Mimis Plessas. (Text in greek)

"A drawer with experienced memories."

The interview given to us by the well-known composer, songwriter, conductor and pianist Mimis Plessas. The interview took place after an invitation of his at his home.

Mr. Plessas, first of all I will start with a huge thank you for the fact that we are here after your invitation, here at your place where you welcomed us to tell us these a few things. Of course, many times I have stated on camera that I am not a journalist, just a talker, and definitely now the difficulties for me begin because when I have in front of me a figure like Mimis Plessas, the question is how do I start, how do I continue and how do I end the conversation.

I would say that when you are with Mimi Plessas, you will realize that all this is done with ease because there are so many years of experience…. for example, I would say that one year the radio "spoke" in our country and the next year it was 1 year of radio, 15 ½ years old and I was found to be the first soloist of easy-listening music, in 1939. From that time on until now I have experienced all kinds of communications. Because after the radio, came the cinema, the theatre was conquered, the black and white television came, we turned into color television and at some point, we reach today where you hold a camera and I have all this experience and you continue to have the modesty to be afraid of meeting a personality. No personality! You will come across a drawer - we used to call it "the two- by-four-room/ tiny room" - and everything was done there. Today we call it a drawer with lived memories. And from these ask whatever you want and all you shall know; whatever I tell you will be true.

The best thing you had to say as an introduction, you have already told (us), Mr. Plessas. I will start by going back. These are things you have probably said before, but I would like to go back to your childhood to ask you how the story of Mimi Plessas begins.

Of course. In a house that is full of two large families. My father Zakynthian with 14 siblings in life and my mother from Princes’ Island that is, she grew up and studied in Constantinople, in Halki, with 4 siblings. You understand, then, that both East and West were in this house and I was the eldest son of the eldest of this big family. My father, so Antonis, was, as his sibling a hat maker, that is, he made straw hats (wicker hats). They were craftsmen, they wanted to become industrialists, so, they came to Athens and in a house that was just opposite the Archaeological Museum, I lived with my family and I was the spoiled firstborn of a middle- class family.

In what sense "spoiled firstborn"?

Because you understand that everyone wanted to pamper me and since I was the firstborn child and a boy, it was only natural that they would indulge me. That is, at that time, being 4 years old and having a bicycle was rare.

However, Mr. Plessas, before you got involved with music, you studied chemistry. You did this because you wanted it yourself or because your family pushed you a little bit in the sense that maybe someone from your family didn't want you to get involved with music.
Quite rightly so. At that time, it was not so simple in a middle-class family to say that I want to be a musician and my mother immediately found the way to make me have second thoughts by telling me "My child, a blessing and a curse, do not become itinerant instrumentalist.
God bless her soul, I did not become an itinerant instrumentalist, but I turned the itinerant instrumentalists into musicians. And I am very proud of that. On the other hand, the reaction of the time was completely natural since opposite our house, in the garden of the Archaeological Museum, 6 important soloists played sensational music while the green tram passed squeaking. While the ladies without being concerned either with the squeaking of the tram, nor with the great music that these people played, drank their tea in the garden of the Museum. How, could it be, that a mother would want to see her child in this "situation", which would not bring honor to a middle-class family. On the other hand, I did her a favor. And because, I say it with pride, I am a self-taught musician, but a very educated scientist. I went to University and studied chemistry. I went to America and did a Doctoral thesis. And today, I proudly say, I am an honorary doctorate of the University of Patras and Ι am more οr less along with 6 Nobel laureates, co-signing papers that touch upon important issues that concern, the planet, our health and our future.

I would like to ask you which was your first musical composition.

