Echoes of Greece Review

“Echoes of Greece” at the Park Avenue Community (PAC) Center in Swarthmore features the Grammy-nominated Laouto player Vasilis Kostas and award-winning pianist Tom Alexander. Their aim is to “transport the audience to the Greek islands and beyond through a musical journey that is both exotic and familiar” by using a fusion of traditional Greek music and jazz.

I arrived twenty minutes before the start of the performance and the room was already fairly packed. As I wandered around the room trying to find a good spot to sit, I couldn’t help but hear how far people had travelled to see this performance in the little town of Swarthmore. Some drove down from Northern Pennsylvania and a few even travelled all the way from San Francisco or Miami. There were, however, still many local residents and students coming just to learn more about Greek music and to reminisce about their own past experience with Greece.

One major highlight of the performance is the Laouto, or otherwise known as λαούτο in Greek. It is a long-necked, stringed instrument of the lute family, mainly found in the Greek peninsula and Cyprus. Although bearing many differences, I was still reminded of the Ancient Greek Lyre, λύρα, the favourite instrument of Apollo, which is also part of the lute family.

Kostas no doubt is one of the most renowned lute players right now, and it was a joy to see him performing live in person. The room soon dimmed and the magic of the lute was invoked. I was gradually taken back to that summer I spent at the foothill of the Taygetus mountain. I was reminded of how I could never tell whether its highest peak, hidden among the clouds, was real or merely a figment of my imagination. And then it was the olive trees and the buzzing noise of the cicadas under which I often laid, gazing at the green fields far away.

Nonetheless, the joy goes beyond just Laouto. The combination of jazz and traditional Greek music was a daring but exciting idea. Both Kostas and Alexander acknowledged that this was a novel thought, but they decided to give it a try. The raw emotion of the lute, coupled with the quick-tempoed piano improvisation infused into me an energy, a feeling that is hard to put into words. As Kostas himself said, perhaps there are things that “should only be felt.”

Something that perplexed me, however, even after the performance, was the omission of singing. Why was there no vocal section? Expressive singing is a major way where emotions are conveyed in traditional Greek music. It weaves a tale alongside the breath-taking playing of instruments such as lute. Throughout the performance Kostas has been murmuring words but there was never coherent, organised singing. Was this perhaps something that has not been thought about before? Or was it left out on purpose?

However, this did not affect the performance from being a huge success. The performance really did transport me back to Greece with its unique fusion between jazz and traditional Greek music. If you are someone who takes an interest in a diverse genre of music and wish to see them performed at a local venue, please come and support all the upcoming performances at the PAC Center. Check out their website at

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