"one of the most talked about
contemporary classical compositions
of the decade"

Li Robbins, The Globe & Mail

"possibly the most talked about classical
composition
in Toronto’s history"
Nadine Silverthorne, CTV.ca

 

CONSTANTINOPLE, a multimedia music theatre work for mezzo-soprano, Middle Eastern singer (alto) violin, violoncello, piano and electronic audiovisual media. Commissioned by the Gryphon Trio with a grant from Music Canada 2000 and with financial support from Woodlawn and the Laidlaw Foundations. 80 minutes.

Also visit:
The IMG Artists CONSTANTINOPLE website
the Gryphon Trio CONSTANTINOPLE website
the Tapestry New Opera Works CONSTANTINOPLE website
the Banff Festival CONSTANTINOPLE website


 

Read the recent essay


Watch a Constantinople promotional video on



THE MOVEMENTS:

1. CREEDS (soprano, alto, piano trio, digital audio)
2. KYRIE (soprano, piano trio, digital audio)
3. ODD WORLD (piano trio)
4. AH KALLELI! (alto, piano trio, digital audio)
5. DANCE OF THE DICTATORS (piano trio)
6. ON DEATH AND DYING (soprano, alto, piano trio digital audio)
7. OLD PHOTOGRAPHS (piano trio)
8. ALLELUIA (soprano, alto, piano trio, digital audio)

[Note: ON DEATH AND DYING is dedicated to the memory of the composer's father, Panagiotis Hatzis, who passed away during the composition of that movement in August 2000. ALLELUIA is dedicated to Michael Robert Nickles (1973 – 2002), a child of God and a son of Greece, by his parents, Dr. Peter and Barbara Nickles, and his brother, John Aristides Nickles.]

 


 

 

 


 

CONSTANTINOPLE is the recipient of the 2008 JUNO AWARD in the
CLASSICAL COMPOSITION OF THE YEAR

category. A great Thank You and Congratulations to
The Gryphon Trio for their two Juno nominations this year
and for making this recording project possible,
to producer Roberto Occhipinti
and to ANALEKTA Records for releasing it.

 


CONSTANTINOPLE nominated for two JUNO AWARDS:

CLASSICAL COMPOSITION OF THE YEAR
and
CLASSICAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR: VOCAL OR CHORAL PERFORMANCE


CONSTANTINOPLE at the
Canadian Museum of Civilization
Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival

July 29 & 30, 2010
The Gryphon Trio — musicians
Maryem Tollar — singer
Patricia O’Callaghan — singer
Marie-Josée Chartier — director/choreographer
John Murrell OC, AOE — scripting consultant
Jacques Collin — visual projection production and design
Lionel Arnould — visual projection concept development, production, and design
Bernard White — set and lighting design
Heather MacCrimmon — costume design
Anthony Crea — sound design/ engineer

CONSTANTINOPLE at the
Yukon Arts Centre
Whitehorse, Yukon
January 17 2008

CONSTANTINOPLE at the
2008 High Performance Rodeo
The Grand: 608 - 1 St. S.W.
Calgary, Alberta
January 11, 12 2008


CONSTANTINOPLE at the inaugural
Luminato Festival
Bluma Appel Theatre
St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts
Toronto, Canada
June 7 - 9 2007


European premiere of CONSTANTINOPLE at the
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Linbury Studio Theatre
London, UK
March 21 - 25 2007
 


CONSTANTINOPLE
in Montreal
Lumiere / Montreal High Lights Festival
Montreal, Quebec
February 28, March 2, 3, 2007

Théâtre Outremont
Montreal, Quebec
 

 
Release of the CONSTANTINOPLE compact disc on the Analekta record label
The Gryphon Trio — musicians
Maryem Tollar — singer
Patricia O’Callaghan — singer
 


US premiere of CONSTANTINOPLE at the
INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS AND IDEAS
New Haven, Connecticut
June 10 & 11, 2005, 8:00 PM.

 

May 2005
CONSTANTINOPLE is nominated for two
DORA AWARDS
in the Opera Division
Outstanding Production and
Maryem Hassan Tollar for Outstanding Performance


April 2005
CONSTANTINOPLE is in the final stages
of post-production for a CD recording
with the above artistic team and
Roman Borys, executive producer
Roberto Occhipinti, producer;
Jeff Wolpert, recording/mixing engineer.
Stay in tune about more info regarding
record label, release dates, etc.


CONSTANTINOPLE is performed in Toronto on
November 10, 11, 12 & 13, 2004, 8:00 PM.
Premiere Dance Theatre, Harbourfront. Presented by the Gryphon Trio
in association with Tapestry New Opera Works and Music Toronto
All four events were sold out in advance of the concert dates.


Theatrical premiere of CONSTANTINOPLE at the Banff Summer Arts Festival.
July 29 2004, 7:30 PM and July 31 2004, 2:00 PM.
Eric Harvie Theatre, Banff Centre for the Performing Arts; Banff. AB.


CONSTANTINOPLE had one more development workshop in Quebec City at
Robert Lepage's EX MACHINA studios in late May and early June 2004.
Old Photographs and Dance of the Dictators are constantly performed
by the Gryphon Trio in their concerts generating audiences for
the theatrical presentation of the work at Banff and beyond.


