Kallos Gallery

11th July 2014

Serenading Sappho: a celebration of beauty for all the senses

I have a beautiful child who looks like golden flowers,
My darling Cleis…
The poetess Sappho [Fragment 132]

On Friday, 11th July, Kallos Gallery held an evening of myth, music and poetry in celebration of the myth of the ancient Greek goddesses Demeter and Persephone. At the heart of the gallery’s collection belongs a beautiful archaic terracotta statuette representing the goddess, two and a half thousand years old and still bearing traces of its original paint. Vases of wheat, Demeter’s symbol, adorned the gallery in her honour.

The myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone is a tale of lost innocence. Persephone was abducted by Hades, king of the underworld and lord of the dead. Demeter scoured the earth in search for her, abandoning the growing crops and budding flowers that could not grow without her divine favour. When eventually Demeter found Persephone in the underworld, Hades agreed to return the girl, but only if she had not eaten anything during her time below the earth. But Persephone had eaten just a few tiny pomegranate seeds, and the king of all the gods, Zeus, had to arbitrate between the burgeoning feud that threatened to set two powerful divinities in conflict, and he determined that Persephone would spend six months of the year with her mother on earth, and six months with Hades below. The myth explains the cycle of the seasons, and in antiquity both Demeter and Persephone were worshipped as goddesses of fertility and prosperity.

Kallos Gallery’s Dr. Liz Sawyer, together with the Spectrum Ensemble London, wove this myth together with the lyrics of Sappho whose works, dating from a similar era to that of the terracotta kore herself, explore beauty, love, passion, and loss with a finesse that won her the acclaim of the most respected writers of antiquity. Although few of Sappho’s poems have survived, the discovery and translation of a new poem last winter has sparked renewed interest in the poetess’ work. In this latest poem Sappho is praying for the safe return of her brother Charaxus from a sea voyage, exploring the same themes about the hope of return and family reunion that the myth of Demeter and Persephone exemplifies.

Spectrum Ensemble London were established two years ago by Fiona Bryan, freelance bassoonist and teacher of the Alexander technique. For this concert, she arranged for wind instruments pieces by Ravel and Debussy that were originally composed for piano and string ensembles. The beautiful, ethereal, and at times haunting nature of the music complemented the textures of the myth, expressing the foreboding, threatening presence of Hades, the innocence of Persephone, the frenzy of Demeter’s search, and the joyful but tragic nature of their reunion.

Spectrum Ensemble, 11th July 2014:
Flutes: Nina Robertson and Karen Jones
Clarinets: Dougie Mitchell, Neyire Ashworth, Antonio Casado and Shaun Thompson
Bassoons: Fiona Bryan and Sinead Frost