From a vibrant, pretty girl with a bouffant hairdo to a tall, smiling brunette with a warm, resonant voice and an air of gracious authority, Princess Irene has grown up with Utah.
The Greek princess was in Salt Lake City Friday and Saturday to hear the final rounds of the Gina Bachauer Piano Competition, an international gathering of musicians that's dear to her heart. Having decided to make the trip rather late, she wasn't sure just what her official capacity would be but was pleased to serve in memory of Gina Bachauer, her countrywoman, teacher and friend.Princess Irene first came to Utah in the mid-'60s, and in 1969 she performed with Bachauer and the Utah Symphony, playing the Concerto for Two Harpsichords in C Major by Bach (though pianos were used for bolder sound in the Tabernacle). Maurice Abravanel, who is also of Greek descent, conducted.
She has attended three Bachauer competitions here, most recently in 1986, and would like to have come more often if time had permitted.
The talented princess often played alongside Bachauer in orchestral concert, in Greece and elsewhere. Their association goes back to Irene's childhood, when Bachauer would visited the royal family in Athens. "Those were happy times. We would get out pots and pans and spoons and march around the house as she played," she said.
"When I was about 19, learning to play the piano myself, my father told her of my struggles. She said, let me come and show her a few things about playing, and we went on from there, forming a close, intense, teacher-pupil relationship."
"Her husband, Alec Sherman, brought her to full flower as an artist, he had such generosity of heart, he gave up his own conducting career to manage her, because he could tell she had such talent. She needed bringing out. She had a teacher whose style was to cut her down, say you are no good, because she didn't want Bachauer to get bigheaded."
"Paul Pollei and all surrounding him have done a wonderful job with the contest. It is a tribute equal to Bachauer's greatness, she would have loved the idea of the competition for young people."
During her young adult life, Princess Irene often spent extended periods in India with her mother, Queen Frederika, studying philosophy. "We went to Madras University, where I studied comparative philosophy and its relationship to music," she said. "In fact, it was while studying there in 1981 that my mother passed away - like Bachauer, of a massive heart attack.
"I discovered a German piano in a Scottish kirk in Madras, and it was there that I used to practice," she laughed. "I love India, even the dust and smells. It is cozy place, the people are great at interchanging human relations. Madras is getting crowded but it's still pleasant, the life is lovely there, it's a center of culture where people have more time than in the West."
It was there too that the seed idea for her charity, Mundo en Armonia (World in Harmony), was planted.
"We read that all over Europe (and America) they were killing milk cattle because there was a glut of milk, and they couldn't even use the beef, because it was also in oversupply," she said. "Cows are sacred in India, but more in the sense of a protected species. They give a village so much - milk, manure, fuel - they are the backbone of its economy."
World in Harmony is based in Madrid, where since 1986 Princess Irene has made her home with her sister, Queen Sophia of Spain. Start-up help came from a Spanish banker, who gave the organization headquarters free of charge.
Princess Irene is most concerned with two basic problems of the modern world - drug addiction, and huge agricutural surpluses that accumulate year after year. The aim is to prevent under-utilization of these surpluses, by channeling them to areas where they can be put to good use.
"We have specialized in shipping good bovine stock for breeding to India, and it's a very expensive project, the cows can't go by boat because of high death rate and milking problems," said Princess. "The German government has sent 1,000 Friesian milk cows to India - no small gesture, since it costs about $1,000 to send a cow via air. But one good heifer will provide 15 new calves during its lifetime, and 100 milk cattle will benefit 700,000 people over a period of 3-4 years. People are now buying third generation calves for different villages."
In Spain, Princess Irene encourages use of recovering drug addicts to tend the cattle. "It's good work for them, because it's soothing and pleasant and gets them out of themselves," she said.
World in Harmony also functions in Bangladesh, Mozambique and Jordan.
"Our thrust is to help people help themselves," she said. "In Jordan, we are specializing in building up plant life options that they can cultivate. They used to trade heavily with Iraq and that's all gone, they need new projects."
"We will soon do a solar light project in Vietnam," she said. "Students can't study at night because they have no electricity. If they had light, they could do much more with their educations.
"In Bangladesh, the problem is of course the floods. If people only had cement frames around or near their houses they could go on top and wait the floods out. Their houses should be on stilts, too, to minimize damage."
Princess Irene will go soon to Bangladesh taking a shipment of clothes. But implementing self-help "costs a lot of money," she said with a bemused shake of the head.
The princess still plays piano "a bit," but has little time to practice. She greatly respects the time and sacrifice that the Bachauer competitors put into their music. "They should be as popular as pops stars," she said, "considering the faith, determination and struggle they put into their work."