Alexandra Gravas, a European with a Greek heart!
Alexandra Gravas was born in Offenbach, a small German city on the south side of the river Main, Frankfurt, but her family roots go back to Asia Minor. Her parents were immigrants from Greece and Alexandra grew up under the influence of two different cultural environments, by the melodies of Greek songs at home and with German classical music at school. Maybe that is why in her ten years career Gravas seeks to create cultural bridges threw her work and refuses to restrict her voice into one music style. Her repertoire is impressively wide (opera roles, oratorio solos, classical, traditional and contemporary song, poetry set to music ) and she had successfully performed all over the world (Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Belgium, Austria, Holland , Spain, Israel, Sweden, Cyprus, Hungary, Italy, USA, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Malaysia, Japan).
The professional success and international recognition that Gravas enjoys today are only results of her hard work and persistent effort. She was sixteen years old when she lost her voice due to a disease in her vocal cords, but her health adventure, lasted two painfully silent years, had only made her passion for singing stronger. After finishing her studies in Musicology, German Literature and Philosophy at the Goethe University of Frankfurt, Alexandra studied song next to the renowned teachers Loh Siew Tuan and Vera Rosza in London. In 2002 she made her debut at the City Opera of London, where she remained for three years, and at the same time she worked with Mary King in the English National Opera Studio.
She has premiered works of internationally acclaimed composers such as Mikis Theodorakis, Demosthenes Stephanidis, Mimis Plessas, Alexandros Karozas, Francis James Brown, George Tsontakis, Achim Burg, Harue Kunieda, Constantine Caravasilis, Dante Borsetto, Jonnusuke Yamamoto, Otto Freudenthal and her recordings of "Bitter Tears" by Demosthenes Stephanidis had won the first prize of the 2004 Tomos Contemporary Music Editions Prize Competition in the USA.
Restless spirit and creative soul Gravas has been actively involved in the production of her music projects. She is the founder and leader of the London based orchestra Orama Ensemble, while together with Dr. Pantelis Polyxronidis and Prof. Vasilios Lambropoulos conceived the ‘C.P.Cavafy in Music, a recital of songs and reflections’, an international music project that she had successfully performed in Europe and USA.
Alexandra Gravas represents through her work Greek music, poetry and soul all over the world. In 2004 she had been invited to give the final concert, that marked the closing of the prestigious Frankfurt Book Fair, at the Alte Oper of Frankfurt, and in 2007 she appeared at the opening recital of the famous London Song Festival accompanied by its founder, pianist Nigel Foster. In December of 2013 the tenor Plácido Domingo invited her to sing at an event at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.
Gravas has a strong sense of social responsibility and had generously served with her voice several charity causes such as the Greek SOS Children’s Villages, the Doctors without Borders and the 12 Hours for Greece Project. Today she is the cultural ambassador of the Greek island Rhodes for its nomination for the title of the European Capital of Culture of 2021. A role that suits perfectly to her. After all, the mezzo soprano identifies herself as ‘a European with a Greek heart’!
Meet the Artist:
"I have the feeling that music comes not from her, but through her from somewhere beyond. She is among those who have been picked out as one of life's messengers" wrote about Gravas Louis de Bernieres, author of the Captain's Corelli's Mandolin.
1. Which were your first musical hearings and what kind of music have you grown up listening to?
My mother and my father were always singing at home or while driving the car. Singing was a very natural thing to us all in the family, although nobody ever had studied music except me later on. Both of my parents had very good and versatile voices and I remember how fascinated I was listening to them.
As a teenager I was listening to anything ‘en vogue’ at the time…I was (and I still am) a huge ABBA fan.
2. You come from a family with no professional relation to music. When did you first realize your talent in singing and what emotions did that realization caused you?
As my mother told me later on, I was always singing. Nobody told me to. Singing was just natural to me! I was able to immediately copy melodies and to sing them correctly.
Once that had been discovered in kindergarten and later in school, I realized that I somehow could turn all the attention of my friends and surroundings to me…how great was that! It made me feel like a princess. I guess a child can feel the admiration as much as an adult. I realized that with my voice people would be nicer to me and put me to a privileged position.
3. At the age of 16 you have ‘lost your voice’ due to a pharyngitis disease and you remained silent for almost two years. Where did you draw strength to carry on your efforts for a career in singing?
Strength comes from within, when you don’t know that it has to come from there…The only thing I knew was that there was no way I would not become a professional singer. Although there had been a handful of stupid doctors at the time, who told me, that I would not be able to ever sing again and even speak properly, I was convinced that I would be healed and sing again.
