John Psathas, ONZM
Greek New Zealander John Psathas is no composer trapped in an ivory tower at the bottom of the world. His is a truly dazzling 21st century backdrop, where dynamic collaboration with creative masters from all corners of the physical and artistic globe result in outcomes that are visionary, moving, and inspired.
From genre-crossing projects with jazz legends Michael Brecker and Joshua Redman, to an innovative e-book scoring collaboration with Salman Rushdie, from an unforgettable recording session with the Grand Mufti in Paris's Grand Mosque, to a Billboard classical-chart-topping album with System of a Down front man Serj Tankian, John's musical journey weaves through a myriad of genres, and has moved concert audiences in more than 50 countries on all 7 continents (yes, even Antarctica).
Early career collaborations included working with such luminaries as Sir Mark Elder, Kristjan Jarvi, the Takacs Quartet, Lara St. John, the Netherlands Blazers Ensemble, Evelyn Glennie, Edo de Wart, Joanna MacGregor, and many more. Then followed a period of intense creative exploration in the worlds of electronica and jazz, and a series of mega-projects (such as scoring much of the opening ceremony of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games). All of which led eventually to an explosion of first-hand collaborations with artists from dozens of musical traditions spanning Asia, Europe, North and South America, Africa, and Australasia.
John is now developing projects that integrate the many strands of this creative journey. Much of his recent work has social and historical commentary at its core. The film White Lies (original film score) depicts a head-on clash of beliefs and the nature of identity in early NZ European settler society. Between Zero and One is inspired by ancient and modern rhythms, and brings musicians from around the world into the concert space via interactive projection, transforming and challenging the traditional experience of fixed-location, temporally-contained performance. 100 Years (in collaboration with the world's most famous living Armenian, Serj Tankian) is an unflinching exploration and remembrance of the Armenian Genocide begun in 1915. Most recently, the epic and experimental No Man’s Land project overtly challenges the accepted handling of WWI commemoration. No Man's Land involved filming and integrating 150 musicians from more than 25 different countries, including Oum El Ghait (Morocco), Meeta Pandit (India), Bijan Chemirani (Iran/France), Marta Sebestyen (Hungary), Vagelis Karipis (Greece), Refugees of Rap (Syria), and Derya Turkan and Saddredin Ozcimi (Turkey).
John's music has achieved a level of international success unprecedented in New Zealand history, and he is also now considered one of the three most important living composers of the Greek Diaspora.
Responses to the premiere season of No Man's Land
“The third part is called Shellshock – this is the bit that grabbed me and I don’t think I’ll ever forget…. these drums building this rhythm, and then at the very end, a couple of Palestinian-Syrian rappers…. it all culminated in this huge rhythmic burst and then there was a silence and the video stopped, and I didn’t just gasp…. I just cried, it was so monumental.” Rachel Hyde, Upbeat, Radio New Zealand 3 March 2016
“We were all on our feet at the end, wiping back tears and smiling from ear to ear.” Groove FM, Wellington, New Zealand 3 March 2016
“I found it stunning, in every sense of the word. The complexity of the music, so varied yet seamlessly woven together, synching with the visuals; the structure of the piece and the journey that it took us on: as a whole it was so uplifting, thought-provoking and so emotionally charged. It took me away to some place deep, and made me consider aspects of WWI and its relationship with my own family that I had not fully allowed myself to approach before. This has been the highlight of the Festival for me, and in fact for far more than the Festival: I can’t remember the last time I attended something so powerful and affecting. Thank you.” Audience member feedback, World Premiere Performance, NZ Festival of the Arts, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, March 2nd 2016