Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis is one of those people I like to refer to as “acquaintances of happenstance”, because I’d never heard his name uttered before until I saw it attached to a list of many composers that were tapped to write pieces commissioned for Hilary Hahn for her “In 27 Pieces” project. Having perused his work in both video and audio clips (and reading descriptions of the works we don’t have access to as of yet), I’m very glad it was Hilary who raised his profile. Even if Christos was discovered entirely through nuance and association, it dawns on me that I learned about lots of composers that way, so this is really no exception.
Hatzis has already an amazing body of works listed, and besides Hilary’s, has quite a few more on the way.
CM: Can you talk about being commissioned by Hilary Hahn to write for her encores project, and how you approached this?
C.Hz: Two years ago, I got back from a rather long European tour and checking my voice messages in my office at the University of Toronto (where I teach as a full time composition prof.) I heard a message from Hilary Hahn who wanted to commission me a short work for her “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores” project. At first I thought it was a prank that some friend of mine was trying to pull on me, so I checked the area code on my call display, which checked out. When we spoke on the phone a couple of days later, she had mentioned that, although the commission was for violin and piano, it would be great if, somehow, it could be played on unaccompanied violin too for situations in which she would not be touring with a pianist. I quickly realized that I would not be able to do this without compromising the uniqueness of the final result, so I offered to write two short pieces, one for solo violin and one for violin and piano. “Dystopia” and “Coming To” were the result. I heard Hilary perform “Coming To” at the last concert of her European tour at the Vienna Korzerthous on May 13 this year and during the meeting that we had before the concert, she had mentioned that she might be able to perform “Dystopia” during her orchestral tour that was to follow. A few days ago, a composer friend who was attending her concert with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra told me that she performed “Dystopia” as an encore and she received an enthusiastic standing ovation.
CM: She’s actually been playing “Dystopia” at some of these concerts she’s doing with Hauschka, interestingly enough (during a solo break in these shows).
C.Hz: Is this for a fact? That would be very cool! I am a huge fan of both of these artists. All I know is the one encore performance so far with the SFSO.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Witnessed (and written by) photographer/blogger Paul Franco–BTW, that’s not his photo on the left, that’s from their Berlin show on 5/10 courtesy of Stefan Hoederath–Paul was at the HH&H El Rey gig in LA on 5/28/12 (Courtesy of his blog Life, 1 Photo at a Time, in the post titled “Hilary Hahn Different”):
“At one point she went back to the mic–where she announced the improvisational nature of the evening–and mentioned she would now do a prepared piece, ‘Dystopia’, by a Greek composer named Hatzis (Whoa! Reading about this song on his website, I never would have guessed he meant all that in a three-minute piece!). She smirks, ‘We’re gonna go acoustic for this’, and reaches down to her boot. It sounded like a gypsy air.”
Fertility Rites (Sara Bailey, vibraphone; her senior recital at MSTU; 11/29/10)
CM: Can you also talk about the work called Wormwood? It looks really good, but there’s something sort of perplexing about the inclusion of a rap vocalist in the score.
C.Hz: Wormwood is a complex 50-minute-long cantata, in which several different genres of music intertwine with each other, rap (or a musical reference to such) being one of them. The word “wormwood”, the English translation of the Ukrainian “Chornobyl”, the nuclear reactor which had a meltdown in the late eighties, appears in the 9th chapter of the Book of Revelation as the name of the “death star”, which falls on the earth and poisons the waters and people die from the poisoned waters—an eerie prediction of the nuclear meltdown almost two millennia before the fact. It was commissioned in 2006 by the Gryphon Trio and “The Children of Chornobyl” to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the nuclear disaster. This association of Chornobyl with the death star from the Book of Revelation brought me into evangelical land and face to face with the prophetic tradition in present-day Christian fundamentalism. Many of the musical genres used in this piece (but not all) are drawn from this association. From the early choral outbursts, to blues, Tavener-like modality, rap, a twelve-tone row that keeps on creeping in just about everywhere, no matter what the prevailing style is at the time, to timbral and tonal dissolution towards the end, to the closing new-age/gospel anthem for child soprano, piano trio and choir (called “Welcome to the New Jerusalem”), Wormwood travels stylistically far and wide but it is not a post-modern work. Its stylistic diversity is a symptom of a deeper desire for inclusion and cohesion and for a global human identity that transcends its surface contradictions.
CM: You’ve also done radio documentary projects along the lines of Glenn Gould, and these are an interesting idea.
C.Hz: Yes, I collaborated on two such projects in the early and mid nineties, The Idea of Canada (preceding a national referendum on Canadian identity) and Footprints in New Snow about the Inuit, Canada’s arctic inhabitants and katajjak, their throat games. They have shaped my current way of understanding composition as a rich, semiotic, multithreaded fabric that helps keep various individual antennas constantly resonating with each other. I believe that a lot more is being exchanged in musical communication that we are consciously aware or giving the process credit for. My compositional process now is rather mysterious to me and I like to keep it this way. It never assumes that there is a “learned” decoder at the other end of the communication wire but it has faith in the fact that profound musical communication is possible (and indeed, it may even thrive) in environments where there is absence of musical education. The only conscious descriptions about this process that I have been able to ascertain after the fact is my understanding of “structure as metaphor” and a holistic approach to the compositional process which resists parametric categorizations (melody, rhythm, harmony, form, etc.) I have noticed over the years that the more resistant my music is to ordinary analysis, the more deeply it connects with ordinary audiences without the need for any corresponding compromise in complexity of musical thinking. I think those early radio documentary/compositions were watershed moments for the development of my current thinking about composition and music in general.
CM: Do you have any other major projects on the horizon?
C.Hz: Yes, several. The most important right now is a pentalogy of three orchestral and two mixed media chamber works still under development called Redemption. It is difficult to describe this project in a few words. The works in the pentalogy share thematic material and an overall theme borrowed from the trance visions of American psychic Edgar Cayce, one of the greatest influences in my creative life and my life in general. The music tracks the different earthly incarnations of the “Master soul”, the last and most important of which was, according to Cayce, as the historical figure of Yeshua of Nazareth. It is a fascinating tale, which in an inspiring way connects various religious and spiritual traditions and brings a new and much needed perspective to our currently fractured world plagued by religious (and rationalist) intolerance. The contributing works in the pentalogy are called “Books”. Book 1 is for string quartet and chamber orchestra, commissioned by the Pacifica Quartet and CityMusic Cleveland. Book 3 for large orchestra (in progress as we speak) is a commission by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for premiere at the Winnipeg New Music Festival 2013 next February. Book 5 (also called Sepulcher of Life) for soprano, Arabic vocalist (alto) choir and orchestra was commissioned in 2004 by four Canadian philharmonic choirs and is being performed quite often since then. The latest performance was in Thessaloniki, Greece, a couple of months ago during Easter.
Another upcoming project is a CD recording of my two flute concerti by French flute virtuoso Patrick Gallois and the Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Myrat which will take place this coming September to be released on a major label soon afterwards (TBA.) Several other recording projects are also in the works all slated for the next twelve months. The 2012-13 season, a Hatzis@60 season, will be busy with several profile concerts, tours and other events, including concerts and tours by Dame Evelyn Glennie and the Berlin Chamber Orchestra, the Wiener Concert-Verein in Vienna, the TSSO (and the list goes on.)
Christos Hatzis (homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~chatzis/)
Go to Christos’ website for sound links and also Youtube for some more of his works.
Also be sure to listen out for “Coming To” and/or “Dystopia” at any of Hilary Hahn’s upcoming concerts.