Vangelis Papathanassiou, widely known as Vangelis, is an internationally-acknowledged pioneer in music originating from Greece. Composer, producer, arranger and performer of some of the most engaging music in the new age, progressive, electronic, film score and ambient genres.
Unbelievable as it may sound he started composing at the age of 4 and first performed in public two years later. Although his parents and teachers urged him to attend traditional piano lessons he constantly refused to do so. He is a self-taught, an “anarchist” of music who from a very young age cared for composing original melodies from outstanding sounds.
In the early 1960s he founded the music band Forminx bringing a revolution to Greek pop culture. In 1968 he moved to Paris where together with the Greek musician Demis Roussos they formed the progressive rock band Aphrodite’s Child whose success gained him recognition at an international level. At the same time he started taking his first steps in scoring film music. By the time he moved to London in 1975 he had already successfully cooperated with the French filmmaker Frédéric Rossif for his wildlife documentary series and produced his album Earth.
Settled in the British capital he fulfilled his dream to set up his own studio, Nemo Studios. Vangelis was now starting his solo career in an environment where he could achieve greatness through experimenting with his innate musical talent in a state-of-the-art studio and with unlimited artistic inspiration.
The coming years were all marked by a row of successful albums such as Spiral, 1977 for which he was awarded the international award Midem International Instrumental of the year 1978.
His path was paved with great works and collaborations. In the early 1980s he brought out 2 albums of folk and byzantine music in which the Greek actress Irene Papas contributed vocals. He also produced a series of albums with Jon Anderson lead singer of the famous prog band Yes. In 1982 he received the Academy Award for Best Original Music Score for the music of the film Chariots of Fire by Hugh Hudson. He has written scores for 15 films in total among which are Missing by Greek director Kostas Gavras, Blade Runner by Ridley Scott, The Bounty by Roger Donaldson, 1492: Conquest of Paradise by Ridley Scott for which he was awarded the Golden Globe, Bitter Moon by Roman Polanski, Alexander by Oliver Stone, El Greco by Yiannis Smaragdis and Antarctica by Koreyoshi Kurahara. The latter gained great box office success since it’s considered even today as the most popular movie ever produced in Japan.
Vangelis also produced music for theatrical plays and ballet. In 1983 he wrote music for director Michael Kakoyannis’ staging of the Greek tragedy Elektra, which featured Greek actress Irene Papas. The piece was performed at the ancient open-air amphitheatre in Epidauros, Greece. In 1985, he scored music for the ballet Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus. The ballet was premiered at London’s Royal Opera House and was performed by The Royal Ballet while the choreography was arranged by the company’s principal, Wayne Eagling and the show’s spectacular costumes were designed by renowned clothes designer David Emanuel. In 1987 he wrote his third composition for The Royal Ballet, entitled ‘Beauty and the Beast’. During the same period of time his music was used for the Cosmos: A Personal Voyage documentaries by astronomer Dr Carl Sagan and a few years later he composed music for the film documentaries by the world-famous mariner Jacques Cousteau.
In 1991 Vangelis accepted the invitation to be part of the official jurors at the Cannes Film Festival. From there he travelled to Holland where he played for a live event of the European project Eureka attracting an audience of 250.000 people. That same summer the prolific artist hosted on behalf of the Greek government the International Poetry Day and staged a concert that was held at Odeon of Herodes Atticus amphitheatre, on the feet of the Acropolis-an event of great importance for the world of arts, poetry and literature with the participation of Alan Bates, Fanny Ardant and soprano Markella Hatziano.
In 1995 in close cooperation with the National Gallery of Athens he was in charge of a campaign to obtain El Greco’s painting St Peter for exhibition. Especially for this campaign Vangelis published the limited edition album A tribute to El Greco featuring the Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballe and the Greek tenor Konstantinos Paliatsaras. The money raised from the sales of the 3000 copies of this unique album were enough to provide home for the much desired work of El Greco St Peter in the National Gallery.
In the same year the minor planet Asteroid 6354 situated between planets Jupiter and Aries was renamed to Vangelis 6354 under the initiative of the Minor Planet Centre of the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Centre at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to honour the cosmic composer. Not far from this planet there are the Beethoven, Mozart and Bach planets as well.
Honours don’t stop succeeding one the other and after the summer of 1997 and one of his rare live performances Vangelis accepted a commission from the organising committee in Athens. The project was to stage, direct and orchestrate the opening ceremony for the inauguration to the 6th IAAF World Athletics Championships, which were to take place in August at the Panathenaic Stadium of Athens.
In 1999 he composed the music for the official presentation of the 2004 Olympic Games emblem and the music for the Torch Relay ceremony. In 2002, continuing his offer in sports, he composed the music for the FIFA World Cup Football which was co-hosted by Japan and Korea.
A very important moment in his career is the unforgettable concert of the choral symphony Mythodea (theme for the Mars Odyssey Mission 2001 chosen by NASA) at the Olympian Temple of Zeus, in Athens on 28th June of 2001. Worldwide famous sopranos Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman took part accompanied by the London Metropolitan Orchestra, and the Athens National Choir. The concert was shown live on TV and after the concert the French Republic honoured the great artist by announcing him with the title of the Chevalier de Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (=Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters). In 2008 he was announced Professor Emeritus with an Honorary Doctorate at the Faculty of Primary School of the National Kapodistrian University of Athens. The doctorate was given to him for his exceptional contributions to the musical education of the Greek people, and for spreading the message of Hellenism throughout the world.
In 2003 he revealed his talent and interest in painting and decided to place 70 works of his on show at the Valencia Biennal in Spain. After the success of the exhibition Vangelis Pintura, his works were exhibited in important galleries around the world. “Music is spiritual, painting is physical, so I need them both“, he said in one of his rare interviews for Observer. “In Mexico there was a book for people to write comments in and the loveliest thing in it was something written by a nine year-old girl. She said – I love your pictures Vangelis. I just hope your music is as good as your paintings.” In the same year a book was published with some of his most beautiful works under the title Vangelis. On 11th December 2011 Vangelis was invited by Katara’s Cultural Village of Qatar to conceive, design and compose the music for the opening ceremony of the world-class outdoor amphitheatre of Qatar; an event that was attended by a number of world leaders. On 16th September 2013, he received the honour of appearing on the Greek 80 cent postage stamp, as part of a series of six distinguished living personalities of the Greek Diaspora.
Vangelis music is used in both European and American hospitals for treating patients. He has never accepted money for his performances in his homeland, Greece and has always donated money raised at these performances to charity.
Always an explorer of music and art he is actively involved in all stages of production of his works. He has undoubtedly influenced the development and evolvement of many different kinds of music and is fairly enough considered the father of electronic music.
The renowned composer has respected, loved and served art as an extension of our universe and has used his melodies as a means of elevating and healing the human race.
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