When we lost my grandmother Athena, our house was in mourning and then mourning meant that there is no music, there is no radio on in the house, the piano is turned off, the mirrors are dressed with white (cloth) and I am at home, in this strange environment, and of course being music-born without wanting to, I miss the fact that there is no sound. And when I'm alone at home, I go and untie the laces from the piano, I open it and put my hands on it – I'm 6 years old – and I realize that the sound when I go to the right becomes high pitched and when I go to the left becomes low pitched. The next day I do the same. While I'm alone, I go and open it (the piano) and realize that the notes I'm playing have a sad sound. Without realizing it, because I neither knew music nor had I touched the piano keys before, I remember these notes and for the third and fourth time I try to repeat this pattern which is my first meaningful composition. Later, I gave it the title and called it "Liturgy for atheists." Because I thought God must be very mean to take my grandmother away. On the other hand, the first composition for every kind of music (I compose) is completely different, and even today all my songs have a different structure, a different idea and no one resembles the other. I have always believed that to make a success and "sit" on it and repeat yourself, this kind of routine is stillborn. Because it can give you successive successes with ease but surely at some point the time will come that you will not be forgiven for the repetition. So, I’ll tell you differently, for the theatre my first composition was ordered by the director of the theatre in which as a soldier, I served my last 6 months of service, for the play "The soldier's house". A very important writer, Nikos Fatseas, was the director of the theatre. And he once instructed me to write 3 songs. One was "If love", the other was " With love company" and the third.... I don't remember it right now. Though I explained to him that I don't write music, I play my colleagues' music. He replied with a very characteristic harsh smile: "Execute order and report execution." I went, wrote the three songs and 3 days later he called me, kissed me and gave me a week off. And when I asked why he told me "Because the 3 tracks you wrote, the Kalouta sisters heard them and together with the tenor Denogia they will stage "With love company" in a music theatre in Thessaloniki.

I kept in mind what you said "He ordered you", to ask the following. Nevertheless, during your career, was there someone who in quotation marks instructed you to create a musical composition and really had a hard time in inspiration and creativity in composing such a musical piece?

I'm sorry, I wish I could tell you differently, but the more they cornered me, the better I performed. And the most characteristic of all is the work "Zero visibility", "It is raining fire on my way". More or less, while I have noted to write modern synchronic music that the movie requires in 1 hour and 10 minutes, as I am leaving, Nikos Foskolos shouts to me from the editing room: "I need a “zeibekiko” (song for this type of dance) for Kourkoulos to burn his clothes, (a scene in the movie). I say, "But are you in your right mind? S But I didn’t see such a scene." He says to me, "You didn't see it because it hasn't been filmed yet." So, without this information I thought of writing a zeibekiko. So, I did what everyone else would do. I called the big names. Giorgos Zampetas, Dimitris Xaplanteris – the two of them were a music couple at the time, playing the bouzouki – and my own (musicians) who could play from aria to opera to "anything", and as I was going down the staircase which was curvy – there were the backstairs that connected the courtyard with the editing room of Finos Film – I conceptualized the music. My friends came, we wrote it, we recorded it with a voice, I had heard 2 days before, of a young kid with a guitar playing in a famous entertainment center/club. The young boy was Stratos Dionysiou. The song was "It is raining fire in my way " and 2 months later 80,000 people standing in Thessaloniki, at the Kaftatzoglio Stadium, sang "It is raining fire on my way".

Unique moments.! Mr. Plessas, let's talk now, about music that you have written in particularly for the theatre and of course having already done a lot of things.

69 theatrical performances and another 11 international ones. And from those, not many are mentioned except that everyone, depending on the kind of theatre he loves, finds a referral to Plessas. Why is that? Because the theatrical Plessas is multi-faceted. He starts with Karolos Koun. He continues with Mousouris and at some point, he is with Dimitris Horn and for 5 years on center stage, he staging and I composing the music for the most modern plays of the time. From the international but also from the Greek repertoire. I am very proud because I have written the music for Thomas Dipsychos by Angelos Terzakis. Apart from that, there is a very large "Plesseikos" (characteristic of Plessas) project that follows a unique success. My adaptation along with Dimitris Maravettas of the unforgettable, “Christ Superstar", the well-known "Jesus Christ Superstar". No fewer than 325 come to the auditions, we choose 23 and with 23 Greek children and with my adaptation we manage to give the best performance in the world, from what was written (in the papers), second came the Australian (adaptation), third the Spanish and fourth the German. The project "leaves" us, of course, because it is taken down ingloriously since the church and religious organizations go against it, instead of coming to see faith as it is strengthened through the way these children sing in this musical, at least in this Mediterranean adaptation of ours. And fortunately for us, Dimitris Maravetas says: "Why should we stay with a thumbs up (Bravo) for a work that is not ours but only the translation and adaptation. Let's stage our own." And we put on the “Funeral Dialogues” of Loukianos and we present it during the Athens Festival at Anna Synodinou theatre. And there they discover that Mimis Plessas has other theatrical possibilities. And this gives us courage and 5 years later we stage Orpheus and Eurydice. A folk operα of our unforgettable poet Kostas Kindinis where a very big star today, appeared and for the first time we hear Giannis Bezos and his wife Natalia Tsaliki. You will ask me, of course, why don’t I go out and say all these things. But who would have the patience to sit like you with a camera to record me? Or rather, technology has allowed me, up till now to be at home, unshaved having the comfort of remembering all these things. So, instead of you thanking me, I must say a big thank you for your patience and make sure that the next time you would like, we can fill in what couldn’t fit from a life, that for better or for worse has been given so long to suffer so many things and given so many opportunities to be able to continue even today and to hope for the future of our children.

