Mikis Theodorakis, his undeniable presence and the incidents that lead to his performance in Australia

The world feels empty today. I feel an indescribable void at the unfillable loss of a demi-God, a protector, a beacon of light and hope. Mikis Theodorakis was a beautiful man and a musical genius of incomprehensible wisdom. Mikis lyricised man’s quest for freedom. Yet he experienced life through the eyes of a child. One could observe his eyes light up at the simple beauty of life. He was a living legend but he was also my friend.

When I was in Mikis’ presence, it was undeniable that I was sharing space with a legend. His height, his smile, his voice; all equally grandiose. Everything he said seemed profound, wise and balanced. Yet he delivered it mellifluously and with an intense harmony. I will forever be in awe at the fact that when he spoke to me, he would call me by my name, be entirely engrossed in what I was saying and be fully present.

He had an ability to make every person feel significant and in his eyes each human was of equal measure. He had mixed with eponymous greats like Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Olivier Messiaen, Yiannis Ritsos, endless presidents, kings, queens and billionaires but he made everyone he met feel special and heard. When he met Joanna Kordos the preeminent Australian artist I had commission to paint a portrait for Mikis as a gift, he said, “You; you painted that masterpiece that encapsulates everything I am!” She said he made her feel something she had never felt before.

I serendipitously brought Mikis to Australia for five sell-out concerts in 1995; Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide. In Melbourne, Mikis met a 45-minute standing ovation. My friend Nikos Moraitis; a European concert promoter took me to see Mikis in concert in Athens in January 1995. During the concert I was expressing my deep love of Mikis’ music and I said to Nikos how wonderful it would be if Mikis could come to Australia. After the concert Nikos took me to meet Mikis and Maria Farantouri. Mikis was very engaging and we chatted about the fact I lived in Australia and loved his music. Nikos then says to Mikis, “Mary is a promoter from Australia and has promoted shows including the Bolshoi Ballet and she wants to take you on an Australian tour”. I had just finished university and was clearly not a promoter. I stood speechless. With a sudden urge he said: “You know Mary I really like you, I will come to Australia with you.” He called Maria Farantouri over, and Mikis said to her, “I’ve just met this lovely girl from Australia and she wants to take us to Australia for a tour.” He says to Maria, “Pame?” She said yes and there I was suddenly committed to bring Mikis Theodorakis to Australia that year; 1995 the commemoration of his 70th birthday. I was 25 years old. Nikos said to me that I could do it and he’d explain how.

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Mary Tsouvalakis with Mikis Theodorakis. Photo: Supplied

It was incredibly challenging to find financial support for the tour. Mikis’ manager Asteris Koutoulas suggested that I contact Nick Bolkus who was a fan of Mikis. Nick sought support through the International Year for Tolerance Secretariat and private sponsors and is the sole reason that I was able to pull the concert together. I will be eternally grateful to him.

Yet despite all that he was, he had the heart of a young child. I will never forget how he beamed after meeting Paul Keating and discovering that our Prime Minister held his symphonies in his collection, including him 7th symphony. They spoke for hours about politics, music, life, democracy and freedom. He said, “Mary, your Prime Minister is an incredibly cultured ad intelligent man. His music collection is superb; he even owns my symphonies.”

The tour was amongst the most precious periods of my life. Mikis met with Whitlam, Keating and the Jewish community showered him with love of his work “Mauthausen”.

Mikis and his wife Myrto treated me like a daughter ever after; welcoming me into their home when I would visit Greece. I was humbled by their warmth. Their home sits under the Acropolis and Herodion with the best views of the Acropolis I have experienced. Mikis told me that he did not want to buy the house but Myrto pushed him to. He said he was concerned that he would not be able to compose music amongst such beauty but after realised that ‘one can compose amongst the hideous and the glorious’.

Myrto had given up practising medicine to travel the world with Mikis. Myrto had asked me to take her to Phillip Island during the 1995 tour as it was her dream to see the fairy penguins. Every time I saw her she would express her gratitude for one of the most beautiful experiences of her life which was to watch the fairy penguins waddle out of the water. Mikis and Myrto had travelled most corners of the planet and lived in Paris for many years. It was clear to me that they both cherished the beauty of life.

READ MORE: A poem for Mikis Theodorakis

When he spoke to me of his time exiled on Macronissos, he said that he felt that his heart could not bear the pain of the memories of the immense torture he and his friends endured. I was very fortunate to attend the concert in Macronissos in 2003, which was his first return to his place of torture after his freedom. We attended with friends Nick Bolkus, Nikos Moraitis and Ros Paspaley and we still say it was one of the most intensely moving experiences of our life.

The 1995 tour paved the way for me to bring the 215 piece Greek National Opera to Australia in 2002 to promote the Greek Olympiad. In 2003, I brought the Theodorakis Orchestra to Australia together with his daughter Margarita and her sons. I owe so much experience and joy to this legendary man. I will emulate his honourable qualities and will be eternally grateful for the wonder he brought to my life. I met some of the most magnificent people through the tours.

In 2020 I had planned a visit to Athens for my young son Paris to meet the man that touched my life in ways that only I will ever truly know. An unrealised dream due to COVID; but Paris and I will honour Miki at his chosen final resting place in Hania which is also our homeland.