For the past three decades, George Ellis has been bringing classical music to the masses. From presenting concerts with international icons such as Hans Zimmer to appearing in Hollywood film Mao’s Last Dancer, the 56-year-old orchestral conductor and composer has become a household name.
But George says this is something he never takes for granted as he’s just grateful to be able to perform and write the music he loves so passionately.
“Working with the extraordinary brilliant musicians – all experts – is what I love most about what I do. Their sounds are such a beautiful reward for the hard work that goes into writing music for them,” George tells The Greek Herald exclusively.
“It is a personal challenge to make sure the music I provide for these great musicians, and the audiences, is as excellent as I can possibly make it.”
The young conductor:
George is definitely no stranger to challenges. Born in Australia and living in Marrickville for most of his formative years, George discovered music at age four with the Beatles album ‘Sergeant Pepper Lonely Heart’s Club Band,’ which his father passed on to him. The only thing standing in the way of furthering his passion? He needed piano lessons.
“Ever since I was a little boy, I was totally captivated and fascinated by the amazing sounds brought about by music. I was keen to learn how great sounds were made. My older brother was learning piano at the time so I pestered my parents… until they sent me to a piano teacher,” George explains.
“In high school I also met others who could play music, so we got together and formed bands and wrote songs. And when I thought about what to study after school and how I wanted to make a living, I auditioned at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music to do a Bachelor of Music degree.”
At the Conservatorium, George played cello, piano and classical guitar. He was also introduced to a subject called ‘conducting’ and the lecturer who encouraged George to pursue the subject as a career.
“My lecturer called me into his office after my first time conducting in his class and he said, ‘This is your future – you must conduct for a living.’ He told me it came naturally to me and that I should pursue it as a career,” George says.
“He then organised a scholarship for me to do a Master’s degree in conducting at the University of Colorado in the US, which I completed three years later. I have been conducting ever since.”
It’s clear that conducting and composing music is as ingrained in George’s blood as his Greek heritage. Many of his performances over the years have been inspired by the Greek culture and language, including his involvement in the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games back in 2000.
“My Greek heritage influences my work in many ways. Greekness means a love of life and an ebullient, energetic approach to life. The way I compose and conduct is a by-product of this energy,” George says.
“Even conducting at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 was extremely meaningful to me, mainly because the singing I conducted was in the Greek language.”
With such a clear passion for his “Greekness,” it should come as no surprise then that George also aims to promote Greek composers to young Greek Australians and in turn, hopes to perform at the Acropolis one day.
“At the moment, the plan is to get on the stage again as soon as possible and be able to make music. I miss its magic. It is an ambition of mine to one day stage a concert at the Herod Atticus Theatre at the Acropolis in Athens,” George explains.
“I would also love young Greek Australians of today to know the music of the master Greek orchestral composers of our heritage – Theodorakis, Hadjidakis, Xarhakos and Markopoulos. It is full of rich beauty.”
Almost as beautiful as the pieces he will continue to compose and conduct right here in Australia.