Mr Plessas, I am coming back and will insist a little on 'Jesus Christ Superstar' to ask exactly how this came about and also to tell us a few words about Mr. Webber.
Yes. This lad was waiting for us in London to sign and give us permission (to play his compositions). We went to London to honor his youth and as at that time the "mood" in London were the long-haired and the hippies, we were dressed in our shirts and Andrew Lloyd Webber appears in a suit and tie. We meet, we talk, we sign and, in the end, I can't resist and ask him: "Can you tell me my boy, I put on a shirt to honor your generation. Why did you put on a suit?" and he says, "Because my father told me that I will meet a very great composer, a very great Greek and a gentleman." I'm asking, did your father tell you that? He says yes. He was on the committee that gave you the first prize at the Polish International Festival and he still remembers that you went and congratulated the second winner, who was a famous Belgian who played harmonica.

And since we're talking about awards, you have other very important things to say about awards. I’ll let you talk about 2 – 3 very important ones.

Excuse me, but if you turn your camera around here or there, in the background, a garden, you will see that "there is no number". So, we will only talk about one thing that is very important to me. I was in Moscow in 1963 conducting the "Bolshoi Philharmonia" with Giovana as the singer and giving 15 concerts. They are recorded and as a result she is given an award, the greatest prize that my dear could get as a European at that time, namely the album with Giovana "Giovana sings Mimi Plessa", sold 18 million copies. These 18 million copies, made the Muscovites name their children "Giovana". And not only that. Years later – and at some point, I saw that your eye caught something – I was called back in Moscow for a concert in the "Katsaturian" hall where students appeared when we gave these 15 concerts in Moscow. This is an award that cannot be forgotten. Another award was that we got in Tokyo. An award that I still consider today very special because in an International Festival competing with La Toya Jackson, the sister of Michael Jackson, she received the second prize, we got the first prize for the most artistic participation with the unforgettable poet, Sophia Fildsi having written the lyrics and with Cleopatra, a dramatic voice, the Greek Cleopatra, who did the performing (performed the song). Now amongst them, let me tell you that with Giorgos Zampetas we received first prize in Belgium. I, conducting the largest orchestra ever in Europe, 104 people, with Zampeta as soloist, and we received the prize (competing) among great names. Because it was an International Festival and with all kinds of music; I am ashamed to say who we won because they are very great people.

I noticed that in your compositions, "Compositions for Piano ", that you also choose excellent titles. Example: " Studies at unnecessary rates". Another: "Looking for tonality." I like the titles you use very much.

 (laughing). Where did you remember all this? You've dangerously informed. "Studies at unnecessary rates" is a series of piano studies written in 3/4, 5/8, 7/8, 9/8, 11/8, 13/8 and 15/8 that are unique rhythms found in Greek folk music. And they are written in a way that if you listen to them, you will understand why they were chosen in Moscow to be part of their (teaching) syllabus. And that makes me, the self-taught, very proud of myself. As for "Looking for tonality," one day as I sit and improvise, a pianist friend says to me, "Can I have these (compositions) written so I can play them?" I say, "Very gladly." I wrote them and gave them to him and he says, "What title should I give?" I say, it all started so that I could feel the ease I have looking for tonality and ended up unexpectedly, there where you don't expect it, from the beginning where I started. I wrote them, played them and then a great Armenian pianist discovered them and recorded them the following year with the great German company Deutsche Grammophon that hosts the most important symphonic works.