Creeds, the opening movement of CONSTANTINOPLE was adapted for
alto, Middle-Eastern Singer (alto) and symphony orchestra and performed
by Indra Thomas, Maryem Tollar and the Little Orchestra Society in
a concert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
on May 7 2004. The new work is titled Christos Anesti after
the Byzantine Easter Chant that it is based on.


CONSTANTINOPLE  has been under theatrical development by the Gryphon Trio
and Ottie Lockey in association with the Banff Centre for the Performing Arts,
Tapestry New Opera Works and Robert Lepage's Ex Machina group in Quebec City.
There was a development workshop with all the members of the creative team
at Banff in August 2003 and the work was further developed though the
2003-04 season for a world premiere at Banff in the summer of 2004,
followed by an international tour of the work soon afterwards.
 
For information on how you could help with the development,
please contact the Gryphon Trio via their web site, at:
www.gryphontrio.com


Four movements of CONSTANTINOPLE
(Kyrie, Ah Kalleli, Old Photographs, Alleluia)
were presented at the HATZIS@50 event on March 21, 2003 in Toronto
by the Gryphon Trio, soprano Patricia O'Callaghan and alto Maryem Tollar
to enthusiastic audience reception. CBC Radio 2 broadcast the four
movements on Easter Sunday 2003 on the program Music Around Us
and again on May 20 on the program In Performance.


An additional movement for piano trio called Dance of the Dictators
has been added to the existing eight movements of CONSTANTINOPLE
in March 2003. It was inserted after Ah Kalleli, the fourth movement.
Like Old Photographs, Dance of the Dictators eventually became
a staple of the Gryphon Trio touring repertory.


CONSTANTINOPLE
won the Silver World Medal
in the Best Sound category of the New York Festivals.
Congratulations to CBC Two New Hours executive producer David Jaeger
and recording engineer David (Stretch) Quinney.
 

 

Photographs from the production

The flyer of the October 17, 2000 concert performance
at the Jane Mallett Theatre in Toronto in Adobe Acrobat format

Constantinople is a collaborative work that speaks from the heart about cultural inclusion. It is a metaphor for a utopian vision whereby the cultural and religious diversity of our world today—normally a cause for conflict—can become the seed of future peace and unrestrained creativity. This is of course a wonderful vision the particulars of which may boggle the mind but at the same time animate the heart. Our own contribution to this larger issue of cultural inclusion is to investigate it as a possibility within the framework of music and art. This is what we have done to the best of our ability in Constantinople.

Constantinople is a ‘un-place’, a u-topos, where East and West, Islam and Christianity, monophony and polyphony, improvisation and pre-compositional control, coexist peacefully, creatively challenging and complementing each other without stepping on each other’s toes. It is important that such ‘un-places’ become real in our own minds before they may become real in our lives. The music of Constantinople is imbued by this vision of dialogue and inclusion. While it acknowledges the dark aspects of cultural confrontation over the centuries and the tragedies that have been caused by narrow-minded cultural and religious allegiance, it stubbornly clings on to the positive effects of cultural and religious diversity and it is a celebration of the richness of this diversity, a spiritual inheritance to each and everyone of us. In this sense Constantinople is less about the historical city that was founded by a Roman emperor, was the coveted capital of eastern Christianity and Hellenism for the better part of a millennium and the meeting place of East and West, and is now one of the great cities of the Islamic world. This work is more about modern day North-American urbanism, where cultural diversity is a new—the only—emerging identity. Constantinople is about present day urbanism with its multiple faces and its multiple histories: our cities, which—like the Constantinople of old—are poised to become a living experiment in the future culture of the “global village”.

The music is in eight distinct movements:

Creeds,  the opening movement, starts with “Christos Anesti”, the Byzantine Easter chant of the resurrection sung in Greek by the mezzo-soprano, while the Middle-Eastern singer (alto) intones and whispers similar texts from the Islamic faith. After this vocal introduction of religious dichotomy but also beauty (both the Christian chant and the Islamic vocal improvisation are especially beautiful), the cello enters with new material which occasionally  sounds like variations of the “Christos Anesti” opening motif accompanied by predominately drone-like material in the digital audio most of which originated from a CD developed by Ernest Cholakis.The combination of the occasionally “industrial” sounding drones and the amplified cello introduces an element of pop music into the mix the first of several in the piece. The solo cello section leads into a Turkish dance for the piano trio common among Balkan music cultures (in Turkey it is called Chiftetel) which places great technical demands on the violin with its semi-improvisatory (but strictly notated) material and to the piano trio as a whole with its constantly shifting metric modulations.

The main melody of Kyrie is borrowed from an earlier work by the same title, my 70-minute Kyrie (1997), but it is presented here in a completely different light. This latter incarnation of the melody undergoes a series of geographic and chronological displacements in the instrumental part while it maintains its medieval character throughout. These displacements emphasize the universality of the original melody and the renewed relevance of Medieval thought to 21st century thought in general. First there are three separate settings of a long string consisting of twelve statements of the words “Kyrie Eleison” (“Lord Have Mercy Upon Us”), a standard orthodox ritual practice. These vocal utterances are accompanied first by string harmonics and ambient piano chords, followed by piano alone and finally by the violin and the cello creating contrapuntal lines that emphasize the medieval character of the vocal melody. In the last of these repetitions/variations of the main melody, the digital audio introduces a rather sudden pop element into the mix made more dramatic by the low bass punctuated syllables on the speakers and the “blues” vocalizing of the mezzo-soprano. The latter is in a 7/8 meter running constantly against the 7/4 meter of the rest of the ensemble (in other words with off-the-beat downbeats every other measure). As in the following movement, odd meters are used to heighten the tension in the music. Since these odd-numbered structures repeat constantly, however, they are not “odd” for long as far as the listeners are concerned. Soon these meters establish in the listeners’ mind a different kind of symmetry than the one most listeners are familiar with and entice them to enter this unusual musical world.

