Billy Chrissochos was born in Astoria, but grew up in Athens, Greece. There he fell in love with his ancestral culture – and heavy metal. First competing and performing in a symphonic band on the alto saxophone, he eventually fell under the spell of the electric guitar. In 1998, he founded the New Yorkbased group Phoenix Reign and by 2007 recorded the album, “Destination Unknown,” featuring double guitars, Greek melodies and historical themes. Greece’s War and History (Polemos & Historia) magazine hailed them as “the group that merged the fall of Constantinople with rock.”
Phoenix Reign was reformed as Porphyra by 2013 and with the album, “Faith, Struggle, Victory,” Billy grew more ambitious. He set out to create the first ever Greek-inspired rock opera based on themes from the Macedonian dynasties of ancient and medieval Greece. The National Herald (Ethnikos Kyrix) proudly labeled it “Byzantine Rock.” The musical’s main premise is the pivotal year of 988 AD which united Orthodox Christian Russia with Greece’s Byzantine Empire. “Porphyra, a Grecian Rock Opera. Anna and Vladimir: The Love that ROCKED the World” debuted at the prestigious Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall on May 3, 2015. From May 13th - 16th of 2016 the rock opera will make its off-Broadway debut at the Players Theatre in the West Village. (www.porphyrarockopera.com.)
Billy also made his directorial debut on September 2015 with the band’s high energy MMA tribute video for the single “No Fear” which was an Official Selection for the Williamsburg International Film Festival. As an active member of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York’s Cultural Committee, Billy has organized various events ranging from hard rock/ metal festivals, musical theater and operas. His other endeavors include creating the Greek Artists Guild and organizing eight art exhibitions featuring Greek- American and local artists. The Guild tries to aspire to help expand the art scene in Astoria and Queens and inspire a neo-artistic renaissance.
With his organization, the Hellenic American Center of the Arts, Billy has coordinated with local and Greek government officials as well as the prestigious Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople classical concerts with local symphonies for the Hellenic Independence Parade. Currently, the organization is touring Greece and Europe with Panayoti Karousos’ successful opera “Prometheus Bound” and “Porphyra, a Grecian Rock Opera” here in America.
Billy is the primary composer, lyricist and producer of Porphyra as well as an artist, graphic designer, photographer, video editor and historical consultant. He has strived to merge rock and heavy metal with Greek music all of his life.
Queens Gazette: Why has it been your longtime goal to merge rock/heavy metal with Greek music?
Billy Chrissochos: I always felt that as a storyteller of Greek (Hellenic) myths and history the only way that I could invoke their triumphal epic scope is through hard rock and melodic heavy metal. If Beethoven was alive today he would feel right at home at an Iron Maiden or Nightwish concert.
Most of metal’s roots are in classical, folk and blues-based origins to begin with, just electrified and amped up. On the other hand, Greek folk music and even pop music that tries to tell historical themes has a lot of that magic, but tends to always feel sad and nostalgic. I wanted to create new music telling some of those stories and other ones that have never been touched upon, using traditional melodies and making them much grander, epic in scope, and more triumphant.
QG: How would you compare “the love that rocked the world” between Byzantium’s Princess Anna and Russian Grand Prince Vladimir in your opera to the storied love shared by Romeo and Juliet?
BC: It is a very relatable and universal story. The story of Anna and Vladimir is one of those stories that have become legendary. It is mentioned in the Tale of Bygone Years (The Russian Primary Chronicle), which is the story of the early birth of Russia and its first dynasty, that of Rurik. When Anna wed Vladimir, their offspring and the cultural Greek Orthodox Christian legacy they left behind gave birth to modern Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. They also helped her brother, Emperor Basil II, secure the Byzantine Empire (Medieval Greece) from civil war and usher in a new Golden Age. They were two people who, in following their duty and destiny, overcame their personal struggles and fears while finding true love…a princess and a prince, who, if no politics were involved, might never even have met, yet they end up marrying each other in spite of all the differences, changing the course of history for two huge nations by uniting them. The story of Anna and Vladimir, the Romeo and Juliet of the East, is being told here through hard rock and metal, as well as Greek folk music and dancers.
QG: Tell us about the next opera you are producing later this month at Lincoln Center.
BC: Via my company, the Hellenic American Center of the Arts in conjunction with the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater NY, I am bringing from Greece and producing my good friend Panayoti Karousos’ opera, “The Olympic Flame” to Lincoln Center March 26. Mr. Karousos is an internationally acclaimed classical musician and opera composer.
QG: How and why do the Greek Artists Guild and the Hellenic Societies help expand the art scene in Astoria and throughout Queens?
BC: I started the Greek Artists Guild out of the Hellenic Federation’s Culture Committee with Athanasios Aronis, George Delis and Federation President Petros Galatoulas. So far we have organized eight art exhibitions. Half of those also included arts and crafts, as well. Being an artist myself, I always knew there were a lot of other Greek- American artists like me that no one ever heard of or that needed a free community outlet to help them organize, sell, and promote their work. There were many seniors and young people that wanted to get involved and eventually we opened it to the whole Astoria and greater Queens community. The artists got to keep all their earnings and all the services were provided by the Federation of Hellenic Societies for free. You might hear about more art exhibits springing up around Astoria and LIC and I like to think that we brought some of that Williamsburg and Greenwich Village vibe here first.
As for myself, it inspired me to get my art organized and framed and hone my graphic designing skills. I designed the artwork for my band, Porphyra’s, “Faith, Struggle, Victory” album cover and art and all the concept artwork and promotional material for our rock opera at Carnegie Hall.
QG: What are your favorite Queens attractions?
BC: I love the Bohemian Hall Beer Garden, Terrace on the Park and Flushing’s World’s Fair Atlas, Astoria Park and my own area’s little Bowne Park in Flushing and Athens Square Park, where I have performed with my bands so many times. I like Flo Café and Telly’s Taverna, McCann’s Pub and Grill, the Parkside Pub, our hard rock and metal clubs, Blackthorn 51 and Gussy’s Bar, as well as Club Central and Caprice. I like my Greek club music, too, of course. Hopefully, with my wife, Despina, and our newborn baby girl, Triantafyllia, we can visit these places again soon – well, the restaurants at least!
This column was originated in July 2013 by Nicollette Barsamian.