Mikis Theodorakis in conversation with INTERKULTUR President Günter Titsch © INTERKULTUR

Mikis Theodorakis: national hero, freedom fighter and supporter of the Choir Olympic Movement

About the intimate connection between INTERKULTUR and its Honorary Artistic President


The view of the Acropolis is not obscured by roofs or cypresses from the roof garden of the house on a quiet street on Philopappos Hill in Athens. Since 1974, immediately after the end of the junta, the authoritarian regime in Greece, Mikis Theodorakis had made his home here. It was, he recounted, "a great privilege to live across from the Parthenon." Not being able to see the Acropolis was the only thing he would be sad about after his death, he once said in an interview. On September 2, 2021, the composer, conductor, freedom fighter, cultural politician and Honorary Artistic President of INTERKULTUR passed away in his native Greece, Athens, at the age of 96.

Here, in his residence on the highest point in the southern part of the city, INTERKULTUR President Günter Titsch and Vice-President Wang Qin had also visited him in 2007 and had long talks with him about the development of choral music in the world and the international work of INTERKULTUR and the World Choir Games, the well-known Olympic Games of Choral Music. From that moment on, Theodorakis, who was closely connected with Germany, the country of Ludwig van Beethoven, all his life, was particularly dedicated to INTERKULTUR's peacemaking, and unifying work.

Mikis Theodorakis: A great humanist, freedom fighter, and artist

No other musician in the 20th century has become a symbol of political opposition to dictatorship, persecution and oppression like him. Three times - under Nazi regime in Germany, during the civil war between communists and royalists, and during the junta period - Theodorakis fell into the clutches of fascists. He was tortured, imprisoned in concentration camps, survived with serious health consequences, was expelled into exile. In view of this suffering, his musical cosmos may be understood as a lasting triumph of hope and artistic resilience.

Music, he credited, and choral music in particular, "makes us more human and allows us to experience such happy feelings as love is between individuals."

He wrote chamber music, symphonies, cantatas, oratorios, hymns, operas, ballet and stage music, and time and again for film, such as "Zorba the Greek", which won a total of three Oscars in 1965 and whose music made Theodorakis famous throughout the world. His groundbreaking choral symphonic works Canto General (1982, text: Pablo Neruda) and the oratorio "Axion Esti" (1960, text: Nobel Prize winner Odysseas Elytis) are likewise outstanding.

In his song cycles, he took up the Greek tradition. He found with them the form of a musical language that, regardless of social classes, was understood by every Greek and ultimately loved by the people. "Mikis brought poetry to the people with his songs based on poems by Ritsos, Seferis and Elytis," is how the actress and former Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri once described it.

On the occasion of his appointment as an Honorary Member of the Academy of Athens, Mikis Theodorakis said in a speech in 2013:

“I believe that the greatest Ideas of Humanity originate from Greece: the Olympic Thought, Peace and Civilization. Nowadays the only cases of togetherness of People are Sports and Art.”

Furthermore, he expressed his desire and idea that we, the generation of the 21st century, make the antique Delphi once again a place of beauty of spirit, of constructive creativity in the fields of music, poetry, dance, painting and plastic arts. Wouldn’t that mean a small step in the direction towards the contribution to a better world to live in, a world of human and ecological prosperity?

Supporter of the World Choir Games and the Choir Olympic Movement

Thoughts like these can be understood as an explanation of his great affinity for INTERKULTUR and clarify the grounds of his immediate willingness to support the Choir Olympic Movement and the World Choir Games with all his strength.Where else does culture, and especially choral singing, receive similar attention, emotion and radiance as major sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, which have inspired the World Choir Games so much?

And so, immediately after his conversation with INTERKULTUR President Günter Titsch in Athens in 2007, Theodorakis had indicated his great interest and support for the global work of INTERKULTUR. Soon he received the offer to directly contribute to the work of INTERKULTUR, the World Choir Games and the World Choir Council as its Honorary Artistic President. Günter Titsch wrote in a personal letter to Theodorakis:

“The socio-political basis of the Olympic Games as a gathering of people from many different nations and cultures, joining in a peaceful competition, is very important for our festival as it is still based on the Olympic idea. What eise can we achieve than to have an Artistic Honorary President from the country of origin of this idea?”

Theodorakis accepted without hesitation:

"I accept with enthusiasm and a sense of responsibility, aware of the scope and importance of this great international organization and the resonance of its activities. It has put its commitment at the service of one of the most meritorious acts in the field of musical practice and human existence: It provides for the dissemination of music in its highest, most ideal form, it unites people and peoples, and it brings euphoria to our inner world like few other things."

Since then, the artist, who was awarded the UNESCO Music Prize for his life's work in 2005, had been on the Honorary Artistic Board in a row with important personalities of the international choral scene, such as the Swedish choral conducting legend Eric Ericson or also two well-known composers of contemporary choral music, Morten Lauridsen and John Rutter.

Most recently, together with the Mikis Theodorakis Foundation, he played a crucial role in the founding of the International Choral Competition & Festival Kalamata, which established itself as INTERKULTUR's first choral festival in Greece in 2015 and is scheduled to be held for the fourth time in 2021.

Theodorakis remains unforgotten here as well: Traditionally, in the Opening Concert all participating choirs sing together his piece "Sto perijiali to krifo" - a joint, international tribute to a national hero and one of the greatest artists of Greece and world culture!