Odd World, the third movement and the first of two purely instrumental movements in the entire work, follows. Odd World takes its name from its rather eclectic musical content, which shows stylistic indebtness to Celtic fiddling to Stravinsky, Brahms and anything in between, but also from the fact that the work has an odd-numbered rhythmic and formal structure. The piece is in 5/8 and each phrase is 7 measures long. Larger sections of the movement also reflect odd-number relationships. After a while these odd meters and phrases come to be expected as a matter of course so the music sounds much more symmetrical and consistent than one might expect given its numerical makeup.

Ah Kalleli is an electroacoustic setting of an old Sufi song designed to highlight Maryem Tollar's haunting voice. The music of the original song was composed by Muhammad ‘Uthman (Egypt 1855-1900), but the texts are considerably earlier; they were written by Sana’ il-Mulk (Egypt 1155-1211). The text is a poetic adoration of clouds and goes as follows: “O clouds adorn the crowns of the hills with garlands/And make the bending stream a bracelet for them/O sky, in you and in the earth there are stars/Every time a star sets, many other stars rise”. Partly due to the atmosphere created by the text and partly due to the Maryem's peculiar voice and my desire to bring to the fore certain aspects of that voice which normally lay hidden, the bulk of this movement consists of pre-taped segments of her voice processed by a number of DSP software and then sequenced on a Steinberg VST sequencer. The aural effect is that of vocal “clouds” into which Maryem's voice dissolves and then emerges again. This very ambient treatment is interrupted in the middle by an instrumental interlude for the piano trio in which the main theme of Ah Kalleli is treated in a manner reminiscent of “cocktail” jazz music. Maryem joins the trio briefly before joining the digital audio again for the closing segment of the work which includes an extended vocal cadenza. Ah Kalleli, was originally the end of the first part of Constantinople which for the most part introduces musical elements and genres but does not attempt to synthesize them, at least not to the degree that is evident in the remainder of the work.

Dance of the Dictators is an afterthought. It was composed two years after the original concert performance of the rest of Constantinople took place in Toronto. In the original concert performance there was an intermission between Ah Kalleli and On Death and Dying. It was decided afterwards to have the work performed in its entirety without any break and, when it was performed in this manner in Ottawa a few months later, it became clear that something was needed to musically bridge these two movements. There was also the need to spread the piano trio movements within the work in a way that made more structural sense and to balance the unique composition style of Old Photographs (the 7th movement) with something similar elsewhere in the work. Dance of the Dictators addresses all these needs. The title is a sardonic reference to the fact that, during my adolescence in Greece under a military junta regime, cultural nationalism was preached but, in the higher echelons of power, tangos were danced. It was also influenced by the fact that during the time of its composition there was a strange and unholy “dance” for public opinion taking place by the principals of the escalating Iraq conflict which eventually led up to the American invasion of that country.

In On Death and Dying the tone of the composition deepens both in terms of subject matter and musical treatment. This movement, one of the most powerful movements in the entire work marks the first time the two female voices—representing two different worlds, two cultural paradigms—sing together. Up until now the mezzo-soprano (the Christian west) and the alto (the Islamic east) have represented their separate worlds separately. On Death and Dying was composed during a trying period in my life, as my father was in the last weeks of fighting a loosing battle with cancer. This man and his heroic stance against life and death has always been for me the standard against which I measure myself as a human being and find myself lacking. He was a man of uncommon courage and, as I was contemplating his life and his influence on me, the very old poem of “The Death of Dighenis”, a Byzantine frontier hero, came to my mind. In the poem Dighenis (which in Greek means “one of dual parentage or heritage”, in his case Greek and Arab) the hero engages in a physical struggle with Death, and Death cheats in order to win while the Earth shudders at the thought of covering this powerful hero. This medieval popular view of death and the dread of death are in sharp contrast to the opening chant of the resurrection (“Christ has conquered Death through [His] death”) but up until now has been resonating more with most of us than the wonderful metaphysical message of life after death proposed by the Easter chant. The Dighenis song, an original song composed in the style of old Cretan folk music, is introduced by Maryem as a passacaglia or a ground. She is gradually joined in this miroloi or funeral song by the mezzo-soprano, the cello, the violin and the piano—in that order. At the climax of this passacaglia-like treatment, the digital audio introduces sounds of human struggle and heavily processed synthesized fragments of the opening of the Dies Irae from Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem, and the music on stage quickly shifts to a rendering of the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) text featuring frantic writing for the instruments accompanied by sounds of modern warfare assaulting the audience from both the front and back speakers. After the Dies Irae setting is completed, the music returns to the Dighenis setting and introduces the first of the two ‘virtual’ performers in Constantinople, Greek singer Lambros Vassiliou on tape. Lambros’ haunting voice initiates a new passacaglia, which, like in Kyrie, undergoes stylistic transformation with each repetition. It starts as a Cretan folk song, followed by a setting reminiscent of Renaissance counterpoint, and finally in a full instrumental and vocal configuration it turns into nineteen-sixties pop music featuring an electric guitar-like solo for the violin.

