Romeiko Ensemble

United States of America

The Romeiko Ensemble, founded in 1990 in Philadelphia, USA, performs the classical music of Byzantium and Ottoman Empire.

The birth of Romeiko Ensemble was inspired by the increasing need to raise awareness, respect and appreciation in the Western world concerning the Masters and Composers of the Empire of the Romans (Byzantium) as well as the Chant tradition in the Christian and Ottoman Constantinople (Istanbul). The Romeiko Ensemble, founded in 1990 in Philadelphia, USA, performs the classical music of Byzantium and Ottoman Empire.

In Byzantine times (330-1453), the Byzantine Emperor's Court as well as the Great Church of Hagia Sophia sponsored master composers, the most prominent been Ioannes Kladas, Ioannes Koukouzelis, Xenos Koronis, Manuel Chrysafis along with many others, who set to music verses from the Septuagint Psalter, Byzantine liturgical lyrics (hymns) or texts of syllables which have no meaning (kratema). Chant was performed in the Emperor's Church (Hagia Irene) a capella by male choirs under the direction of the Domestikos. At the Palace Court secular music was accompanied by instruments during the royal ceremonies. Byzantine music was transmitted orally via a master/apprentice relationship as well as through a neumatic notational system, parasemantiki. The cantors (psaltes) in late Byzantine times wore wide-brimmed hats (skiadion) or tall "bullet" hats (skaranikon) and dressed in special cloaks (kamision and phelonion) girded with a belt (sfiktourion). This cantors' costume tradition was lost after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 leaving the cantor dressed only with a black robe (rason). However, for the first time since the Fall, Yorgos Bilalis has joined forces with costume designer Fatima Lavor of Philadelphia to recreate these Byzantine cantors' vestments as they are described in several treatises or depicted on Byzantine frescoes and manuscript miniatures.

Romeiko has undertaken the task of presenting authentic interpretations of medieval Chant transcribed by the acclaimed musicologist Ioannes Arvanitis as well as the post-Byzantine (16th-19th c.) chant tradition after thorough research in the manuscripts and comparative analysis of the oral expression of Istanbul master cantors of the last century. Dr. Yorgos Bilalis, artistic director and domestikos, has selected for Romeiko excellence the best vocal soloists (psaltes) of Athens, Greece for their ability to sight read, assimilate new material quickly, outstanding expression and for their willingness to subjugate ego to the extrinsic demands of music and lyrics. Romeiko accompanied by Istanbuliotes virtuoso instrumentalists also performs the Ottoman Sufi classical music as it was developed and nurtured in the Ottoman court and the Mevlevi lodges (tekkes) in Constantinople. Recently, Romeiko is breaking new ground in Orthodox psalmody by wedding the rich and varied styles of Eastern Christian Chant (medieval and post-Byzantine musical settings) into English and other Orthodox languages text.

Romeiko began its public performance career in 1994 and has travelled extensively throughout the US and internationally, concertizing at festivals, gala concerts, church ceremonies and services, and other cultural events. Romeiko was catapulted to fame at the 13th International Festival of Orthodox Music in Hajnowka, Poland (1994), where the Ensemble received "special distinction" among the 37 international choirs taking part. The ensemble was selected as the most authentic choral group from the US to perform at the Millennium Visit to Detroit of the Patriarch of Constantinople (2000). In 2006, Romeiko was appointed by the National Library of Greece to perform Christmas hymns from the selection of the Library's rich manuscript collection. Further, Romeiko was selected to perform for the European Cultural Capital: Istanbul 2010 a unique program presenting Byzantine and Ottoman secular music. 

 

Romeiko

Romeiko's vibrant vocals are soothing on various tracks: 

"Sounds of the Parthenon", a live recording at Princeton University with excerpts of Ancient Greek music, post-Byzantine chant, Sufi hymns, Athenian folk songs and Mikis Theodorakis songs (1996)

"Thy Cross we adore", Exaltation of the Cross Matins performed in English (2000), 

"He Cometh at Midnight", Great and Holy Monday Matins performed antiphonally in Greek and English (2001); lyrics and music in English adapted by Dr. Bilalis.

