This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. For the complete interview, you can access here.
Kristine Dizon: Hello, my name is Kristine Dizon, and I'm the CEO and founder of the Modern Artist Project. Today, I'm with Evangelos Saklaras, a Greek double bassist who started his studies at the age of 25 in Athens. Three years later, he was awarded a scholarship at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London to study with Colin Paris, the principal with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Evangelos performs regularly with ensembles and orchestras in the UK and Greece and shows a particular interest in historical performance. He is also a keen jazz performer, improviser, and composer, and he is involved in various creative projects. Some highlighted performances include participation in the London Handel Festival, the Athens Festival, and the EFG London Jazz Festival driven by his passion for change-making and social impact through music.
Evangelos has worked as a teaching artist with New Clio, a Sistema-inspired program in London, for four years. He has led composition workshops and community hubs in schools and has been invited to participate in the Lullaby Project for the last four consecutive years. He is also a member of the Impossibilities Collective and a Global Leaders Program alumnus. Thank you, Evangelos, for joining us today.
Evangelos Saklaras: Hello, Kristine, thank you so much for having me. It's truly a great pleasure to be here and talking to you.
KD: I know I talked about all the things that you currently do as a musician, as an artist. But what led you on this path?
ES: So, everything started when I was 24 years old. I grew up in a place on an island in Greece that is quite remote in a sense. It's a very beautiful place, but not much is going on there, not music or art. Because of that, I did not have the opportunity to be exposed to all the various activities that maybe kids have nowadays during their schooling. But at the same time, I had a lot of physical activities, as you can imagine. I was around the mountains, so I had wonderful experiences when I was a kid. Later, I found it quite difficult. I knew that I was looking for something in my life while growing up. I knew that the place that I grew up was not maybe the right place for me, and I was in search of something like a place to fit in.
I've tried various things. I went through the army, as we also do in Greece; we do mandatory service for one year. I seriously considered doing this as a career, but by the end of it, I realized that that was not for me. So, I tried various things, and then I think the thing that got me more inspired, and I felt capable of doing, was to become a priest. I was always interested in religion and spirituality so I could explore all these ideas. I went on to study to become a priest. By the end of my studies, almost at the end of my studies, there was a very funny coincidence.
I had a dream; I saw myself playing the double bass. I woke up the next morning, and I thought, "Oh my goodness, what was that?" It felt very strange because also I had seen a double bass maybe on the television, but I was not even sure how it sounds. I googled it, and I found that I liked the sound of the double bass, and it looked cool. But of course, I was already on a path of a decision for a lifetime.
Also, I thought that that morning, but then I think the idea was planted in my head, and it was like a seed that you planted, so time is so small, but then it becomes getting growing and getting bigger and flourishing. Some months later, I kept on thinking about that instrument, so I found the teacher, which happened to be a great teacher at the time for me. I started studying originally for pleasure, but then it became quite clear to me that I could do this for a living, and I decided to quit my studies as a priest and change careers and become a musician.
KD: Wow, that's quite a journey [regarding] that. And you know, I think you were, you know, really inspired by these types of experiences. And I really admire the fact that you just really went for it, you know? Um, you know, when you think about how music makes us feel, being able to act upon it too...right? So, I know that you've been doing a lot of different projects, and with the work that you currently do right now, with the projects that you have, uh, how have you been able to find fulfillment [because of] your journey?
ES: Yes, that is true. Actually, I think I early on realized that I appreciate the variety in my life, and you know, like many, many in various things, um, and diversity. And also, this applies to music making, and because of that, I really, really enjoy doing different things, like playing historical, doing historical performance, and playing music, just composing. Uh, and one aspect of it is I also discovered that I really enjoy, actually, it's not just an enjoyment. I strongly believe in social work from music, and this is something that happened very organically and naturally while I was in London. I'm currently based in Scotland in Glasgow, Scotland, but I did my studies in London for four years.
So while there, I started also teaching at a system-inspired program, and originally, for me, it was just a means of paying my bills. But it also happened to be something that gave me a lot of pleasure, working with kids, working with young people, working in a small setting like which is a community there. And then later on, I felt a little bit more comfortable signing up for all these school projects that you know, you would do with communities. And I think little by little, I started building up this confidence and this interest with the climax of it being last year, it was Easter.
I got an email from a friend that was forwarded about an example up here in Scotland that they're called the Nevis Ensemble. Um, and they were auditioning at the time, they were decent people because they wanted to open a fellowship program because before that, they were working with people on availability and freelancers. Um, and so they wanted to build a set of fixed examples and provide training, artistic development. Um, and do the kind of work that they do. And this example was very looked at the time looked very, very interesting, very attractive because also, they paid quite well. So that was an attractive thing.
