His musical accomplishments were remarkable, his popularity enormous, his presence among us forever linked to the song that has been a favorite through generations of Albanians. Widely recognized as the nation’s lyrical anthem, Luleborë is Simon Gjoni’s love song to his sweetheart, his hometown of Shkoder and eventually all of us. The Sunday concert at Symphony Space in New York was a tribute to Gjoni’s 100th birth year directed by Andis Gjoni, composer’s son, who is an artist and theater director in New York. To mark this important anniversary, roughly a month earlier, a musical homage was performed in Tirana, Albania, with renowned guest vocalists and musicians. That event coupled with a photo show, a book launch at Albania’s Academy of Science Muzika dhe Epoka (Music and Era) – a monography by Andis Gjoni, preceded the December 10th concert at Leonard Nimoy Thalia theater in New York.
Included in the program were recorded segments and footage of the composer stepping in the TV studio in Albania in 1986 that allowed the audience of different backgrounds and a wide range of age groups to have “a-first-impression-feel” of the artist before going into the world of music creations that span for decades. The opera singers and music artists that performed on stage featured talents and professionals with impressive repertoires such as Kreshnik Zhabjaku, Mira Konçi, Vedat Ademi, Ergin Oda, Fiorela Miria, Riad Ymeri, Deshira Ahmeti Kërliu, Redi Llupa, Estela Syla, Gjilberta Lucaj Kohen, Ariana Krasniqi Dupont.
Simon Gjoni belongs to the generation of Albanian artists whose names we know and whose work has laid the foundations of the music genre. The diversity of his works is hard to match. While folks are familiar with a few favorites among more than 200 songs written by him such as “Pash syt’ tu’ si drita” (Pure light of your eyes), “End o vashë” (Weaving girl), Simon Gjoni, as a composer and a founder of the Albanian Radio and Television Orchestra, has done a notable service to the art of music including composing, conducting, recording and teaching.
Invited at the concert as a distinguished guest Limos Dizdari, a renowned Albanian composer, spoke of the pioneer work and challenges faced by his friend and colleague in the time period that defined the standards for the music, under half a century of Albania’s communist rule.
Simon Gjoni passed away in 1991. His legacy as a composer and multidimentional artist is safely secured in songs and compositions such as Romances, Cantatas, Symphonic Suites, Ballads, seven Symphonic Dances, Symphonic Poems, Suites and more. His collaborations, too many to mention, are present in music, film productions and animations. On a personal note, two of the animated movies are with my father, Naum Prifti (1932-2023).
Hermina Gjoni, his wife and life partner, a career pianist and piano accompanist, attributes the success of Simon Gjoni’s opus from the early songs to orchestra and symphony compositions to its distinctive national properties. She says that he appreciated the musical Albanian individuality and employed his talents to advance it.
After graduating from Conservatory of Music in Prague and after having performed works of world classics like Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bellini, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Liszt etc. there, Simon Gjoni returned to Albania and conducted at the Opera Theater in Tirana masterpieces and a few operas. He is one of the founders of Albania’s Radio and Television Orchestra. While there, he takes the initiative to professionally record music by Albanian composers like Çesk Zadeja, Pjeter Gaci, Tish Daija, Tonin Harapi, Pjeter Dungu, Abdulla Grimci, Nikolla Zoraqi, Kristo Kono, etc. and the soundtrack of some movies.
His focus on education includes text books on the foundations of music, including one that was published posthumously Instruments and the art of orchestration in 2001. Gjoni started teaching in 1958 at the Art Lycee – Music High School in Tirana and in 1961 was among the first professors and founders of the Tirana Conservatory of Music (today University of the Arts), educating future musicians in music polyphony, orchestration, conducting, intonation and chamber music.
“Every single detail was put in place thoughtfully and in great harmony with vocalists and opera singers that delivered impeccable executions,” said Adem Belliu, Founder and Director of Televizioni Kultura Shqiptare (Albanian Culture TV) who recorded the event. Having a musical background, Belliu experienced the performance as a fitting tribute to a distinguished artist that also satisfied the senses with perfect unison. “The community deserved to have such a high quality performance for the beloved composer,” he said. The “Albanian Excellence” supported the event, its Founder and Director, Flora Nikolla contributed with the program script.
The night confirmed that composer’s creations have long been embraced by the folks in Albania and diaspora. The homage concert on December 10th at Symphony Space in New York under the care of Andis Gjoni served as an acknowledgement of Simon Gjoni’s musical gifts and also a reminder of his lasting presence among Albanians far and wide.
Bio Data: Andis Gjoni
Photo Courtesy: Olsi Beci