Old Photographs provides an antidote to the heartrending intensity of the previous movement. It is the other purely instrumental movement in Constantinople and is totally based on western musical idioms. It starts with an introspective theme for solo piano slightly reminiscent of Robert Schumann, which is gradually joined in by the violin and the cello and transforms slowly—‘morphs’ is a better word—into a tango in the style of Astor Piazzola, a light-hearted moment in the work which also foreshadows the rather exuberant and celebratory finale. Old Photographs and the previous Dance of the Dictators “frame” On Death and Dying in a way that the latter is highlighted as the emotional climax of Constantinople.

Alleluia, the finale of Constantinople is a long setting of the word Alleluia. It starts by revisiting the multitude of themes and musical genres that have appeared in isolation in the work so far, often combining two themes from different movements in counterpoint with one another. The main theme of Alleluia, which first appears in the piano, has an interesting story attached to it. It was offered spontaneously by Maria, my daughter who was ten years old at the time, one day as we were driving to Ottawa. She was bored in the back of the car and started making up tunes to occupy herself during the ride. During the days preceding the trip I was wondering how to bring Constantinople to a conclusion. A work like this that had already included so much in it needed something different for its conclusion and nothing that I had tried up to that point was different enough to function in the manner that I expected the closing movement to function. When Maria started making up this “Alleluia” melody, it hit me that a child’s song—that particular spontaneous song—was the fitting conclusion to this work. In Alleluia the melody appears in an unabashed manner every time the music raises a dilemma of some kind with regards to one’s attitude towards the human condition. It provides a prompting from the heart each time the mind stumbles and stalls. And the mind stumbles a few times in the course of this movement. When for example “Hristos Voskrese”, the Serbian Easter chant sung by the English Chamber Choir (the second ‘virtual’ performer in Constantinople), gradually turns first into a tragic climax and later into a still moment of nowhere to go, the Alleluia theme intercepts the musical indecision by affirming humanity in the midst of human cruelty. When the music of Kyrie returns as a prayer for forgiveness, the Alleluia theme takes over the quietness of the moment of prayer and leads it into the closing celebration of life and perseverance. The theme itself became not only the central element in the closing movement but also the refrain of a pop song, which originally followed the finale of Constantinople but was eventually withdrawn from the work to find its place in a subsequent cycle of songs for Maryem Tollar called Mystical Visitations.

[Note: “ALLELUIA is dedicated to Michael Robert Nickles (1973 – 2002), a child of God and a son of Greece, by his parents, Dr. Peter and Barbara Nickles, and his brother, John Aristides Nickles.”]



Premiere concert performance (with a small sample of the visual component): October 17 2000 by The Gryphon Trio; Jean Stilwell, mezzo-soprano; Maryem Tollar, alto; Jacques Collin, visual media. Music Toronto Series, Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto.

Premiere theatrical performance: July 29 2004, 7:00 PM and July 31 2004, 2:00 PM by the Gryphon Trio; Patricia O' Callaghan, soprano; Maryem Tollar, alto; Marie-Josée Chartier, director/choreographer; John Murrell OC, AOE, scripting consultant; Jacques Collin, visual projection production and design; Lionel Arnould, visual projection concept development, production, and design; Bernard White, set and lighting design; Heather MacCrimmon, costume design; Anthony Crea, sound design/ engineer; Caroline Hollway, production manager. Eric Harvie Theatre, Banff Centre for the Performing Arts; Banff. AB.


Reviews and Comments

 

A Very Different "Constantinople"
Hatzis’s bracing, multi-media work...demonstrates that new ground can still be broken when treating the East-meets-West theme, and with flair...Effective as the visual dimension of “Constantinople” was and without slighting the vocal contribution, which reached a frenzied peak with the insistent repetition of the “Alleluia,” the opera is mostly striking for Hatzis’s instrumental writing, boh on its own and in tandem with the singers. It was brilliantly realized by the Gryphon Trio (Annalee Patiparanakoon, violin, Roman Borys, cello and Jamie Parker, piano), which played extended passages from memory. The music is above all energetic and is rooted in an actively polyphonic, mildly modernistic style that requires considerable dexterity from the players. Hatzis is especially inventive in expounding on musical ideas, partaking not just of traditional developmental techniques but also of the methods of jazz and even rock to heighten rhythmic drive, though without debasing his material. A lilting tango supplies captivating variety, and Hatzis gives the piece unity by deftly bringing back certain themes. George Loomis, Musical America (USA) June 14, 2005. For the entire review, click on the www.musicalamerica.com logo below.