You know, I would, I would, I would, I knew that I was finishing my studies and I wanted to move on. And having a smooth transition towards the business, I was already performing as a freelancer during my teaching, but that looked like a wonderful performing opportunity, and I took it a little bit lightly originally. So, you know, I sent my details, I sent a video, and people, they replied back, and they were quite interested in me and in my profile. And then we moved on to the second round, which I thought, of course, that gets serious now, and I auditioned for the second round. And during the summer, I think that was around June, I got the news that I was offered the place for the fellowship for the double bass position. They only have one double bass, and that was very, very exciting. And because of that, I moved my life up here in Scotland from England, from London, to start doing this kind of work with the Nevis Ensemble.
Now, the work that we did is very interesting. It was an ensemble, and I will get to that soon. That took music everywhere and, like, literally everywhere - care homes, hospices, prisons, street performances, pop-ups, community centers, libraries, you know, wherever, like all the places that all the other conventional orchestra and ensemble cannot go for either practical reasons or maybe it's not part of their ethos or philosophy. This example did, and my goodness, people loved it! Their response was fantastic. I was so, so, so inspired doing this kind of work. And on top of that, I also got to meet and work with some wonderful musicians and people part of the ensemble - we were 19 musicians, 19 fellows. And, by, you know, until, until, you know, like all these months, it felt like we created a wonderful family.
Now, the bad news - they started in September last year, 2022. At the beginning of this year, we got terrible news. By the end of January, we got an email from the board of trustees of the example saying that all the activity of the ensemble is seized. Also, at the time, we were also starting to develop some personal projects with parent organizations. So, it was really a big, big, big part of my weekly routine working for the next ensemble. They mentioned that all activities seized. And we were also expecting our first installment for the money we got in the form of a bursary, which was distributed monthly throughout the year. The fellowship was either for one or two years, and it was up to us to choose - they gave us this possibility. And yes, we got that email, and then they said that all activity seized. They were aware that we were not paid as those days we were meant to get paid, and they also mentioned that we will not get this money. They invited us on Monday, excuse me, on a Friday evening, to have a meeting with them, people from the example, and the board of trustees, to end up just saying that the ensemble, the organization, went consult and they were very sorry about that, but there's nothing to be done.
KD: I'm so sorry to hear that. That's terrible, especially for the work that you have already done and along with your colleagues who are participating or who were participating in the fellowship at that time. You know, the idea of having to relocate, not only to a different country but also creating new connections with people, which it sounds like you have done. And it's sad [regarding] the fact that, while these things do happen, sometimes organizations go bankrupt, sometimes there's just not enough money in the pot. But the fact that your colleagues, in addition to the work that you have done, are not receiving money for the work that you have completed. And what does this tell you about the culture [regarding] the connection we have with the art that we do, the art that we share and create for people?
ES: I think it's not a secret that the arts are the ones to suffer the most or suffer first whenever there's a moment of financial instability, whether it's on a national, international or even local level. It is sad indeed, particularly in this case or any similar case. I think the kind of work that we, as fellows, did was special, meaningful. Honestly, I was extremely inspired by people's approach to us and their responses. I think there is money. The problem sometimes is how this money is distributed and managed, and how it is spent. That's a general thing and comment. I understand that more well-established organizations have more stability and better support from government and private donors. But it's important to take into consideration the kind of work that small organizations are doing and the impact it is creating.
KD: Yeah, and the thing is, even with small organizations or big organizations, there's a big disparity, right? It's like going to a restaurant, for example, and you pay for the meal because you expect to receive a service. The fellowship that you and your colleagues have participated in is a service. You are dedicating your time and energy. How did this make you and your colleagues feel when you received the news initially?
ES: No, I don't mind at all. At this moment, I think we got that email Friday evening, as I said before. So, we spent the whole weekend speculating, sharing the uncertainty. We kind of, you know, had an idea of what's about to come. But, you know, there was a huge hope that on Monday, we're going to have this meeting, maybe will be presented with an alternative or maybe there will be hope for the future. Things might change. You know, there was this thing going on all over the weekend. Unfortunately, no, unfortunately venues were bad, solid and sudden, and I think we all felt heartbroken more than anything else because we believed in that a lot. We... I think it's a complex, emotionally complex situation just because days, some days ago, some days before we got that email, we had the meeting with the CEO of the ensemble announcing plans for next year. Like everything looked so normal and [suddenly] this happened. And I experienced this situation as loss, loss of somebody I was grieving for days. Um, and on top of that, we had also to figure out how to deal with our immediate financial responsibilities as it was the end of the month. Some people were about to pay rent. We were expecting our money from the work that we had done so to pay for all the things we had to in the following days.