You have also written the "Symphonic Poem" such as "The Dance of the Spheres", "Journeys of the Mind", "Behold the man". Do you want to tell us a few words about them?

The symphonic poem is a freer form because from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the forms of music were strictly specific. The form of the concerto, the form of the prelude, etc. So, when at some point, I had to describe the way I wanted, I wrote the "The Dance of the Spheres" for our planetarium, I was trying to imagine how the good God would be able to hear this poor neighborhood of ours, if the distances closest to the sun and the ones further away from the sun, all the planets, were strings that played music. It was meant, for this (reason), to be called a symphonic poem. "Journeys of the mind". A sensational painter lets us enter into his workshop and by sketching gives us the inspiration to write a song sang by the very great soprano Claudia Delmer, with music of mine on Spanish poetry. “ Journeys of the mind”, are the way in which the works of this sensational painter show his love for woman and the sea. Through a series of ships that sometimes-become houses and sometimes become musical instruments. In such a case you let the mind travel and "Journeys of the mind" is the music I wrote for the great painter Rigas to be played at his exhibition in Paris.

And "Behold the man"?

Again, you take me into deep waters. With the Poet of Thessaloniki, Dimitris Prouchos, we have composed 3 oratorios. One is "Patrocosmas, the saint of slaves", the second is "Paul, the first after the One", and the third is "Behold the man ". All three have been recorded and indeed I had the great luck, the Metropolitan Bishop of Veroia who had ordered (a composition for) Apostle Paul, to have bought some records which he gave to the churches of Orthodoxy from the Land of Fire to Japan.

And we come to the contentious point of, Mr. Plessas, if we can say so, to ask you who were the artists who became known/famous through you. Rather, the list is endless.

The list is endless but let’s not characterize them this way. Just that we walked along and the major landings of their careers were accomplished with my songs. It sounds a little softer for those who did not rise to the occasion. Either because they wanted to fly higher and got lost, or because they wanted to stand lower for reasons that I will not characterize. I always start with Nana Mouskouri because I was playing American music at the time, I didn't write my own music and I believe that Nana Mouskouri, like she believes about herself, that she is a very great jazz singer. I continue with Zoe Kouroukli with whom I did so many shows because at that time she sings on the radio station of the Armed Forces of Greece. In the same line we should really put Giovana, because at that time is when I start writing my own songs, with Giovana as I told you we had great success in Moscow. Thereafter, I would like to single out Jenny Vanou who is the nightingale of our country and not only. And to distinguish her, on the one hand, because we record many light songs, which today are internationally acclaimed in the repertoire of Europe, and on the other hand, because later, when she asks me, I write Laika songs with which she makes a second career. Of course, what can I say about Marinella; that the song "Stone…open up" and later 4 -5 more songs bring us close and up to today we have such a close and beloved friendship and relationship. Let's talk about the male singers a little bit. Yannis Vogiatzis from the cinema, Fotis Dimas, Kostas Hatzis from the eldest. And from the latest ones Giannis Poulopoulos, Tolis Voskopoulos and as soon as we refer to them our minds will go to Stratos Dionysiou? And what? Should we leave moments like the ones that Nikos Kourkoulos sings in a movie?

Mr Plessas, I shall conclude by repeating a very very big and warm thank you. It was all very constructive. In fact, I think that we have said things that have not been heard and from there on, very soon, why not, for everything new you will do from now on, you can inform us and we will announce it to our audience.

You are hopeless changing, my child!


Huh, what why? Firstly, I explained to you that I should thank you, for having the patience to have been prepared in such a way, forcing me to say in a different way, things that I had not said until now. Secondly, you came and at the end instead of telling you “Thank you" and to ask you when you prepare it, (have the interview in writing) to send me a copy, so that I can have it in my records, you are ready to fall into the trap and take it (the conversation) further. If I were only going to announce to you what my obligations are for 2013, you would understand that you wrongly asked, because I am getting hungry and I hope you too, so we can stop here and thank those who heard our chatter.

΅We thank you warmly!