Dimitris Skyllas has been a charismatic person since he was very young, long before he was acknowledged as a charismatic composer, and that makes him extremely interesting. With a special life attitude that can’t be kept within margins and limits but sweeps across different sectors, he manages to be constantly on top for his great work in a difficult and competitive field like musical composition.  

By Mia Kollia
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos

#culture #music #composer

With "Kyrie Eleison", co-commissioned by the BBC and the Onassis Foundation, he became the first Greek composer to write a work for the BBC Symphony Orchestra on the main stage of the Barbican Centre in London.

"I started playing the piano at the age of five, it was something I felt very comfortable doing. After a few years it was clear that I would engage with it much more."

- What is music? Is it love, charisma, sensitivity, or all of these together?

I think you can’t tell what it is but you can approach the "why”, the reason you do it, to some degree. The truth is that "this" comes to a few people and when I say "this", I mean the comfort of creation as if there is no other way out: when the natural tendency of your body and mind go in that direction. This, of course, doesn’t weaken the fact that a lot of work is needed.

- So you work hard too?

I probably consider myself lazy in the sense that I don’t follow a systematic schedule. I think I could have used my potential differently if I was much more dedicated. Often, for the sake of my own different daily life, I overlook it. When I have, say, a deadline, I will reach it by the last minute. It is true that we often rest on our laurels and talents and we know that we will catch up even at the last minute. Nevertheless, at that very last moment you get very stressed sometimes, because you feel that you may not catch up and you think that with a little discipline and program you would have finished much earlier. 

However, most people in history who have left behind a masterpiece didn’t have a specific strategy nor did they necessarily believe that hard work is the only basis for a great success or a special result. After all, I think art chooses you and not vice versa. 

- Why does a person, who deals with many other things outside of his field, become even richer and ultimately more efficient when he finally deals with his own field of work? 

I'm sure this is true indeed. And it should happen. And I say "should" because in the academies and in education in general, they teach us that in order to create you have to fall in practice exclusively over your subject. I think this is the biggest mistake in education. I would very much like to have teachers in the higher levels in the fields of arts who would motivate you to drink wine, go on a trip, go to a concert, go on vacation and think that these would be your first exercises as an artist. Otherwise we are just creating an army of artists who can reach a good level but they never become excellent and special.

Because, you know, being extraordinary is not indestructible. An excellent thing is not completely perfect. I am mainly inspired by everyday life, by a specific place I visited, by my friends or by a casual conversation with other people; these open many doors for me.

- They call you a "contemporary composer of classical music". What does this mean?

I neither accept the term nor like it. I think my stomach hurts when I hear it. First of all, the term is problematic and contradictory in itself: something can be either contemporary or classical. For example, the last thing I wrote about AFTERPOP isn’t classical at all. This title puts me under pressure and an artist shouldn’t be under pressure in the process of creating something. In any case, the term "composer" is enough.

- How did the UK come into your life?

England came as a gift to me. I was very excited about London when I visited the city at the age of 17; I said I wanted to live there. I went there trying to do my best. I only played the piano - I think I was still afraid to compose because it isn’t easy to create specific work in a specific time frame. So I continued with the piano and studied musicology in London. There it became clear to me that I wanted to write music. I remember the moment in particular: I was playing Chopin, and I thought “Nice. And why not play things of mine? The difficult part was to convince teachers and others that I was capable of doing it without previous experience. 

- How does one write music after all? Does this work concern the mind, the soul, techniques or emotions?

I don’t know how other composers write, but I think I write with all these together. Regarding the technique, I think that’s about training, it’s about a certain level you have to conquer. When you achieve this, you have to let go of it for a while and create with your instinct without meaning that the technique will be missing. But I don’t work with mathematical music, which has become more of a science than an art. This is not a humanistic art, it belongs to the sciences.
The music academic community in my opinion is a problem, with a few exceptions of course. They teach composers to work with very specific forms, so they only work with specific systems. Because I am generally a person of the classical era, without social media and a lot of technology, I write on the piano. It seems inconceivable to me that people write on computers music addressed to physical instruments. I think this shows a lack of imagination. I have paper, pencil and eraser so I can write and erase.


- How did such a great collaboration with the BBC come about?

England operates with a system of artistic hierarchy, while in Greece we operate more with the people who we know and their acquaintances. I had made contact with them in the past and they were watching my progress. So the offer came at a time when I had proved that I could do it. My honorable proposal was made by the BBC Orchestra Director. It was a structured assignment in terms of time and the instruments I would write about, but the subject matter was completely free which I particularly appreciated. They basically let you write what you really want!

- Do you want to write music for other arts?

Writing music for other arts started in a very nice and effortless way. My first work for theatre was in Epidaurus in 2018 when I wrote the music for Electra. Then again with the National Theatre we did another collaboration for the Free Besieged. I did both works with the excellent director, Thanos Papakonstantinou with whom we will teach in Delphi this year, at the Ancient Drama Workshop. For the cinema that I am very interested in, I just wrote my first soundtrack, a very different music from everything I have written so far - so as we said earlier I don’t represent and I don’t like labels.

- Is it interesting to have to work in a specific context as in cinema and theatre?

This may limit you but it is so nice to have a picture or a motion picture that you have to dress with your music. I believe that human nature works much better under restrictions - I wish we had more restrictions in our lives and work because that way we would try harder.  

Think how nice it would be to sit with some people by chance in a house without electricity and have to sit around a fire or a candle and have fun with a flashlight! So we need good restrictions in life to be able to fight for things and make the most of the few materials we have. Nevertheless I also have some personal limits. For example I don’t write music for comedies and I wouldn’t make a soundtrack just accompanying an environment for five scenes.

- You are both a pluralistic character and an absolute person in his beliefs.

I think that many people still cannot understand what I am as a person and what kind of music I write. And that happens because I am a personality with contradictions that often move at both ends. In other words, I can be very pop and appear in a lifestyle magazine but also be very introverted at the same time. My music is always the central axis; there I want to be able to combine the two sides.
My life dream is to be able to bring music closer to this way of thinking and not to be ranked somewhere specifically. Maybe my music is mourning and out of that one sees a man in a crazy joy. Therefore, whatever can happen to me and take me very high, I want it to be done on my own terms. And I really think I can negotiate everything. I don’t know how far my life will go but at that very last moment I want to be able to say that as a creator I wrote exactly what I wanted and nothing else. 

Must know

Dimitris Skyllas was born in 1987 and he’s one of the most dynamic and talented composers of his generation internationally. Premieres of his music have been presented in leading and historically significant venues, such as the Westminster Abbey, the Royal Albert Hall, the London Design Festival, the VIP Opening Ceremony of the British Ceramics Biennial, the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus and the Stegi of the Onassis Foundation. He appeared as a soloist at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, for the world premiere of his solo piano piece "Abyss", while for the Greek premiere of the same work he was invited by the Onassis Foundation to perform in the first world public presentation of the historical piano of Maria Callas.  

The first Original Soundtrack, Dimitris Skyllas: AFTERPOP is released on all digital platforms and Brushing Love which is already available as a single and we can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OFtL4lAGlg.

Dimitris Skyllas' life and career is depicted in a documentary film, produced by the Onassis Foundation; Dimitris Skyllas: AFTERPOP (2022) https://www.onassis.org/el/culture/cinema/onassis-documentaries/dimitris-skyllas-afterpop-2022

He signed the original music soundtrack of the film as his first Original Soundtrack.