And this money didn't come through. So, we had to find money and we also had to figure out a way of moving forward from there because it was not only just immediate financial responsibilities. Yeah, a lot of people including myself, we moved here. There were people from the States, Colombia, Spain, India, so it was quite an international group, and people came here for that. Some people were already around, some people were even locals, and they had a little bit of a safety net around them, but some others don't. When this happened, I was about to... I got very desperate, and I thought my goodness, I need to move my life back home to Greece and to my parents' house and tell them that. And, also, there is also this other thing I felt there was a bit of shame in what happened in this whole situation because... I didn't know how to tell people around me because I don't know, I was feeling a bit guilty, like guilty. It felt like it was my mistake or Michael, like all of us like a mistake of ours, but it was not. Just announced the news. We did, I'm sure we did a great job. Um, so yeah, I think it was a difficult moment.
KD: Thank you for sharing that with us. You know, and you're right. I mean, there's so much, you know, so much to feel, going through this type of process of being able to understand the situation, being able to find solutions with your colleagues. And, I can only imagine the difficulties, also with being an international cohort and the documents that were needed to be able to travel to Scotland or even reside in Scotland. That's deep, you know, and especially having to find ways to create income or find ways of being able to supplement your needs or even the needs of your colleagues in such a short period of time. And I feel very sad for the situation, but at the same time, has the CEO or has the administration of the ensemble shown any remorse or any communication regarding what has happened?
ES: No. There was some stuff involved in the ensemble, and it was a small organization and a small team. So, also these people were left without a job. It was not just musicians and performers. Some of them had it as a part-time occupation, for some others, it was full-time. I think a lot of people suffered from this, and the ones that were aware of the financial situation have not really connected to send an apology or to say something about it, unfortunately.
KD: That's tough and thank you for sharing that. It wasn't just the musicians, but also the administrative staff, the whole organization just went bottom up. And the thing is also when we think about how we handle situations like this or being able to understand how to move forward from them, it's unusual to have art, even small organizations, whether you're small or big or medium size, just provide this type of notice in such a way that makes it so you're having to work very quickly to find something for you. Now, when we think about being able to find solutions, I'm always a firm believer that there's a silver lining. And that is not just about the individual that's experiencing it, but I imagine there are so many other people experiencing something similar, in maybe a different way, maybe with layoffs or things like that in different industries. What advice would you be able to provide for that?
ES: I would respond to your question with maybe my current situation, which, um, I also find myself having moved forward from. So, what we did is that we first remained connected, all the musicians from the ensemble, and we kept a wonderful atmosphere of support between each other, selling information and keeping everybody moving forward.
So personally, what happened with me is that being so desperate and thinking, "Oh my goodness, that's the end of it. I need to leave this country very soon." I sent my CV to all the big orchestras here in Scotland, which I wouldn't have done otherwise. It was a moment of discretion. And to my surprise and to create luck, one of these big orchestras replied to me. They said, "Hey, we have somebody being ill at the moment, would you mind stepping in and doing some gigs for us with a deed?" And then this brought some extra work. And now, as of last night, I got wonderful news. So, I got an email from them inviting me to participate in the European tour next month, which was great news for me.
So, I think the lesson that I got from that is to try out things. Don't stay static, always move forward, always talk to people, ask questions. Make your situation not about, not in an intrusive way. And I think also keeping calm, that's a big factor. You know, it sounds so basic and easy to understand, but when you find yourself in an agitated situation, it's hard to do. But I think if you keep a cool head, then maybe your view is more spherical, more expanded, and you might be able to grasp information from the environment that otherwise you wouldn't.
KD: No, and I think you know, this is something that's really, I think, very valuable that you shared [regarding] your personal experiences. Because for example, when you're in a point of desperation and you have two choices, you could say, 'My life sucks, and this is how it's always going to be,' or 'I'm going to be in a position where I can make it great for myself,' and just really going for it. Being able to say, 'If it goes well, awesome. If it doesn't, that's okay too. I'm going to try something else,' because we fear so much of failure, of not being able to get certain things. And I feel like that's something that we, as we continue working collectively - you talk about the idea of community - how community was so important in being able to help you feel like you're not alone in this struggle and being able to say, 'Alright, how can we all help each other, at least for the time being?' So, I know, for example, that you have a campaign online. Would it be possible to talk a little bit about that?