 

...A multi-media feast of the imagination...
...a work unlike any other in the Canadian musical literature..
Imaginatively staged, atmospherically lit and brilliantly performed,
Constantinople defies categories...it is in a class of its own.
William Littler, THE TORONTO STAR. November 11, 2004
 
Constantinople plays with the eye, the ear and the mind in a tantalizing fashion...
the production falls somewhere between opera, 60s happening and multimedia concert,
and it works on all those levels...[a] highly polished, intriguing show...
Bring it back, please. NOW Magazine
 
It is a towering achievement that is a lavish assault on the senses...
a monumental fusion of many arts, rendered by an amazing array of very talented artists...
nothing can take away from the glory of Hatzis’ music, the majestic playing of the Gryphon trio,
Patricia O’Callaghan’s beautiful light soprano, and particularly, Maryem Hassan Tollar’s
passionate, earthy singing.  Paula Citron, Classical 96.3 FM
 
www.classicalsource.com
This is truly a work of art and a creation – a combination of two ravishing singers,
possibly the most dynamic of all piano trios extant, the staging – together with inspired costumes, artefacts and images.
And then, the magical aural thread of Christos Hatzis’s music – all life was in its varied styles,
including the recorded sound and electronic interventions. This eminently accessible music
deserves frequent hearings – so as to ensure one does not forget its radiance
nor lose memory of its delicately intricate subtlety, so lightly purveyed.
Kenneth Carter, www.classicalsource.com (UK)

 

Composer Christos Hatzis’ interdisciplinary music-theatre piece, Constantinople...was staggeringly beautiful. The eight-section work portrays the collisions of cultures at the heart of one of the world’s most exciting and significant cities through music, song and visual projections...The gorgeous set by Bernard While was made up of hanging, abstract, Oriental sculpture with cunningly placed transparent screens, while Heather MacCrimmon’s costumes moved from somber robes to more revealing Eastern-inspired femininity by just removing an outer layer. Marie-Josée Chartier was clever and economical in her placement. In short, Constantinople was a towering achievement that was a lavish assault on the senses, and, at its best, a monumental fusion of many arts, rendered by an amazing array of very talented artists...Nothing can take away from the glory of Hatzis’ music, majestically played by the Gryphon Trio (Annalee Patipatanakoon, violin, Roman Borys, cello, and Jamie Parker, piano), accompanying Patricia O’Callaghan’s beautiful light soprano and, particularly, Maryem Hassan Tollar’s passionate, earthly singing...Hatzis’ ravishing score is made up of religious music and folk rhythms from the many creeds and races who make up Constantinople’s polyglot of peoples, all woven cunningly together in the composer’s accessible melodious, Neo-Romantic style. Paula Citron, OPERA CANADA Spring 2005.

A highlight of the fall musical season in Toronto was Constantinople, by composer Christos Hatzis....In its final form, Constantinople...is both fresh and powerful. This 90-minute, eight-movement, genre-defying work (Is it a cantata? A song-cycle? Chamber Music?) never flags in its compositional inventiveness or intensity. A solemn religiosity predominates, but there are lighter moments as well. Think of John Tavener with a dash of Astor Piazzolla, and you’ll have the general idea of Constantinople. The vocalists were Maryem Hassan Tollar and Patricia O’Callaghan, two singers who represented the East and west through their respective vocal traditions: Tollar’s intricate arabesques and O’Callaghan’s elegant, lyric soprano. There’s some electronic music too—but at the centre of the work’s musical conception lies a piano trio. Toronto’s Gryphon Trio—violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, cellist Roman Borys, and pianist Jamie Parker—were involved in the creation of the piece from the beginning and on November 10 they gave a committed, tour de force performance. The visual projections by Lionel Arnould and Jacques Collin were an ever-changing panorama of beautiful, evocative imagery from ancient cultures. Bernard White’s set design and Heather MacCrimmon’s consumes tastefully complemented the production. And Marie- Josée Chartier’s direction and choreography were imaginative, if at times a tad arcane. Constantinople’s diverse elements add up to an astonishing musical, visual and theatrical experience that’s both complex and sophisticated. And yet, paradoxically, there’s also an underlying stratum of naiveté: the implicit message seems to be that all the world’s problems could be solved with a big group hug. In fact, this work could well be controversial in some circles: is Hatzis celebrating the artistic trappings of religion while sidestepping its deeper meaning? Still, the notion, embedded in Constantinople, that cultural co-existence is possible, may be just what the world needs to be reminded of these days. Plans are afoot for both a tour and a recording, so it’s likely that this unique and remarkable work will soon be heard beyond Canada’s borders. Colin Eatock, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE March/April 2005 (page 49)

A Mixed Media Triumph in Banff:
Music, technology, East and West meet in CONSTANTINOPLE

