One of my favourite buildings in Kalamata is the elegant colonaded pile which currently houses the Odeio the ‘musical conservatory’, as the new tourist guide rather grandly puts it. It lies in the old town, up a steep street of stone steps, below the castle, behind the big church of Ipapandi (one of several names for the Virgin) Big palm trees grow in its shady courtyard and from the high ceilinged rooms within, you can often hear piano scales, the sound of a soprano voice or the creak of a beginner’s violin. I had assumed that the building had always housed the music school, but it seems not. A church at one time and then a school, it became the Odeio in 1986, after the earthquake: one of several cultural initiatives, including the (now very successful) annual dance festival, and a visual arts centre.
Stathis Giftakis is the Principal, a highly regarded composer in Greece, with a well developed sense of irreverence and a taste for off colour jokes. Linda teaches English to his son Arionas, himself, at 14, a precocious violinist and guitarist. Stathi’s deputy is the bear-like Ivan, a Russian voice teacher, who also conducts one of the town’s choirs (in which Linda sings).
The Youth Orchestra, which rehearses every week at the Odeio, is currently on tour in Germany.
We go sometimes to the Sunday evening ‘Music Café’ where professional musicians from Athens and abroad perform as guests, while Stathi, with his goatee beard and owl spectacles, acts as the droll master of ceremonies.
It’s a great place, but life is rarely simple. The new mayor, who controls the city’s finances, is no music lover, preferring to devote money to more visible improvements, fountains, tree planting and so on. Neither Stathi nor the staff were paid wages for several months following his election. It wasn’t until staff, students and supporters mounted a sort of musical demonstration in the town square that wages began to be paid again.
And now the Odeio is under threat of closure. The Greek government in Athens is under pressure from its creditors to cut the number of public employees. Small provincial institutions make an easy target.
As it happens, we now know Stathi and his wife Lilly very well, having worked together on a number of occasions.