ES: Yes, absolutely. Thank you for bringing this up. So, another way of dealing with that is we all musicians from the ensemble, we decided to create a fundraising campaign and ask for financial support. And this is for us, a hardship fund for people to deal with immediate expenses and for people to have a little bit of support to get until they get on their feet. They were very positively overwhelmed and surprised.
The campaign has seen amazing response from people, and that was a wonderful thing to witness. We all felt the support, and there is this campaign still going, this fundraising, and it's online. It's through this platform called GoFundMe, and people can absolutely donate any amount that they feel capable of to show their support, or they can simply share the campaign and just bring awareness of the situation. So not because all this terrible thing happened to us. I think it's a thing that happens in general. It's not a rare occasion. It's something that can frequently happen. So, I think the more we are aware of these cases, and the more we know about this, maybe we might be able to predict anything that might go wrong.
KD: Yes, and I think you know, the idea of awareness, because I think it goes back to what you had mentioned before. A lot of times, people have shame, you know, being able to share something that's unfortunate that had happened, right? So especially with any types of small organization or even medium-sized or large-sized, you know, if you get fired unexpectedly, right or if you get let go because of some technical error or, you know, things like that, you know, a lot of times, people have difficulty because they feel like, 'Oh, um, it's me,' where it's not me per se, but it's the organization, the decisions the organization had taken, which are not a reflection of you. It's just it impacts you because of the work that you do, and we're committed to doing for them, and that's something that's a really hard pill to swallow. And yes, I agree with you.
This is not just an isolated event, but what I admire about you and your colleagues is that you guys were not silent about it. You guys could have just accepted it. You guys could have said, 'Well, you guys, there you go.' But then what you guys actually did is actually so much more impactful that I think, despite the shortcomings of the organization and the hardships that it's placed on all of you, it's actually bringing awareness to the fact that we need to be supporting artists. We need to be making sure that, you know, within any type of organization throughout all industries, that we're responsible, that we are held accountable, that we're also putting value to the art that we do and share.
And I can only imagine the sadness of the communities that you had gone to in Glasgow, you know, being able to connect with people through music that they wouldn't otherwise have had, and that's just been all taken away from them. So it's one of those things that, you know, when you have something really good to just hold on to it. But when that good thing goes away, you're always moving forward. I think there are going to be a lot of people who are going to resonate a lot with what you've mentioned of Evangelos.
ES: Thank you so much! I do believe that as well. What you say is true. Going back to the thing that you mentioned before about this very plain example of going to the restaurant, ordering your food, then there is the expectation that you - it's not even an experience, it's given that you would pay for your meal. There's so much that I have seen a lot of. You are an artist, and people really expect you to provide your heart or your craft. And because you are passionate about what you do, people sometimes think that that's enough for you. You can get pleasure out of it. So, I would rather not pay or why would I pay for that? You know, why would I pay for the service? I think we have moved forward from that. I think that's a little bit more dated idea, but I can confirm that it still exists. I have witnessed that. But there was a populist announcement from an important person here in the arts in Scotland that said that with insolvency of the Nevis Ensemble, Scotland lost big elements of like the message was that Scotland lost an important resource for social ST, and it's sad to see this happening in various places, you know?
KD: Yes, I agree with you. And I think there was a moment where we glitched a little bit. So, I'm just going to restate a little bit of what we were able to hear. So, with what you had mentioned within the announcement that was provided, that there was a loss, a big loss for the communities in Scotland [regarding] the Nevis Ensemble no longer existing, was that correct?
ES: Absolutely. That's exactly what I said. And you know, I think people, communities like everyday people, these will be the ones to witness the absence of the example. And because, you know, at the end of the day, I think these are the important recipients of art like people.
KD: Exactly, and I think that's something that's important. And I think we're going to leave on that note, you know, the idea of art not only just being something that we give to people, but [it’s also] the idea of being able to create community, to touch people's lives, to be able to make people feel something, whether it's happiness or joy or sadness or even anger, right? So Evangelos, thank you for joining us today and for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us. We look forward to seeing the amazing things that you continue to do for our community.
ES: Kristine, thank you so much for having me on your podcast. It was truly wonderful. It was such a wonderful time talking to you and discussing things, and I wish you all the best.
Kristine Dizon is a multi-faceted performer, teacher, writer, author, linguist, and entrepreneur. She is Founder & CEO of the Music & Language Learning Center, The Modern Artist Project and co-founder of the Gran Canaria International Clarinet Festival and American Single Reed Summit. She is an artist for Uebel Clarinets and Silverstein Works. Learn more at www.kristinedizon.com.