Background, Education, and Exposure

Driven by beauty and spirituality; inspired by literature, nature, the music of the spheres and imagined workings of the cosmos; reflecting a deep humanitarianism and modern findings on the faculties of the human brain, Constantine Caravassilis’ work is yet intimately connected to his Hellenic roots. Caravassilis draws inspiration from the prodigious past and supreme wisdom of his ancestors, as he reflects on Greek mythology and epic themes, and on Byzantine chant and the times it reflects. And yet, he often finds himself re-imagining eastern modality and the folksongs of the Aegean as sung to him by his grandmothers.

Born to a musical family in Toronto, Canada, he was raised in a culturally rich community on the Greek Island of Samos, off the coast of southern Turkey (ancient Asia Minor)—the birthplace of the mathematician Pythagoras and philosopher Epicurus. He took his first violin lesson at age six, changing to piano soon after. At age fifteen, he founded his own chamber ensemble and mixed choir, giving annual concerts at the local lyceum. Even as he studied western music, his influences prominently included a playground atop marble mosaics; ruins from Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman times; the proximity of ancient engineering wonders such as the Eupalinian aqueduct, the “Eighth Wonder of the Ancient World” (6th century BC); the protective castle walls of the tyrant Polycrates; and the scents, icons, and vestments of the nearby orthodox churches and monasteries (not to omit the taste of sweet Muscat wine).

Educational highlights include piano study; conducting and composition at the Royal Conservatory of Music; the Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music (University of Manitoba); and the University of Toronto, undergraduate and doctoral levels. He has studied with some of Canada’s finest musical artists. Constantine was the sole composer to develop a mentoring relationship with pioneering Canadian composer Ann Southam (1937-2010). He credits her for encouraging a freedom of compositional expression he might otherwise not have known.

In addition to several academic scholarships, Constantine has been awarded a number of commissioning, travel, and recording grants from the Toronto, Ontario, and Canada Arts Councils; the British Arts Council; and the Winnipeg Arts Council. He has received professional training at a number of institutions including the Toronto Summer Music Academy; the National Arts Centre; City Opera Vancouver; SoundStreams; and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. He is grateful to have benefited from personal training by such award-winning composers as John Corigliano, George Tsontakis, Osvaldo Golijov, Chou Wen Chung, Anders Hillborg, David Maslanka, Jennifer Higdon, R. Murray Shaffer, and Cornelius Schwer.

Since his mid-twenties, Constantine has been a fresh and forceful compositional voice, with international exposure through hundreds of performances and broadcasts in such venues as Carnegie Hall (New York), Jordan Hall (Boston), Southam Hall (Ottawa), Bunka-Kaikan Hall (Tokyo), AlteOper (Frankfurt), Rundetårn (Copenhagen), Smolensk Philharmonic (Russia), the Athens and Thessaloniki Concert Halls (Megara), and Palácio Foz (Lisbon), to name the more prominent. In 2006 his work Baroque Revisited— incidental music written for a documentary on J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations—was toured in more than 40 American states. His music has otherwise been performed live in concerts in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Great Britain, Spain Portugal, Germany, France, Belgium, Croatia, Italy, Romania, Austria, Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Hong Kong and Japan. It has further been broadcast by BBC3 (Great Britain), CBC Radio (Canada), CNN Turk (Turkey), TDK Radio (Japan), WCRB Classical Radio (Boston), The Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, CJCW Radio (Calgary), CKCU Radio (Ottawa), National Radio of Mexico, and CFCR (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan). In recent seasons, WQXR Classical Radio (New York) has broadcast Constantine’s music more than 60 times in the New York metropolitan area and internationally through its online streaming engine. Prestigious festivals featuring his work have included the Zagreb Biennale and the Ottawa International Music Festival.


Concerts, Broadcasts, and Recognitions


Although primarily a composer—among the most prolific of his generation— Constantine has long been active as both pianist and conductor in Toronto, leading multiple ensembles, including the gamUT chamber orchestra; the Toronto concert Orchestra; Opera5; Concert:Nova; and a number of university-based groups, in premieres and recording sessions of his own and colleagues’ works.

Constantine is a past finalist for the Royal Bank of Canada Emerging Artist Award, presented Toronto’s most promising young artist. He has been awarded a number of top honors, including the Karen Kieser Prize in Canadian Music and the Harry Freedman Recording Award. In 2006 he was declared Grand Winner of the Volos International Composition Competition (Volos, Greece), where he was awarded three gold medals for his “profoundly mature style and highly individual compositional voice.” Further, Jazz & Tzaz (music magazine) hailed him “the most important Hellenic-descent composer of his generation.” He has fulfilled commissions prepared for short composition residencies with the London Song Festival (UK); the Open Strings Festival (Denmark); the Contemporary Opera Lab (Winnipeg); and the Harps on the Hill Festival (Richmond Hill, Ontario). He has further accepted numerous invitations, most notably: guest composer/conductor with Concert:Nova and members of the Cincinnati Symphony; a residency with the National Conservatory of Music and Dance (Monterrey, Mexico); and masterclass instruction as Visiting Artist in Composition with the Faculty of Music, University of Nuevo Leon.


