GREAT WOMEN’S NARRATIVES: ZOE ZENIODI
May 3, 2021
Translated by: Maria Galanopoulou
Whenever I am asked to talk about music, I am well aware that my own speech is often unable to quench the thirst of the stave in sentences. And it is that sweet crosstalk of the inadequacy of a melody that springs up in humans around us, that still makes me have faith in the need for dialogue and the frustration it promises. Apart from being a distinguished maestro of worldwide prestige, Zoe Zeniodi is also one of the people who taught me the meaning of the perishability of the moments we choose to ruin ourselves or those moments that choose to ruin us on their behalf; the need for an ephemeral existence, and yet the production of the diachronic. After all, in my eyes, Zoe Zeniodi personifies music in the shape of Communion. You can “listen” to her in the following interview:
While searching about you, I can conclude that time is of the essence in your life, not only as a concept, but also as a performance. I keep wondering which God could you possibly be serving, that of the tempo or that of the pauses?
The God of consciousness and unconsciousness, of time and timelessness, of silence and sound, of serenity and momentum, of freedom and equality, of responsibility and justice, of ethos, depth and passion, of empathy, of essence, the God - the human, the Self - the Human, you and me. The I, the Other, the Together, the Together first and foremost, the relationship - what has brought us here as a species and which continues to guide us, the fuel of our existence.
Benjamin Zander* had once stated that “The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound. He depends, for his power, on his ability to make other people [in the orchestra] powerful.” Would this also apply to you?
Slightly altering the words of this exceptional maestro, I have to say that the word “power” does not suit me. The existence of the maestro (both literally and metaphorically) depends on their ability to inspire, to organize, to be internally organized, to recognize the Parts and the Whole - to create the condition under which the Whole is greater than the sum of its parts, to listen with their soul and not just with their ears, to listen to every sound and to all the sounds together, to love every musical line, every pause, every musician, and every instrument.
Musicians draw their power from their music, their art - and all of the above solely for the sake of the human being. It is the sounds they can produce, this magic of the live in which one is immersed during a concert. The power, the essence of the maestro is, after all, the power and the essence of all the musicians together, along with the listeners, the place, and the time. And their role is that of the guide and inspirer.
Is the possibility that my orchestra, my instrument, may not serve me, a source of anxiety? What do I do then? Do I leave or do I persist?
No, there is no such source of anxiety… And even if there was, none of the two options would solve the problem…
To clarify: for me personally, there is no possibility that my instrument, either the piano, or the orchestra, will not follow me nor that we will support each other ( I apologize for not using the verb “serve” - I cannot use it when referring to people; I am entitled to use it only when referring to values and identities). I have never been faced with being incoherent with my instrument, namely with something of which I am also a part, and I do not think that this could possibly happen. Existentially speaking, whatever I produce as sound, as inspiration, as musical phrase, as emotion, as connection, stems from me and, eventually, comes back to me… so it would be as if I did not follow me, as if I did not exist…
Can the pandemic prove that it is possible for music to exist without an audience?
Music without an audience has always existed and it will continue to exist. Sound (even that of silence) will always precede us. However, what the pandemic did teach us was the anguish of the human to continue to exist, to create online ways of communication and contact with the public. Personally, I did not take the time to do something like that because it was not necessary for me but I am thankful to all those who did so, proving that even this is possible. However, it is true that the notion of a “live” cannot exist without the living.
What takes place in a hall is neither mere music nor a mere audience. It is magic. And it is a type of magic that can be explained in a myriad of ways, and yet it cannot be explained in any. It is the reason I keep going and the reason our species will continue to create music. Humans learn easily and forget easily. In two years, we will all still remember the pandemic, but, fortunately, we will once again be in each other’s arms.
You have also stated, among other things, that music and art are not something competitive, like a sport. What happens when women step into the male-dominated track?
Yes, I have made this statement because that is the essential existence of art. What happens for the evolution of humans, this unique way of existing and communicating. Unfortunately, however, the industry is very very competitive. Reality always includes severe frustrations, immense struggles and sacrifices. I do not believe that the profession of a maestro is a privilege reserved for or a problem concerning men. However, I know that, for many years, stereotypes have been preventing women from finding their niche, and not only in my field of work. Things ought to change, things have already started changing.
Personally, I was supported both by men and women. And, personally again, I was not supported both by men and women. The problem is much broader and the only way to reconsider is education, knowledge, information. When women step into the male-dominated track, things just get hard for some time. Eventually, resolution and acceptance always come, it is just a matter of time.
How do you explain the phenomenon of the marginal representation of women conductors, even in countries such as the USA?
It is attributed to exactly what I have mentioned above. Many years of inequalities, scarce information, patriarchal societies that are too slow in learning about the new developments and updates. It is truly a profession that was never exercised by women, not even when women were already applying themselves to nuclear physics. It is time to move forward and to overcome ourselves.
One of the few Greek women conductors, Konstantia Gourzi, had once said that there were times when, upon entering the hall to rehearse, she heard male musicians whistling… Have you ever experienced something similar and, if you did, how did you handle it?
Yes, it has happened to me. I smiled because I do not know how to whistle…
And then I began my rehearsal, still smiling. It was beautiful, as all human interactions are, as everything done with a smile is; humans are a beautiful and sweet species. Let us forgive and co-exist with each other…
Do you believe that the orchestra industry is an industry in which you have to prove your worth, first as a woman, and then as a conductor?
No, judging by my own reality. Yes, judging by the broader reality. What I mean is that as soon as I enter the rehearsal hall, I am there to do my job, a job which I do well, a job I have been doing for many many years. I do not feel I have anything to prove - I only have to share beautiful sounds and thoughts with the musicians so that, all together, we can achieve beautiful and creative results.
Should some musician, actor, or member of the audience wish to trouble themselves with a gendered view or critique of my work, my appearance, my operation, or whatever else they could possibly consider, it is obviously their own concern. It does not concern me nor does it depend on what I do. I continue to do my job, as I have been doing from the very first moment when I decided to “serve” humans through music.
Vasily Petrenko** has recently made the following controversial comment, revolving around the fact that orchestras “react better when they have a man in front of them… [since] musicians have often less sexual energy and can focus more on the music”, along with his claims that “when women have families, it becomes difficult to be as dedicated as is demanded in the business". As a woman and a mother, finding your balance between different continents in a life that would have seemed beyond reach, had we not had you right in front of us, what would be your response to these comments?
That my life, as an exception to this rule, is very interesting…
This kind of balance is not easy to achieve, especially when it is uncompromisingly pursued. When someone decides to be a woman, a mother, a conductor, they have (they ought to have) absolute clarity and awareness of the responsibility and pleasure linked to such potential. I will not mention how difficult, strenuous, and hard my reality has been on many occasions; nor how almost impossible were indeed so many of the things I have managed to achieve. However, heroism does not belong to my industry… If I have been lucky in something, that would be my resilience, my creativity, and my determination.
How do you picture the female presence on the future podiums?
As something completely natural, with the conductor’s first name being perhaps the only tell-tale sign of their gender. And, of course, this is something I wish for all professions.
What should we expect from you soon?
Exceptions to the rules, trips, both nearby and faraway, inside and abroad, music and pleasures, lots of smiles and love for my children and loved ones, happy moments and beautiful vibrant energy; with the eyes always turned towards desire and life...
* British conductor
AUThors thanks Zoe Zeniodi for kindly giving this interview.