedagogue Dorothy Delay and received his master’s degree.

In 2002, he founded the Hellenic Camerata, a chamber orchestra with 22 members, and conducted an extensive tour in North, Central and South America in many countries.

In 2005 he received his doctorate in Violin Performance (Doctor of Musical Arts) from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Dr. Galileas has been invited to teach violin and chamber music extensively in many renowned institutions. He has held important administrative positions which include: Director of the North City Conservatory in Thessaloniki Greece, Artistic Director of the “Dimitria” International Festival of Thessaloniki, member of the Board of Directors of the State Conservatory of Greece, and State Orchestra of Thessaloniki, Artistic Director of the Summer Music Academy in Afytos Greece. In 2007 Christos Galileas joined the faculty at Georgia State University where he currently serves as associate professor of Violin and Coordinator of Chamber Music. He served as coordinator of the String Area from 2007-2014. His latest research is focused on commissioning and recording the music of women composers from Greece and Armenia. In 2015 Galileas founded the Anatolia Summer Music Program in Thessaloniki, where he also serves as executive and artistic director.

Dr. Galileas’ recordings can be found on the Albany Records label. He plays on a 1705 Joseph Guarneri violin.

Dear Christos, let’s start our conversation by sharing my memory from 1994, when you performed with the Yerevan Philharmonic Orchestra. It was an unforgettable concert – during that hard period a very young musician, even being half Armenian, came to the country of his maternal ancestors with a brilliant performance. I even remember how your mother was crying because of her excitement and pride!

Yes, it was a very special and unforgettable experience. I was 19 years old and visiting Armenia for the first time made me feel very emotional. On top of that was the excitement of performing with such a great orchestra and renowned conductor Loris Tjeknavorian. A very, very special moment indeed. I am looking forward to visiting Armenia again. I miss it dearly.

Please tell us about your career.

I can’t complain! I am very fortunate to have enjoyed a vibrant career as a soloist and chamber musician in more than 30 countries around the world. I have performed in some of the world’s most prestigious concert venues such as Vienna’s Musikverein and Konzerthaus, Munich’s Gasteig, Prague’s Rudolfinum and Smetana Hall, Kennedy Center, Bucharest Athenaeum, just to name a few. I have collaborated with distinguished artists such as cellist Mischa Maisky, pianists Dimitri Sgouros and Jura Margulis, and the Borodin and Komitas string quartets among others. In 2007 I joined the faculty at Georgia State University where I currently serve as associate professor of violin and coordinator of chamber music. I am also the co-founder, executive and co-artistic director of the Anatolia Summer Music program in my hometown of Thessaloniki Greece.

The classical music scenes I am sure are very different in Greece and the US…

Not so much. Actually I find that music is an international language that mostly unites people and cultures and brings us closer. The music scene might be a little different in regards to the support in the arts. In Greece the arts are still heavily supported and subsidized by the state (which is a good thing). In the US it is mostly the private sector (also a good thing). I really think that a combination of the two would be ideal.

Your sister Nevart-Veron Galileas is a musician too, who participated in the Renaissance Musical Festival in Gyumri twice.

My sister Nevart-Veron is a brilliant flutist with a wonderful career of her own. We have collaborated on numerous occasions. Together we started the Music Anatolia Summer Music Festival. Yes, she also visited Armenia. At some point in the near future we would like to perform together in Armenia.

After your concert a Yerevan newspaper published an article entitled “GalileasKalfayan family of ‘fools.’ Why so? Please tell about your family.

The article is referring to the very famous Sardarabad song which at some point mentions the “crazy love for your country.” Although having been born and raised in Greece and to a Greek father, my mother Diroui Kalfayan-Galileas made sure that my sister and I were raised “very Armenian.” She spoke to us only in Armenian to make sure we learn the language and taught us the history of our proud nation. My Armenian side of the family had been very active in the community in Thessaloniki. My great-grandfather Garabed Gazarian was one of the people that bought the land for the Armenian church in Thessaloniki and also funded the construction. My grandfather Roupen Kalfayan was the president of the Armenian Community of Thessaloniki for 30 years. My uncle Garabed Kalfayan was the first representative of the Republic of Armenia in Greece after Armenia became an independent state following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was also responsible for organizing the humanitarian aid that was sent from Greece to Armenia in the early 1990s. My mother has been president of the Hamazkayin Cultural Association in Thessaloniki Greece for over 30 years. As one can see, there is a very long and strong history of the Armenianess in me! When asked if I feel more Greek or Armenian, my response is that I feel 100-percent Greek and 100-percent Armenian.

By the way, in 2011 in Thessaloniki I visited Kalfayan Museum and was hosted by Garabed and Anahid Kalfayan, now both deceased. How will you describe their influence in the museums in Greece?

You must have visited the Kalfayan Private Collection exhibit at the Museum of Byzantine culture in Thessaloniki. The Kalfayan family have had a long tradition as art collectors and antique dealers — three generations to be exact. Their private collection of Armenian art is monumental and has established a long lasting legacy for years to come. Their commitment in promoting our Armenian Cultural Heritage is noteworthy and most admirable.

To what extent is Armenian music present in your work?

I make it a point to include the music of Armenian composers in my concert programs on a regular basis. I also collaborate frequently with Armenian artists. I have given lectures regarding Armenian music, Komitas and the “School of Five.” As a child, I was very fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity to meet legendary figures of Armenian music such as composers Ghazaros Saryan, Edvard Mirzoyan, conductors Hovhannes Tchekidjian and Loris Tjeknavorian, the famous Komitas quartets and others. These great artists visited our home in Thessaloniki at the invitation of my father, the distinguished violinist and conductor Kosmas Galileas. My mother Diroui Kalfayan-Galileas had talked to my father and suggested that he invite all these great artists and ensembles from Armenia to perform in Greece. The ensembles that my parents had invited from Armenia include the Armenian Philharmonic, the Armenian Chamber Orchestra under Aram Gharabekian’s conduction, Serenade Chamber Orchestra, the State Choir of Armenia, the Little Singers of Armenia, the Komitas and Khachaturian quartets and many others. So yes, Armenian Music has always been a very big part of my life and I am grateful for that.

Are you in touch with Armenians in the US and in the world?

Yes, I am constantly in contact with Armenians all over the world. I am also very active as a member of the Armenian National Committee of Greece and America. I am currently involved in a project to gather and send humanitarian aid to Armenia from Greece to offer some much-needed relief following the Artsakh war. As an Armenian I am devastated by the outcome of this conflict and the casualties that we suffered. We must continue fighting for our cause to ensure that the sacrifice of our brave heroes was not in vain. Park ou badiv mer herosneroun! Eternal Glory and Honor to them!

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