A Byzantine Performance for the King

On the 6th of May 2023, Retracing Connections researcher Dimitrios Skrekas performed at the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla in Westminster Abbey.  Dimitrios was part of the Byzantine Chant Ensemble, directed by Dr Alexander Lingas, Prof. Emeritus at City University. We took this opportunity to ask him a few questions about his experience of performing Byzantine music for a modern audience.

Ingela Nilsson: You sang at the coronation of Charles II – a once in a lifetime experience, I guess. What was it like?

Dimitrios Skrekas: It was such a unique and – as you said – once in a lifetime experience to participate in the coronation. All splendour and aura were so great. I really enjoyed the solos by the famous Sir Bryn Terfel and Roderick Williams. The music was outstanding and superb thanks also to the so gifted conductors, like Sir Antonio Pappano and others.

IN: That space must be rather special to sing in, in view of both historical and spatial aspects. Was it different from a musical perspective to perform in such a place?

DS: Indeed, despite the fact that the space was in a church and one would expect to be similar to other church settings where chanters usually perform, it was so different. The overall result was really of the highest standards.

IN: Is this as close as one comes to Byzantine ceremonials these days?

DS: In terms of music, the setting was a rather recent composition of the 20th century which was composed in order to be chanted during Royal Ceremonies in Greece, but it follows the rules of Byzantine chant. In terms of performance, it is quite close in the sense that we formed a choir with the conductor standing  in the middle- as we still do in the Greek churches- and the Byzantines did. We had at the back two people keeping the drone tuning (isokratema, basically equal to E).

The Byzantine Chant Ensemble (Dimitrios Skrekas is third from the right)

IN: Was this an important promotion of Byzantine hymns to a wider audience? Have you had any interesting offers coming up?

DS: Undoubtedly we not only honoured the memory of His Majesty’s late father Prince Philip who was of Greek origin, but we also promoted Byzantine singing on such an important occasion worldwide. I am sure this will attract interesting offers, which will be addressed to our conductor.

IN: What’s next on your agenda, as regards singing and research?

DS: As I am a professional chanter, I will keep on chanting on Sundays and main feasts in London. Research wise, aside from my involvement in the critical edition of the Life of Theodore of Edessa, I am working with other colleagues on the preparation of a catalogue of Greek Manuscripts that come from the library of Guillaume Pellicier in Venice (1539-42). Also, my monograph on the iambic canons attributed to John of Damascus is forthcoming, as well as other publications.

Watch a clip of the choir’s performance.