"From Adam unto Joseph", selection of Advent hymns, medieval and post Byzantine settings (2002), 

"Divine Liturgy, Mode I", the whole service of the Liturgy of St. John the Chrysostom performed live in Greek with a deacon and priest in Mode I. Byzantine master Ioannes Kladas' compositions for the Liturgy are recorded as transcribed by Chourmouzios Chartophylax (2005).

"From Akathist to Nymphios", a liturgical chant voyage of the medieval christian poetry that is serviced during Lent (2007).

"Byzantine Christmas", the Nativity Matins performed in English, a Prokypsis song from the Royal ceremony as well as Christmas carols in Greek (2007).

"Christ on earth", Nativity Matins performed in Greek, 19th century chant tradition as well as Christmas carols in Greek (2007).

"Today upon the Cross", The Nine Royal and the Apokathelosis services of Great Friday performed in medieval chant style, as well as modern Greek Laments of Good Friday performed by the youth chorus Cherubic (2010).

"Eucharist: The Liturgy of St. Basil, mode plagal II", Byzantine master Ioannes Kladas' compositions for the Liturgy recorded in mode plagal II (transcriptions by Kourmouzios Kartophylax [†1840]) as well as the Liturgy of St. Basil with the Creed (world premiere) in the medieval sound as transcribed by Ioannes Arvanitis (2010)

Yorgos Bilalis, conductor of Romeiko Ensemble

Born in Athens, Greece, Yorgos studied post-Byzantine and Neobyzantine music theory (second major along with his microbiology/dental studies) at the Simon Karas National School in Athens, Greece and Ottoman music theory with Feridun Ozgoren of Boston, USA. He was practically trained for a decade to the neo-Byzantine Chant and especially the Istanbul style (Πολίτικον ὕφος) by the leading masters of Greece Ath. Karamanis, K. Eliades, Ath. Pettas, Antypas of Mt. Athos and the eminent Dem. Nerantzis. He graduated with the Diploma of NeoByzantine Chant Teacher from Argyroupolis Conservatory (Greece) and furthered his studies through various seminars in Musical Pedagogy and Conducting in US institutions. 

His zeal for research in the medieval musical sources leads him to study Byzantine music, theory notation and chant next to renown musicologist Ioannis Arvanitis, the only scholar worldwide who unveiled the hidden code of transcription of Byzantine chant in 2009. Bilalis after three years of tedious scholar study next to Arvanitis finished a unique masterpiece, ANNUNCIATION-ACATHIST, all hymns of the feasts transcribed from medieval manuscripts in the New Method notation and chanted by Romeiko (2018). 

Yorgos Bilalis
Romeiko Ensemble, directed by Yorgos Bilalis

 

In the US, Dr. Bilalis has excelled in vocal techniques under the tutelage of voice teacher John Peters (www.vocaltechnician.com). As a soloist, he had performed with L. Angelopoulos in his Greek Byzantine choir worldwide and "Maistores of Chanting Art" of University of Athens. Bilalis' passion, talent, artistic expression and vocal competence led him to build a professional chorus, ROMEIKO. Romeiko Ensemble consists of great voice cantors professionally trained by Dr. Bilalis to perform lege artis unpublished melodies of the Eastern Christian and Sufi Chant traditions; both Christian and Sufi traditions were developed and existed in parallel in Ottoman Constantinople. Bilalis is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in medieval musicology at University of Salonica under the tutelage of Io. Arvanitis. 

Bilalis served as a Protopsaltis and Choir Director in many Greek Orthodox parishes in the N.E. US region. He is also the Director and Teacher of Chant School of the Detroit Metropolis and in 2014 was appointed the Head Cantor of Metropolitan of New Jersey Evangelos. At present, he leads the musicological and psaltic research of the Transfiguration Monastery of Meteora, Greece. He also performs as cantor during festal ceremonies and hanende in Ottoman classical music concerts. He has recorded for films (Brides) and documentaries (Istanbul Okullarι), as well as on CD/DVD including: "Lazarus, come forth," "Father Hierarch Nicholas," "The greatest is Love," The Great and Small Paraklisis of Theotokos, "Today upon the Cross".

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