In those years the process of discovering my body and soul had been fully active. I was entering new worlds of self-consciousness, various “why me”. My self-healing efforts accompanied with the help of a great phoneatric doctor, who had finally diagnosed my vocal problem and found the cure, led me to the path of healing. Looking back today, it could have not been differently.
4. Do you believe that classical music or poetry set to music requires a well educated audience in order to be understood and appreciated?
No! What does it mean to be “understood” and “appreciated”? These words belong to musicologists. Full stop. I refuse to go to this path of thinking. When I first listened, at the age of 12, to the Greek song “Sto Perigiali/At the sea shore” by the Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, I was fascinated. I could not understand a word of the Greek lyrics…I was a little girl then, born and raised in Germany with no Greek school education. I did not know that Theodorakis had set the wonderful poetry of the Greek noble prize winner George Seferis into Music. It was the song that made me want to understand Greek, to sing Greek and since then, it is the love of my life!
Let’s get back to our senses and trust them. The Ear hears and the Heart feels…Music is the key to opening up the heart. Whether classical or not, traditional or pop, if music has something to tell you, then the intellectual borders lose their place.
Alexandra Gravas sings "Sto Perigiali/At the sea shore". Music Mikis Theodorakis. Lyrics George Seferis.
5. From opera songs to Madonna’s Frozen you seem to move with remarkable convenience through different music styles. Do you have any special preference? Where do you feel most ‘at home’?
I am truly interested in many music styles and I am always looking for the next challenge. Singing for me is not just interpreting but creating something. Creation is a part of me. My family roots come from Asia Minor. It seems they have inflicted on my DNA lots of their musical preferences.
The Greek language and its songs are “home” to me.
6. Is Music an international language?
Thank God that music is universal and will always be as long as it comes from the heart. No matter if it is sung in Mexico or in Athens.
7. You have participated in several charity concerts. Have you ever felt that talent comes together with a responsibility?
I would not talk about responsibility. For me it is a ‘human must’ to help when I can.
To combine your art with helping is a wonderful thing. Putting people together for a good cause and being a part of it, is indeed special. I have given, but at the same time I have received back lots!
8. Which have been the most exciting or touching moments in your ten years career so far?
My first professional Liederabend in the Mozart Saal of the Alte Oper Frankfurt, where people who knew me from the “silent phase” saw me sing for the first time. Pure emotions!
9. People tend to believe that talent is the only prerequisite of success. What advice would you give to a young artist?
Find the best teacher in your field to teach you and work very hard. Learn the required technique and what your teachers want from you. Never stay to long with them. And then break out of the educational cave of the past and try to find your own path and your own creative world. That in particular needs courage…Tons of courage!
10. What’s your favorite song at the moment or the song you listen on repeat?
At the moment it is my 5 years old son’s favorite song from “Lillypoupouli”and it goes like that: “to hondro bizeli horevi tsifteteli, horevi tsifteteli sto horo ton bizelion”.
Future Desires and Latest Work:
1. From a very young age you have collaborated with several worldwide acclaimed composers. Which are your music desires right now?
To sing a duet with MADONNA!
2. As an artist you don’t restrict yourself in singing only but you also play an active role in the conception of your work. What is the main idea behind your latest music project?
My ongoing project is called “Greek Inspirations”- Greece in words, music and installations.
Living in Greece:
Alexandra Gravas at Rhodes Concert.
1. You have recently moved with your family to Athens, Greece, at a very difficult financial and social period for the country. What has led you to take that decision?
My mother died and I came to Greece to organize what needs to be organized. It took longer than I thought and I stayed longer and longer. So now I have decided to stay a little bit more. It is time to discover my motherland.
2. What do you love most / less about living in Greece?
I love the sun and the heat!
I discover something new every day. Greece is like a candy store with much to taste… sweet and sour.
3. Do you believe that Athens is a creatively inspiring city?
Greeks are very talented people…I meet them all the time! The musicians are of the finest here in Athens and I love to work with them.
You have been travelling with your voice Greek music, poetry and soul all over the world. What is the dominant picture of modern Greece abroad right now and in what ways could we improve it?
I have been very lucky to travel the world with what I love doing most: performing my own projects. They are my babies!
I have been welcomed with overwhelming love from my audiences everywhere spanning the globe, from Tokyo to Mexico. People are interested to discover new horizons, which I offer them with my performances. I always try to combine the Greek culture with the cultures I am visiting in order to make my Greek concert themes accessible to non-Greek speakers. It is about making cultural bridges and the result has to be always a creative challenge!
Interview, text editing and photo selection by Dimitra Moutzouri