At the conclusion of the premiere of Constantinople at the Banff Centre's Eric Harvie Theatre on Thursday, the near-capacity audience gave the work and its performers a long standing ovation. No wonder...the 90-minute multi-media piece weaves a bold and richly emotional tapestry of sound and image that clearly represents a stunning theatrical triumph in the marriage of music with digital technology. Toronto composer Christos Hatzis' score is an artful and frequently arresting blend of western classical, liturgical and Middle Eastern traditions with infusions from more contemporary styles, such as jazz and pop. It is performed flawlessly and miraculously by the Gryphon Trio—pianist Jaime Parker, violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon and cellist Roman Borys—and singers Maryem Tollar and Patricia O'Callaghan. It's a complex multi-layered work in eight movements, each a ritual point of departure on an imagined journey towards spiritual convergence between East and West. Musically and visually, everything is in a state of flux in Constantinople. In Creeds, for example, O'Callaghan's beautifully sung Byzantine chant, and Tollar's Islamic equivalent, change into a kind of instrumental Turkish dance -- while images of stained glass and tracery parade up and down and across set and lighting designer Bernard White's two scrim arches. Likewise, the ensuing quiet and medieval-sounding Kyrie, also sung by O'Callaghan, turns into an impassioned plea rising above the noise of battle in sound designer Anthony Crea's typically powerful surround-soundscape. The imagery chosen here by projection design wizards Jacques Collin and Lionel Arnould morphs ingeniously from abstraction into two gnarled brambles. Elsewhere, Tollar's performance of the Sufi song, Ah Kalleli, processed and played back quadraphonically and ending in the fervour of a gospel riff, lodges in the memory -- as does the repetition of an original folk-like melody. The melody builds, with processed fragments from Giuseppe Verdi's Dies Irae and once more the soundscape of modern warfare, to a climactic moment at the spiritual core of Constantinople, On Death and Dying. Other instances of Hatzis' chameleon-like ability for assimilating musical styles in Constantinople include a charming, off-kilter percussive dance a la Stravinsky that keeps moving forward in Odd World; catchy little vaudeville tangos convey the nonsense of political posturing in Dance of the Dictators; and an elegiac solo piano piece that changes into an Astor Piazzola-like tango in Old Photographs, the most popular piece in Hatzis's score. Appropriately enough for a work that illustrates strength through diversity, Constantinople concludes with a faltering Serbian Easter chant answered by a rousing note of gospel-style affirmation—Alleluia—which brings us back to the reaction to the work on opening night. Bob Clark, Calgary Herald (Canada) July 31, 2004.

Judging from the sold-out crowd at the Jane Mallett Theatre, the world premiere of composer Christos Hatzis' fascinating multi-media collaboration CONSTANTINOPLE was the music event of the season. The intriguing piece was presented by Music Toronto and commissioned by the Gryphon Trio in association with Tapestry New Opera Works. At the end of the performance, the audience was given a hint of what the completed CONSTANTINOPLE will look like. Two of the sections were repeated with the addition of Montreal artist Jacques Collin's dazzling visual projections. Thus the concert Tuesday night was basically a chance to hear the music by itself. CONSTANTINOPLE is the kind of new music that opens itself up to cross-over audiences. Written for piano, violin, cello, an operatic mezzo-soprano, a folk singer alto, and digital audio, it can be all things to all people. Hatzis' premise was to create an homage to cultural and religious multiculturalism represented by the crossroads city of Constantinople. Thus the piece has a world beat feel to it and Hatzis brilliantly fused Arab, Christian and Jewish musical idioms as well as introducing Western and Middle Eastern classical, pop and folk contrasts. In fact, the piece was an exciting historical music tour. The Gryphon Trio rose to the music demands with panache, proving what an outstanding ensemble it is. Mezzo-soprano Jean Stilwell was her usual excellent self, but Arabic vocal specialist Maryem Tollar, unknown to most classical music audiences, won big applause for her warm, earthly sound. I'm Paula Citron, opera reviewer for Classical 96 and 103 FM [Toronto, Canada.]

The concert ended with four movements from his [Hatzis'] stunning work-in-progress, Constantinople...It is certain to be a landmark in Canadian music theatre." Robin Elliott, ICM (Institute of Canadian Music) Newsletter Vol. 1, no 2 - May 2003.

Many Worlds Meet in CONSTANTINOPLE

World premieres of brand-new Canadian works of classical music are rare indeed, and so the sold-out crowd at the Jane Mallett Theatre on Tuesday night was expecting something special from the premiere of Christos Hatzis' CONSTANTINOPLE. And they weren't disappointed. CONSTANTINOPLE is a winning, passionate work....it is a multilayered, multicultural piece of musical theatre that continues Hatzis' long-standing interest in the various spiritual influences that make up the modern world. It is one of the most ambitious works in the Canadian repertory. Hatzis composed the work to create a self-proclaimed "utopia", a musically fabricated world where the conflicts of culture, religion and history are melded into a single planetary cultural whole. Because Hatzis is a composer with a remarkable ability to mimic and assimilate an enormous range of musical influences, the quilt of CONSTANTINOPLE contains bolts of Greek Orthodox chant, Sufi melodies, jazz, North American pop songs, Argentinean tango and straightforward classical chamber music. But all of these various influences have a tendency to spin outward into their own worlds, rather than towards each other....however, the lack of that formal gravitational pull, if indeed there was a lack, was more than made up on Tuesday night by brilliant performances by all of the participants.  The Gryphon Trio proved yet again, if proof were still needed that it is one of the premiere chamber ensembles in Canada. Both Jamie Parker on piano and Roman Borys on cello played consistently with passion and commitment, and, if possible, violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon outdid them both. Watching her sway to the rhythms of her fiddle, attacking its strings, completely immersed in the music, I shivered with anticipation each time she stood to play. I was not once disappointed. Jean Stilwell strengthened as the evening went on and provided a powerful presence, especially in the Kyrie movement. But the most interesting performer of the evening was Maryem Tollar. With her marvelous alto voice, tuned to the quarter tones of her native Arabic, coupled with her striking composure, Tollar might have been the centre Hatzis needed for his piece....As it was, the movement in which Tollar took the lead role, "On Death and Dying", was far and away the most impressive and powerful of the evening. CONSTANTINOPLE might be a somewhat fragmented world....but it is bathed in the bright light of its composer's passion, warmth and skill, three powerful forces that make the piece a success and earn for it a right to a permanent place in the Canadian repertoire. Played as well as it was on Tuesday night, it is a work impossible to resist. Robert Harris, The Globe & Mail (Canada) 

