Behind the piano: Manos Charalabopoulos

Behind the piano: Manos Charalabopoulos

A while back I posted about the tune Sonnet by André Luiz Machado and Manos Charalabopoulos. Now it’s time to get to know the second of the two composers a bit better!

What’s your name? 
On paper, I am Emmanuel Charalabopoulos.

How did you come up with your artist name?
Manos is not really an artist name, but just a short version of Emmanuel. In Greece, almost all people called Emmanuel shorten their name to either Manólis or Manos. I went with Manólis until I was around twelve, but when I started high school, I decided I liked Manos better.

Where are you from? And where do you live?
I am from Athens, Greece, and live in Bristol, UK. During the last five years, I have also lived in Paris, London and Manchester, but my wife, Adriana, and I are hoping to set roots in Bristol for a while.

How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
My dad started teaching me when I was four, so that adds up to twenty-four years now. I have also studied harpsichord and can deal with most things that involve a keyboard and no more than three pedals (think melodica, not church organ), but at different times I have wished I could play the cello, trumpet, clarinet and various percussion instruments. I have compensated by becoming a composer.

Tell us about how you started playing music. 
Since I was born there were at least two pianos in my house, so I imagine I probably started playing by accident and soon after I could stand up and reach the keyboard.

How long have you been making piano music?
As a pianist, I gave my first concert when I was around ten years old in one of my conservatoire’s student concerts, and my first professional recital when I was sixteen at the American College of Greece. As a composer, I started writing piano music at around eleven or twelve years old, lots of romantic preludes and little piano pieces usually copying whatever I was practising at the time. About a decade later, when I decided to study composition formally, I struggled more with writing for piano than any other instrument. I was a bound by the intuitive gestures and movements of my hands and it took about six years until I could write something that was truly a product of my creative will.

Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
I don’t remember this as a fixed moment, as it developed very naturally, from my theory and harmony exercises. I had a wonderful harmony teacher, Konstantinos Telakis, who constantly challenged me and prompted me to personalise my harmony exercises, of which I made two each week. From there, composing my own music was just a stone’s throw away. I must have enjoyed the feeling of completing a piece though, because I remember that if I started a piece, I would always try to finish it before going to bed, almost an improvisation on paper!

What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
In terms of interpreters, I grew up listening to the ‘great’ classical pianists, Horowitz, Glenn Gould, Rubinstein, who were a great inspiration at this phase. Later, I also developed a passion for Latin American music and began to listen to various Cuban pianists like Aldo Gavilan, Jorge Luis Prats, Chucho Valdes and, more recently, Alfredo Rodriguez. In terms of composers, I share André’s admiration for the piano works of Chopin and Debussy, as well as Villa-Lobos, Scarlatti, Bach, Rameau, Messiaen, Ligeti, etc. Don’t ask me to pick one though!

Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
I always play Erroll Garner’s ‘Misty’ to try out a piano, Debussy’s ‘Pagodes’ or ‘Collines d’Anacapri’.

What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
The practice of making music is based on the expectations that come from the sound experiences of those who make and those who listen. There are principles that guide us to achieve different effects using these expectations. No rules need to be broken or followed in art, but sometimes it can be interesting to make rules to achieve a specific purpose. 

How do you record your music?
I record my live performances using a Zoom H4N, but most of my recording sessions were made using a standard stereo pair (Neumann mics or AKG 414’s usually do a great job), whether recording in a concert hall, theatre or studio. My latest album, Espelho Duplo—Double Mirror featuring music by André Luiz Machado, was recorded in the theatre of the UFG Cultural Centre in Goiânia. Our sound engineer, Ney Couteiro, used a Neumann stereo pair in the piano, plus a third mic to pick up some ambient sound.

What’s your take on sampled instruments?
Samples have revolutionised media composition and music production; the results that are possible—if you are willing to put in the hours—can be astonishing. In my own work, I don’t use sample libraries extensively, as I don’t usually compose in a DAW (except when working with recorded sound). When transferring my music onto Sibelius, however, the playback is often helpful to judge the timing and larger-scale proportions in a piece.

Anything else you want to share? 
Thank you, Johan and Sleepy Songs! If you are in the UK, join me and André in London, Manchester or Oxford to hear works from Espelho Duplo – Double Mirror and more (March 2020 Launch Tour details on Spotify).

The last question is asked by my 5 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from? 

Different songs come from different places. Some have to be teased out note by note, while others creep up on me almost without realising. I sometimes catch myself whistling a tune over and over before realising that I made it, other times I can sit with a keyboard or piece of paper or computer screen for hours before an idea comes along. Ultimately, all music comes from life, so it is important to experience different situations and emotions, either first-hand or through observation, to make music.

Thank you for sharing all of this with us Manos!

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