The Lola Aleksi Gjoka Project
By Feride Istogu Gillesberg, initiator and leader
An historic event took place in December 2021 in Virum Church, Denmark. A delegation of Albanian and Danish artists came together to record 49 Albanian songs,
arranged by the Albanian pianist and composer Lola Aleksi Gjoka, most of which have never been recorded before. Her beautiful songs are a fusion of old, authentic Albanian folk songs and classical music – a cultural treasure that, for most part, has been all but forgotten. Thanks to the Lola Aleksi Gjoka Project, they are now accessible to the whole world.
Lola Aleksi Gjoka (1910-1985) was born and grew up in Sevastopol, Crimea, where her family were Albanian immigrants. Lola began playing piano at the age of 9, and her musical talent was evident right away. She later went to the conservatory in Sevastopol in order to become a concert pianist, but her education was aborted shortly before her graduation, when the family had to leave the Soviet Union to move to Albania. Lola was 21 when they settled in Korça, Albania.
A meeting of minds
At the same time, Albanian belcanto singers, like sopranos Gorgjia Filçe, Tefta Tashko, Maria Kraja, tenor Kristaq Antoniu and baritone Kristaq Koço also returned to Korça from abroad. They all got together as a group, with Lola Gjoka at the center. They were passionate artists who were unified in their efforts to spread classical music. They held concerts, which included works of Verdi, Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Schubert, and included traditional Albanian songs. In order to include more of the Albanian song treasure, they began collecting songs from all over Albania, and Lola composed piano accompaniment for them. This became a collection of 51 Albanian songs with piano accompaniment written by Lola, where she uplifted the traditional songs for classical musical concerts. The population loved these songs, but most of them were never recorded.
My meeting with Lola's songs
I was first was introduced to Lola’s songs by the Albanian-Swiss pianist Ermira Lefort, and later to the full set of songs by the pianist Rudina Ciko, who lent me a book with the scores of all of Lola’s songs. This is how I discovered this treasure, and recognized the beauty of each and every song. I decided that this treasure had to be brought to life, and that the songs should be recorded, and thereby become accessible to all Albanians, and to the rest of the world, as well. My husband became the first to know about the idea, and with his support, I set out to realize it.
Realizing the project
I reached out to many artists and musically interested people, and among whom were the husband of Rudina Ciko, Mr. Zhani Ciko, formerly the director of Albania’s National Opera and Ballet. When I told Mr. Ciko about my idea of recording all of Lola Aleksi Gjoka’s songs, he became excited and began finding Albanian singers for the project. The Albanians singers Mariana Leka, Erinda Agolli, Gerald Murrja and Antonio Zefi agreed to be part of the project. Each worked on some of the songs, while I also worked on my part. Rudina Ciko and Ermira Lefort agreed to be the pianists for the project. (For a full presentation of all these talented artists please see www.musikalskdialog.dk). As I needed a male partner for some of the songs, I asked the now semiretired world-renowned Danish tenor Stig Fogh Andersen to sing with me, and to my great surprise, he not only agreed to do so, but later helped to find a place for the recording, and also offered to record and produce the songs, without payment, together with his son Ask Fogh Nielsen. Without that amazing help, I doubt the whole project would have been realized.
The recording in Virum
Between Christmas and New Year 2021 we all worked together in Virum Church to record all the songs, and through the long and hard work of Stig and Ask, the recordings were refined and prepared for production. The result was a beautiful double CD with the collected songs of Lola Aleksi Gjoka. Now, finally, her songs are accessible for the whole world to hear -- a revival of an Albanian treasure that now can take its rightful place in the diadem of European culture.
Let's create a renaissance
Let us help create a cultural renaissance by singing, playing, listening to and spreading Lola Aleksi Gjoka’s beautiful songs! The scores for the songs will soon be available on the homepage www.musikalskdialog.dk as well as the text of the songs in Albanian, English, German and Chinese .