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Vangelis, the pioneering electronic composer and musician whose synth-driven work brought epic drama to film soundtracks including Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire, has died aged 79. His representatives said he died in a hospital in France where he was being treated for Covid 19.

Born Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou in 1943, Vangelis won an Oscar for his 1981 Chariots of Fire soundtrack. Its uplifting piano motif became world-renowned, and reached No 1 in the US charts, as did the accompanying soundtrack album. Decades later, in a remarkable example of life imitating art, the Chariots theme became the theme of the real world 2012 Olympics!

Mostly self-taught in music, Vangelis grew up in Athens and formed his first band in 1963, called the Forminx, playing the pop music of the time: uptempo rock’n’roll, sweeping ballads and Beatles cover versions, with Vangelis supplying organ lines.

After turning down an invitation to replace Rick Wakeman on keyboards in Yes, he moved to London and signed a solo deal with RCA Records: his LPs Heaven and Hell (1975) and Albedo 0.39 (1976) each reached the UK Top 40, the former also used to soundtrack Carl Sagan’s popular TV series Cosmos. The connection with Yes was finally completed later in the decade, when he teamed with the band’s Jon Anderson for the duo Jon and Vangelis, whose debut album made the Top 5.

Vangelis in concert

His score to Blade Runner is equally celebrated for its evocation of a sinister future version of Los Angeles, where robots and humans live awkwardly alongside one another, through the use of long, pulsating synth notes; lives saxophones and lush ambient passages enhance the film’s romantic and poignant moments. “It has turned out to be a very prophetic film – we’re living in a kind of Blade Runner world now,” he said in 2005.

Increasingly reclusive after his big hits, he gave few interviews, preferring studio work to publicity and promotion. It is not know if he was married or has any children.

Known for his use of electronics, he also made frequent use of acoustic instruments: “I don’t always play synthesizers. I play acoustic instruments with the same pleasure. I’m happy when I have unlimited choice; in order to do that, you need everything from simple acoustic sounds to electronic sounds.”

He composed music for the funeral of physicist Stephen Hawking in 2018. His last studio album, 2021’s “Juno to Jupiter,” was inspired by NASA’s Juno space probe. Two of his later solo albums, 1996’s “Oceanic” and 2016’s “Rosetta,” earned Grammy nominations as Best New Age Album. However, the artist did not care for the term New Age. He combined electronics and acoustics with symphonic ambitions.

His honors include: In 1989 he received the Max Steiner Award (for film music). France made Vangelis a Knight of the Order of the Arts and Letters in 1992 and promoted him to Commander in 2017, as well as Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour in 2001.In 1993 he received the music award Apollo by Friends of the Athens National Opera Society. In 1995, Vangelis had a minor planet named after him (6354 Vangelis) by the International Astronomical Union. NASA conferred their Public Service Medal to Vangelis in 2003. And in 2013, he received the honor of appearing on the Greek 80 cent postage stamp.

Among those paying tribute to Vangelis was Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who hailed “a pioneer of electronic sound”. Vangelis was born in Greece and worked in London.

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David Raiklen
David Raiklen

David Raiklen wrote, directed and scored his first film at age 9. He began studying keyboard and composing at age 5. He attended, then taught at UCLA, USC and CalArts. Among his teachers are John Williams and Mel Powel.
He has worked for Fox, Disney and Sprint. David has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2004 American Music Center Award. Dr. Raiklen has composed music and sound design for theater (Death and the Maiden), dance (Russian Ballet), television (Sing Me a Story), cell phone (Spacey Movie), museums (Museum of Tolerance), concert (Violin Sonata ), and film (Appalachian Trail).
His compositions have been performed at the Hollywood Bowl and the first Disney Hall. David Raiken is also host of a successful radio program, Classical Fan Club.

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