ATHENAEUM International Cultural Centre was founded as a non-profit organisation in 1974 by prominent personalities from the arts and letters, and the political world, who shared a vision of promoting music education and culture in Greece.
In 1975, ATHENAEUM established the International Music Competitions (Opera, Oratorio–Lied, and Piano), held in Athens (under the auspices of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and the World Federation of International Musical Competitions), organised every single year until 2011.
From its inception, prominent Greek personalities embraced the vision of ATHENAEUM – among them Antiochos Evangelatos, Alexandra Trianti, Athina Spanoudi, Kostas Paskalis, Dimitris Chorafas, Jeannette Pilou, Kiki Morfoniou, Nikolas Zacharias, Daphne Evangelatou, Marina Krilovici, and many more, who made substantial contributions to the earliest International Music Competitions in Greece. Success was beyond expectation. All the artists who won a first prize in these competitions went on to pursue distinguished international careers. Names that spring to mind include Nelly Miricioiu, Nelly Boshkova, Maria Venuti, and Ivan Konsulov.
Since 1977, the year of death of Maria Callas, these international competitions have been named after her in her memory.
In 1994, the competition was renamed to Maria Callas Grand Prix, reflecting its outstanding prestige, which confers unique status on the participants thanks to the strict terms of participation, the fairness of the results, the acclaimed artists who serve as jurors, and the generous hospitality extended to all participants.
Under then mayor of Athens, Dimitris Avramopoulos in 1997, until 2011, Grand Prix Maria Callas received the aegis of the City of Athens.
In 2010, a national preliminary competition was held in Beijing, China, for the first time to shortlist the Chinese opera singers to participate in the 37th Maria Callas Grand Prix – Opera.
The alternating Maria Callas Grand Prix Opera and Piano competitions did not take place in 2012 and 2013 due to unfavourable financial circumstances in Greece.
In 2014 and 2015, with support from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports and in cooperation with Michael Cacoyannis Foundation, the Maria Callas Grand Prix Opera and Piano competitions were successfully re-launched under Priority 2 ‘Sustainable Development and Improving Quality of Life’ of the Operational Programme ‘Attica,’ NSRF 2007–2013.
In the course of these 40 years, more than 2,500 artists from all around the world have participated in the Maria Callas Grand Prix – many of them now pursue international careers in the world’s largest opera houses and concert halls, including Askar Abdrazakov, Cezar Augusto Gutierrez, Irina Lungu, Irene Kyriakidou, Elena Xanthoudaki, Marina Poplavskaya, Gabor Bretz, Fani Antonellou, Dinara Alieva, Jaesig Lee, Ludmilla Bauerfeld, Nina Koufochristou (Opera); and Vadyn Kholodenko, Igor Levit, Duncan Gifford, Emmanuel Mercier, Pascal Godart, Ivan Rudin, Masataka Takada, Konstantinos Destounis, Theodoros Kotepanos, and Dimo Dimov (Piano).
Just as impressive has been the warm response by world-renowned opera artists, pianists, and conductors to ATHENAEUM’s invitation to become involved as members of the international jury. Artists from the opera world who have honoured this competition as jurors include Dame Joan Sutherland, Ghena Dimitrova, Teresa Berganza, Birgit Nilsson, Victoria de Los Angeles, Ileana Cotrubas, Marina Krilovici, Giuseppe di Stefano, Tito Gobbi, Luigi Alva, Paolo Montarsolo, Nicholas Zachariou, Kostas Paskalis, Jeannette Pilou, Kiki Morfoniou, Miltos Logiadis, Peter Katona, Martina Arroyo, Cheryl Studer, Dame Gwyneth Jones, and pianists Gyorgy Santor, Dmitri Bashkirov, Lev Vlassenko, Tatiana Nikolayeva, Thérèse Dussaut, Nicole Henriot-Schweizer, Pierre Colombo, Maria Chairogiorgou, George-Emmanuel Lazaridis, Jannis Vakarelis, Myron Michailidis, Andrea Bonatta, Klaus Kaufmann, Emmanuel Mercier, and many more.
Following a recent proposal by the ATHENAEUM International Cultural Centre, the year 2017 was proclaimed as the Year of Maria Callas, serving as an opportunity to host a great number of tributes to the memory of the great diva as well as to showcase the vibrant arts and culture scene of contemporary Greece. In 2017, with organisational support from ATHENAEUM, exhibitions and concerts were held in Azerbaijan , Kuwait, the municipalities of Heraklion, Crete and Oichalia – a concert was held before Maria Callas’s home – and in the ancient theatre of Messene; other concerts were hosted at the Athens Concert Hall, featuring the Athens State Orchestra conducted by Miltos Logiadis and featuring the soprano Dinara Alieva (Winner, 2007 Grand Prix Maria Callas – Opera).
This year, ATHENAEUM has had the pleasure of once again expanding the vision of the Grand Prix Maria Callas in China – one of the fastest-growing countries for Western music – by co-organising in Beijing the second preliminary competition for shortlisting new operatic singers to qualify for the Athens-based competition.
The 40th Maria Callas Grand Prix – Opera is organised in cooperation with the Greek National Opera – Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, under the aegis and with the support of the Hellenic Ministries of Culture and Sports and Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks.
The Maria Callas Grand Prix – a 40-year-old institution enjoying international prestige, recognition, and appeal – was founded by the music conductor Louly Psichouli and pianist Anna Koukouraki.