Greek composer sets the tone for cultural exchanges

Eugenia Manolidou

Strolling through the galleries of Zappeion, an emblematic building in Athens constructed for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, Greek classical music composer, conductor, and educator Eugenia Manolidou is “listening” to what monuments have to say to pass on the teachings to her students.

She says that solid knowledge of the past and strong links to cultural heritage make people stronger, enabling them to face the future, acknowledge the beauty of different cultures and realize the power of collaboration, citing the example of Sino-Greek friendship and cooperation.

“Culture combined with education can bring people together, build bridges and break walls. Only through studying hard can one appreciate the beauty of different cultures,” she adds.

An artist and educator, Manolidou has contributed in recent years to collaboration between Greece and China through cultural exchanges.

In 2008, when Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics, she was invited to give a concert at the Beijing Concert Hall. She conducted the China National Opera and Dance Drama Theater Symphony Orchestra and Choir, presenting her work titled Two Cultures, One Spirit.

That was her first contact with China and Chinese culture. To create a work matching the spirit of the Games and the two ancient civilizations, she conducted extensive research into the Chinese people’s philosophy, music and mentality.

“I felt a profound obligation to serve two of the world’s most ancient civilisations. So, I combined what I knew best, symphonic music, with the pipa, a four-stringed plucked lute, one of the most elegant instruments of traditional Chinese music,” Manolidou recalls.

She composed a concerto for the pipa and symphony orchestra.

“We narrated a fairy tale that brought the two peoples together,” she says.

“Apart from their welcoming applause, audiences that day made it clear to me that they knew that that two civilisations- despite the distance between them- are united in their values, philosophy and beautiful past.”

Manolidou is also head of studies at Elliniki Agogi (Hellenic Education), an Athens-based private school that teaches ancient Greece’s language, history and philosophy to children and adults. At the school, she focuses on children, as she did during a Greek-Chinese cultural exchange event in November.

On the eve of the 2022 Winter Olympics, the students of Elliniki Agogi and the Beijing Academy middle school in the Chinese capital met through video links. They recited excerpts of the works of ancient Greek and Chinese philosophers in the original languages. By building a bridge through philosophy, they reminded the world of the common values and ideas of the two civilizations and the teachings on virtue, labor, friendship, truth, bravery, freedom and happiness.

“We only gain by learning about other cultures. We learn by sharing, talking, discussing and exchanging ideas, values, dreams and visions. The past is there to teach us. If we learn, if we know, if we respect the past, then we can bring all this knowledge to the future,” Manolidou says.

Greece and China, cradles of civilizations, are also harbingers of exploration, and the world has a lot to benefit from their interaction. “Together, we are stronger. We have many more opportunities, many more chances to achieve what we want in the future.”

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