Syn(a)esthesia

Constantine is a synesthete —one experiencing an impression to one sense or part of the body via another sense or part of the body, e.g., one experiencing music through color or seeing images through sound (Greek syn ‘with, together’ + aisthanomai ‘perceive’). His works, reflecting these perceptions, are regarded by both critics and audiences as contemporary masterpieces. He has lectured on the subject at a number of institutions, including Nuevo Leon University; the American Synaesthesia Association; the Universities of Calgary, Toronto, York and Manitoba; OCAD University; the Ontario Art Gallery; and Shepherd School of Music, Rice University, Houston.


Caravassilis, Sappho, and Duban


On April 1, 2017, Caravassilis conducted the world premiere of My Life a Lyric Cry, a 35-minute chamber cantata based on Sara Teasdale's (1884-1933) lengthy narrative poem “Sappho”—the cantata commissioned by classicist Jeffrey M. Duban, author, The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the 21st Century (Clairview Books, 2016). The work, highlighting and concluding Jeffrey’s Sappho for Soprano program, performed at the University of Houston, Moores School of Music, featured ethereal soprano Dorothy Gal. Constantine and Jeffrey have further collaborated on (1) “5 Duban Songs,” orchestral settings of Jeffrey’s original classically-themed poetry, premiered and recorded May 18-19, 2018, Tallinn, Estonia, with the Tallinna Kammerorkester, Kaisa Roose conducting, and (2) a second, more expansive chamber oratorio From Sappho’s Lyre, premiering this season in New York. The work is based on Sappho’s major surviving poems, to be sung in Jeffrey’s published translations and recited by him (as narrator) in Sappho’s original Greek. Caravassilis has emerged as the single strongest and most influential composer focusing on the works and person of the archaic Greek lyric poet Sappho of Lesbos (7th and 6th centuries BC), in the words of British poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), “simply nothing less—as she is certainly nothing more—than the greatest poet who ever was at all.” A recording devoted to Constantine’s Sappho works will be anticipated as a first of its kind.


Performances, Commissions, CD Releases

Constantine’s work has been performed by the Camerata Orchestra (Athens); the Winnipeg Symphony; the Orchestra of the North Shore (Lion’s Gate, Vancouver); the Ocfamus Orchestra (Aula Magna, Mexico); the Composer’s Orchestra (Toronto); L’Orchestre de la Francophonie, and Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra (Ottawa); the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra; members of Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona I Nacional de Catalunya (Spain); the Les Amis Ensemble; the Penderecki; the Cromano String Quartet; and the University of Toronto and University of Manitoba Symphony Orchestras, among others.

In 2005 the University of Manitoba’s summer music institute commissioned DICE, Constantine’s first operatic chamber work on his own libretto. The work, conducted by Irish conductor and theatrical impresario Dáirine Ní Mheadhra, premiered to a capacity audience, August 2005, at the Contemporary Dancer’s Studio (Winnipeg). Constantine’s second opera, Sea Change (on a libretto by Nora Kelly, emphasizing climate change) is currently in progress.

In January 2013 the Canadian Music Centre (on its Centerdiscs label) released Constantine’s first double CD album, Visions, with 112 minutes of solo piano music written in his mid-twenties (the complete books of Rhapsodies and Fantasias). Recorded by acclaimed Canadian pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico at CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio, Visions attained worldwide acclaim, earning some twenty highly favorable reviews. Within weeks of release, it reached No. 1 on the CJCW New Music charts, becoming one of the top online selling classical music CDs ever.


Recent and Upcoming Projects

Most recently, Constantine’s incidental music for Comfort earned him a nomination for the coveted Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Composition/Sound Design (Independent Theatre, 2017). The play, by playwright Diana Tso, produced by the Red Snow Collective and directed by William Wong, commemorated the sexual slavery of Chinese women (aka “comfort women”) by the Japanese during WWII. Additionally, he was honored by his native Greece with the Zimalis Foundation’s biannual Epicurus (Gr. Epikouros) Arts and Letters Award (August, 2017) for musical contribution at the international level.

Recent and upcoming projects include premieres the world over, including: collaborations with the Neave Trio (US); Trio Klavis (Austria); the premiere of an expanded version of Sirens, for two pianos (Rome); a collaboration with violinist Phillipa Mo (London); a seven-concert tour of his piano music in Atlantic Canada with pianist Wayne Weng; new works commissioned by clarinetist Mike Dassios (Winnipeg) and pianist Jason Stoll (Los Angeles); gala concerts at the Benaki Museum (Athens) and the Megaron Mousikis (Thessaloniki); a concert with pianist Maria Pikoula at the Foz Palace (Lisbon); a repeat performance at the 2018 Florida Flute Convention of his After the Storm, written for American piccolist Nan Raphael; and the two-harp world premiere of Three Dances for Ocyrhoē, at the 2017 World Harp Congress, Hong Kong (Ocyrhoē the daughter of the centaur Chiron, tutor to Achilles in his youth; see Ovid, Metamorphoses, 2.636-675).

Constantine’s works, comprising some 10 concerti, orchestral, chamber, solo and vocal pieces, are handled exclusively by Pythagorean Editions.