Tuesday, February 15, 2005
master of the pontic lyra wins award
15 February 2005
by Susannah Tarbush
Before the Greek musician Matthaios Tsahourides came to Goldsmiths College, London University, to study ethnomusicology few people in Britain had heard the haunting sound of the Pontic lyra, a stringed instrument which is played in with a bow..
The Pontic lyra, which is played in an upright position, originated in the Pontos region near the Black Sea in Turkey. When Greeks left the Pontos area in the 1924 exchange of population, they took their music and their lyra to Greece with them.
Tsahourides brought to Britain his mastery of this most expressive of instruments, and has thrilled live, radio and recorded-music audiences. He has played in a variety of musical line-ups including Ensemble Bakhtar founded by his PhD supervisor Professor John Baily of Goldsmiths, which performs Afghan music.
He performs regularly with Greek singer Athena Andreadis’s group, and with his brother Konstantinos, a talented singer and musician who is also at Goldsmiths. The brothers come from a musical family: their grandfather taught Matthaios to play the Pontic lyra at the age of nine.
At Goldsmiths, Tsahourides has developed new playing techniques, and has carried out comparative studies on the Iranian kamancheh and the Afghan ghichak.
Now Tsahourides’s musicianship has won major mainstream recognition in the form of an Arts Foundation fellowship. He faced tough competition from the two other musicians shortlisted in the instrumentalist category: the Syrian qanoun player Abdullah Chhadeh and the Indian sitar player Sheema Mukherjee.
At the awards ceremony held in West London a few evenings ago, Tsahourides was awarded the £10,000 prize by the guest of honour, the musician and record producer Brian Eno. Fellowships were also awarded in four other categories; choreography, new media art, costume design and curating.
The Arts Foundation was set up in 1990 by the then chairman of the Arts Council, Lord Palumbo, after an anonymous benefactor bequeathed £1 million to the Arts Council. The Arts Foundation administers the money, and so far 73 artists have been awarded fellowships in fields as diverse as opera composition, lighting design, ceramics, painting and documentary making.
The chairman of the Arts Foundation’s board of trustees William Sieghart said: “We have given away £800,000 to artists but thanks to the joys of the banking system we still have £800,00 or more in the bank. And fingers crossed, we’ll be able to do this for many years to come.”
Eno expressed particular pleasure that the fellowships programme recognises culture as a wide area, unlike the narrow focus of some other prizes. Each year the categories of awards change, and Eno was amused to learn that in the past there have been awards for circus (the winner was a female clown from Brazil) and thriller writing.
At the end of the awards ceremony, Shelley Warren of the Arts Foundation announced that next year’s awards will be in the categories of painting, jazz composition, comedy writing, performance poetry and furniture design.