Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949) is a leading figure in Greek music (with Manolis Kalomiris [1883-1962], the founder of a 'modernist national school'). Skalkottas and Dimitri Mitropoulos--later to establish himself as a world-renowned conductor--were the first Greek composers to adopt atonality and the twelve-tone method in the 1920s. Skalkottas also explored 20th-century tonal idioms.

Nikos Skalkottas was born on March 8, 1904 in Halkis (island of Eubea, Greece). His great-grandfather, Alexander Skalkottas, from Pyrgos (island of Tinos) was a renowned folk singer, violinist and composer; his father, Alexander Skalkottas, was a flutist. A child prodigy himself as a violinist, Nikos pursued his studies first in his hometown with his uncle Costas, later at the Athens Conservatory, graduating with the First Prize Gold Medal in 1920. In 1921, on a series of scholarships, he left for Berlin where he stayed until 1933, first taking violin master courses with Willy Hess at the Berlin Hochschule, then in the winter of 1923-24 turning definitely to composition, for which his main teachers were Phillipp Jarnach (1925-27), Paul Juon, Kurt Weill and Arnold Schoenberg (1927-31).

He composed prodigiously, in a personal atonal idiom, using the twelve-tone system rather seldom and somewhat reluctantly at that time. When the mounting wave of Nazism made life for exponents of new music difficult, Skalkottas returned to Athens in May 1933, the same month that Schoenberg left Germany. In Greece, unfortunately, Skalkottas met with a great deal of incomprehension and enmity, and was obliged to accept a position as one of the last violins in the State Orchestra of Athens. He isolated himself, refusing to talk about music to all but a few people who, he thought, appreciated contemporary music, all the while composing feverishly until his death on September 19, 1949 in Athens as a result of a neglected constricted hernia. Practically his entire output remained unknown, unpublished and unperformed during his life.

In 1935 he turned to a new, quite complex but highly concise version of the twelve-tone system of his own invention, which he used extensively until his death, parallel with, beginning around 1938, a non-serial method that sounds only slightly different from the other technique. His main innovations consist of creating an entirely new sound world by developing formal structures operating at multiple concurrent levels, and by the intensity and directness with which he used harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, and articulation to serve maximum expressive purposes. Another important feature of Skalkottas's music is the presence of Greek folk material in his works. For a period, he professionally transcribed and analyzed Greek folksongs. Of particular interest is his integration of folk elements in his atonal composition, most notable in his famous collection of Greek Dances for orchestra.

In his 25-year long career, Skalkottas composed more than 170 works, often short, but sometimes of "gigantic" dimensions and of remarkable sophistication and complexity. Manuscripts for over 110 works are gathered at the Skalkottas Archives in Athens, representing more than 80% of his work (since the missing ones are generally quite short). BIS has recently released three recordings of his orchestral and chamber music (BIS CD-1014, BIS CD-1024, BIS CD-904). His three Piano Concertos, Concerto for Violin, Viola and Wind Orchestra, Greek Dances, Symphony in One Movement ("The Return of Ulysses") and Symphonic Suite are among his key works. Gunther Schuller is currently recording Skalkottas's Piano Pieces Volumes I--III.

Performances

Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | May 18, 2012

News and Press

[Concert Review] BMOP and Mark Morris

As the Globe's Jeremy Eichler pointed out in his review of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project's season-ending concert — called "Apollo's Fire" — referring to the program note by the BSO's Assistant Director of Program Publications Robert Kirzinger, the term "classical music" has become so all-inclusive that it doesn't have much at all to do with ancient "classical" art. But two recent live performances, by BMOP and the Mark Morris Dance Group, have focused on music that refers to ancient classical themes.

Boston Phoenix Full review
[Concert Review] Stylus reviews Apollo's Fire

On Friday, May 18, The Boston Modern Orchestra Project gave its Jordan Hall audience a theme-based concert, four 20th-century works works, tied by our understanding of Apollo as "Apollon Musagè," from his role as leader of the muses. One of the muses is, of course, Terpsichore, and this is the muse underpinning the first set of pieces, 5 Greek Dances by the Greek composer, Nikos Skalkottas.

Stylus Full review
[Concert Review] Hanging "Fire" with Gil Rose and BMOP

It has been a big year for Gil Rose, founder and conductor of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, which two weekends ago (!) mounted a pleasing evening of classically-themed pieces collectively dubbed "Apollo's Fire."

The Hub Review Full review
[Concert Review] Fuse Concert Review: Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose at Jordan Hall

Let summer officially begin! Boston's last major "regular season" orchestra, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), closed the books on its 2011-12 season on Friday night with a program of music inspired by Greece and Greek mythology. Dubbed "Apollo's Fire," BMOP presented a mix of older contemporary fare (read, all-20th century) featuring pieces by Nikos Skalkottas, Elliott Carter, Igor Stravinsky, and Lewis Spratlan, all conducted by music director Gil Rose.

Arts Fuse Full review
[Concert Review] BMOP ends season with mythological leap

We don't tend to think much about the "classical" in classical music, the art form's links to ancient Greek culture. But as Robert Kirzinger reminded listeners in a program essay for Friday's Boston Modern Orchestra Project concert in Jordan Hall, the phrase classical music itself — while today almost meaningless in its catch-all nature — still acknowledges its implicit debt to more ancient pasts.

The Boston Globe Full review
[Concert Review] BMOP: Apollo's Fire, Minus Dance

Rounding out its concert season, Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the direction of Gil Rose presented a concert entitled "Apollo's Fire" in Jordan Hall on Friday night. The four works on the concert took their inspiration from Apollo and the Muses, either explicitly or implicitly; the other link in this program – one not expressed in the program notes but one I found to be omnipresent – was the idea of dance. The evening began with a pre-concert talk presented by The Score Board, largely in conversation with Lewis Spratlan.

Boston Musical Intelligencer Full review
[Concert Review] Hot and cool Greek myths close BMOP season

Friday night's concert of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project was all about the Greek debt.

Ours to them, that is. The program at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, titled "Apollo's Fire," celebrated the continuing power of ancient mythology in Western thinking and art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Boston Classical Review Full review
[Press Release] BMOP Brings Apollo's Fire – A Season-Ending Concert Inspired by Greek Mythology

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), the nation's premier orchestra dedicated exclusively to commissioning, performing, and recording new orchestral music, presents its final concert of the 2011-12 season – Apollo's Fire. Like many artists and composers of the Western world, BMOP finds contemporary significance in Greek mythology, especially Apollo.

Full review