Exploration and Inspiration – with Evis Sammoutis in Nicosia June 2017

Posted on June 26th, 2017 by

17 7 17 Stones of St Nicholas/Bedesten/ , for Evis Sammoutis & Garo Keheyan

A word of explanation: on deep hanging out

As I come to the end of five days of rehearsal, conversation, performance, exploration and laughter here in Nicosia, I think that it’s probably a good idea to explain what it is I am up to. Here’s a good enough place to start; at the foot of the Mulla Bastion, in the moat of the 16th century walls built in 1567 around the old city.

That’s the first of the Nicosia Etudes, by Evis Sammoutis (finding their way around the dust, the dogs barking, and the c major dance music from a nearby stage-which sparked my response at the end of the film). Evis and I have worked together for many years, and founded the Pharos Festival of Contemporary music together 9 years ago, here in Cyprus. However, we had never had the opportunity to really research and create a new work together, from the ground upwords. So in 2014 we began exploring the old city here, with a view to making something new. Here’s a link to the beginning of that process. https://www.sheppardskaerved.com/2014/11/five-days-in-cyprus/

The crossing of the Bedesten. Formerly the church of st Nicholas,Nicosia. 30 6 17

Gradually, a theme has emerged, both from the ‘deep hanging out’ we have done around this extraordinary city, and from the ideas which we have been drawn to, separatedly, together and coincidentally. The extraordinary 13th century architecture above is a clue as to our topic, the period in Cyprus history which is, to all intents and purposes, French. In 1192, King Richard Lionheart gave the Kingdom of Cyprus to Guy de Lusignan, at the end of the chaos and slaughter of the Third Crusade (1189-92). I like to think that this face-a wise warrior, is Guy. I found it today in the Lapidary Museum (which was, finally, open) on the Turkish side of the walls here.

The face of Lusignan. 30 6 17

As you will see from the link I posted, Evis and I began our work here, trying to get our hands, our eyes, our noses, and ears as deeply as possible into the layers of Nicosia. He, of course is a Cypriot, and I am not, and this was perhaps a reason that we were both drawn to the ‘French’ centuries of the island. As he put it this evening, over late night coffee, on the street:

‘ I think that one of the attractions of the French history of the island, is that, although it’s all around us, no one has an emotive attachment to it – it does not figure in the political discussions and disagreements that are our apparent history, so we can look at it freely’

Shelter for morning coffee on 30th June. The Romans would recognise this.

Evis and I were drawn to different, but complementary musical aspects of the French medieval Mediterranean . His focus has been on the extraordinary “Manuscript of Cyprus” of the fifteenth century (Manuscript Torino J.ii.9), and mine on music/poetry from the other end of the period of French Cyprus, the work of  the 12th-13th Century Woman troubadors of what is now the South of France. Both the music and the poetry are finding their way into the pieces were are writing. Here’s one of mine, with the faces of four ‘green men’ from the one-time church of St Nicholas in the centre of the old city.

So for the past five days, we have balanced the ancient and modern research-hunting down the echo of our pasts, and looking for the place of new music in everyday life. This involves interventions, which sometimes work … and sometimes do not. Here I am, playing new music in the biggest shopping mall in Nicosia.

Playing Michael Alec Rose in the Mall of Cyprus 28 6 17

Because of a certain ill-conceived, and rather arch, project by Joshua Bell, a few years ago, there has been a misunderstanding of the success or otherwise, or playing music in public places. Having always played the violin in places where people did not expect or in some cases, even want to hear it, I can say, with confidence, that listening is a very complex thing; people you think are not listening often are, intently, and people who are giving you and themselves the impression of interest, are not. When I set up my music stand in the Mall of Cyprus, there were some interesting reactions (It’s important to remember that most people, unless they are very old or very young, have busy lives, and cannot necessarily stop for 10 minutes). At this mall, I observed, as I would expect, the fascinated faces of children, being dragged away by parents glued to their mobiles.

Ice Cream. Important to note – despite my death gaze – this man is holding a tool box. He’s taking a break between jobs. Mall of Cyprus

However, the most telling interventions to my intervention, came from older people. I was busily playing something quiet (Vilsmayr I think), and was jolted from my reveries with the violin by ‘BRAVO BRAVO BRAVO’ and hands clapping right into my face. An old lady had come right up to me and clapped loudly, 6 inches from my nose. In the second instance, I was surprised to find a woman finding her way behind my back ( I was close to the wall), whilst I was in the middle of playing Michael Hersch’s big solo piece. I presumed that I was in the way, blocking her short cut to the clothes outlet behind me. But when I finished and went back to my violin case, I found a pile of money. She presumed I was busking; and it was astringent new music, not the sounds of the 18th or 17th centuries, which was the moneymaker. Evis has the ‘dead-drop’ on film, so it will be posted; I think that it’s good for living composers to see their music turning a profit!!!

Bird feed. The remains of st George de Poulains, now the Great Hamam 28 6 17

Since the project began, Evis and I have pursued our explorations and research on both sides of the Atlantic. In the fall and the spring of 2016-17, we took the wok to Ithaca College New York State, where he teaches composition. Here’s a link to one of those visits.https://www.sheppardskaerved.com/2016/09/workshopping-with-evis-sammoutis-ithaca-ny-september-2016/ As you might be able to hear from the new works, it was perhaps inevitable, that in our pursuit of new sounds on the violin, it would be the lost past which started to fascinate us the most.

Typical decorated Lusignan capitals (late 1200s) rather putting the lie to the old saw that there’s no link between the gothic and the classical. Hopefully that one died some time ago

13th century arch and decoration, reused on Belig Pasa

Ice Cream. Mall of Cyprus, 28 6 17

A favourite place to work. At Garo Keheyan’s ‘Shoe Factory’, practising Villsmayr, with help from Sammoutis scores on the wall 26 6 17

Gargoyles disfigured after 1570 26 6 17


St Catherine Haydarasa 26 6 17

The flowers of Languedoc 26 6 17

Staffage 26 6 17

Now a bollard 26 6 17

Lusignan details on the street. Nikosia 26 6 18

Don’t take photos. 26 6 17

Summer. Ruin. Green LIne.

Pallimpsest on the Green Line 26 6 17