Hatzis' compositions a feast for the ears 

Two movements for piano trio from the multimedia work CONSTANTINOPLE represented Hatzis' current work in progress. The Gryphon Trio's Annalee Patipatanakoon, Roman Borys and Jamie Parker knew how to put a smile into the folksy dance and odd rhythms of the Odd World movement. But they could also bring eyes to the brink of tears in the Schumannesque first half of Old Photographs before sliding sinuously into a tango that swooped wildly to its end. John Lehr, The Toronto Star (Canada)

Christos' Hatzis' beautiful CONSTANTINOPLE: Old Photographs showcased an elegance and tenderness with its nostalgic gestures that provided a gentle and touching end to the show. The standing ovation for the Gryphons was indeed genuine. Andrew Thompson, The Winnipeg Free Press (Canada)

BANFF - Christos Hatzis' Constantinople is bracketed by images of simplicity and unity. In between, the Toronto composer's music, with its intricate electro-acoustic gloss, roams over territory that is complex, but eminently accessible. The 90-minute music-theatre piece premiered at the Banff Centre on Thursday and Saturday. It features recent Juno winners the Gryphon Trio, as well a seamlessly fluid stream of images designed by Lionel Arnould and Jacques Collin and projected onto transparent scrims, creating a layering effect that enhances Hatzis multi-dimensional composition. Central to the drama, which is more evocative than strictly narrative, are two Canadian singers with very different vocal colour palettes. Mezzo-soprano Patricia O'Callaghan in the opening Creeds section produced a playful, introspective tone nicely, befitting the personal Christian ritual she depicted. She produced a penetrating, unaffected tone quality throughout Constantinople.
From beginning to end, Maryam Tollar, a natural contralto, coloured Constantinople with orientalist shadings that help create the cultural distancing effect that Hatzis has said he's after at some points in the work. Whatever she sang, Arabic or gospel or Greek, always has a bluish tint. Both women have the flexibility to slip comfortably into popular styles such as blues and jazz when Hatzis's eclectic musical language calls for stylistic interweavings. Besides playing the score, the Gryphon Trio—violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, cellist Roman Borys and pianist Jamie Parker—also acted as supernumeraries in the production. Because Patipatanakoon had the most mobility, she sometimes moved into the singers' spheres, suggesting dialogue beyond mere musical exchange. Parker's role was primarily accompanying and accenting. Where he took a solo role, the music didn't demand much of his considerable technique, in the sentimental Old Photographs, for instance, but his presence was always an impressive element of the overall musical effect. His touch was always impeccably appropriate. Borys shone in the instrumental section of Creeds, capturing its Middle Eastern note bending convincingly. The trio's ensemble playing was most impressive in the unusual time and accents of Odd World, the most instrumentally interesting writing in Constantinople...The overall effect was fascinating...you could feel the religion in the religious movements. You could hear the aggression and violence in the overlain tracks of Kyrie, On Death and Dying and even at times in the reconciliatory final Alleluia. You had no doubt that Dance of the Dictators, with the help of some funny images and some wicked violin work from Patipatanakoon, was parodic. Whatever the overall interconnection of the movements is supposed to say about the frustrations and potential triumphs of the human condition, the music, the theatrical ambience, and the professional performance of the Gryphon Trio and the singers make Constantinople an interesting addition to the Canadian artistic landscape. Bill Rankin, The Edmonton Journal (Canada) August 3 2004.

A New View of Chamber Music

Chamber music. The phrase evokes images of elite groups in small rooms listening to short works from a well-defined repertoire. But Toronto composer Christos Hatzis would ask, "why not a diverse open group in expandable space listening to one long piece that defies classification?" Hatzis, with mezzo-soprano Jean Stilwell, traditional Arabic vocalist Maryem Tollar and the Gryphon Trio, gave substance to this new view of chamber music last night at a sold-out Jane Mallett Theatre when Music Toronto presented the world premiere of Hatzis' current project CONSTANTINOPLE. Stilwell and Tollar began, singing over pre-recorded sound. Gradually the trio was brought in and the Middle-eastern flavour of their lines glided into music based on Western folk traditions. Other styles cropped up in the background magic supporting a sung Kyrie in the work's third section. Hatzis, true to his goal of "cultural convergence," was blending East and West and bringing so many kinds of music together that the word "cross-over" seemed totally inadequate to describe it. Yet the work remained coherent and moving. The great test of course came when Tollar, singing a Sufi song, became central to the music. Set against prerecorded and electronically processed tracks of Tollar's own voice, the song sounded splendid and cohered beautifully with the rest of the work. Gunfire and bomb blasts in the sixth section seemed too literal an interpretation of the Dies Irae's cosmic wrath. They reduced this complex work briefly to two dimensions. But it recovered and sailed on brilliantly through three more sections. The performers deserve as much praise as the work itself. Their flexible response to mood and style, deft transitions and sheer virtuosity brought all the diversity into harmony.  John Lehr, The Toronto Star (Canada)


An earlier and exciting surprise was the short Old Photographs by Canadian composer Christos Hatzis, a personal friend of the Gryphon players. With its opening tender musings giving way to a losing struggle with a savagely melodic tango, it proved to be exhilarating fun. It whetted the appetite for a much longer piece, CONSTANTINOPLE, of which Old Photographs is a brief part; the group will be playing the entire, ambitiously multi-media work in the near future at New York's Lincoln Center. Ray Baker. The Key West Citizen (USA)
 

Hats off to the oddball Hatzis

There must be something wrong with Christos Hatzis. He is a living, Greek-born Toronto composer with serious academic credentials, yet at the end of a concert devoted entirely to his music at Walter Hall Friday night, the audience leapt to its feet cheering. Composers are supposed to be dead before that sort of thing happens. Some of his fellow composers probably wish he were dead, because he doesn't play by the rules of academic respectability, which consistently rate intellectual challenge over aural pleasure. Hatzis appeals to the ear, unashamedly and unreservedly. He did so in all six of the works on this 50th birthday concert, presented by his academic employer, the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, but most of all in the last one, Constantinople, originally commissioned by the Gryphon Trio as a work for piano trio, currently expanded with multi-channel audio playback, as a study of cultural and religious encounters and overlaps, and eventually scheduled this coming summer for full-scale, 90-minute theatrical staging at the Banff Centre. Hatzis flirts dangerously close to cocktail jazz and film music in some of the parts of this score heard on Friday. The melodious movement titled "Old Photographs," which has become a hit for the Gryphon, even breaks into an Astor Piazzolla-style tango. But in Patricia O' Callaghan's singing of "Kyrie" and Maryem Tollar's of "Ah Kalleli," there were wonderfully ornamented evocations of Western and Eastern religious music, and the final section, "Alleluia," reached out toward a joyous cultural synthesis. William Littler, THE TORONTO STAR. March 23, 2003 (Canada)
 

Passion Flows from a Fluent Pen

One of the more interesting and confounding things about Canadian composer Christos Hatzis, who celebrated his 50th birthday at the University of Toronto's Walter Hall on Friday night, is his ability to combine within one compositional mind such diverse musical styles. On the one hand, Hatzis is comfortable and conversant with many of the musical devices championed by the postwar musical avant-garde, those dour serialists who frightened off so many musical audiences....He is comfortable with combining musical styles and idioms like the most postmodern of the postmodern composers. However, where Hatzis parts company with his musical confreres is in the honest, direct, emotional and heartfelt nature of his musical world. Hatzis may use the sophisticated techniques of the avant-garde in his works, but his message is clear, and frank and very fluent. He is a composer, and one suspects, a man with deep beliefs about the world, and a confidence to put those feelings into sound. And to my mind and ear, the combination works. Always, the power of Hatzis' musical convictions overwhelms whatever stylistic devices he chooses to clothe them in. This was most evident on Friday night in Hatzis' magnum opus, and perhaps his most interesting work to date, a cross-cultural, multimedia extravaganza called Constantinople, four excerpts of which were presented. This is an ambitious and rich work, combining Western and Arabic musical traditions, with a bit of Greek orthodox chant thrown in for good measure, commissioned and held together by the fine Gryphon Trio. As was the case the last time this work was presented, the extraordinarily potent voice of Maryem Tollar was the highlight of the work, but soprano Patricia O'Callaghan and the Gryphons added their talents to it as well to make the performance very intense. Constantinople is a very mixed work, but avoids the pitfalls of pastiche with its deeply felt and passionate musical message....Sometimes the very intensity of Hatzis' convictions, both musical and extramusical, can veer dangerously close to New Ageism, but the originality of his mind, and his ability to combine the heterogeneous in his compositions make him a composer always worth listening to. And based on the energy he displayed on Friday evening, there's lots more to come from his fluent pen. Robert Harris, THE GLOBE & MAIL, March 24 2003 (Canada).

Old Photographs...begins with a slow and serenely beautiful piano solo, eventually joined by the violin and cello, that would not be amiss in something by Bill Evans or Denny Zeitlin, but about five minutes into the piece a Piazzollan tango emerges (and so much better than other non-Latin composers' efforts I've heard recently [the limp tango in Thomas Adès's 'Powder Her Face' comes to mind]). This sultry tango will demand you look for a dance partner. And toward the end are some piano jazz licks that remind one of that earlier Torontonian composer, Oscar Peterson. Scott Morrison (Kansas City), Amazon.com

The encore was...Dance Of The Dictators—part of a larger work called Constantinople. The maniacal nuances and the demanding technical control really impressed the audience particularly one section where the fast paced melody is plucked on the violin with one finger. The musical dialogue between the cello and violin was heated and you could feel the power of the music on the performers. The audience greatly showed their appreciation in perhaps one of the most memorable concerts of the year. Jeremy Stub, New Winnipeg (Canada)

For my eighteen-thousandth first listening, I wanted to pick something at least a little special, so I chose Christos Hatzis’ 90-minute work for soprano, middle-eastern vocalist, piano trio, and digital audio. When I listened to it, my reaction was “wow” ― not a word that comes up very often, considering my jaded listening experience. About five (maybe six) years ago, I heard a fragment of music over the radio that struck me as very beautiful. It was clearly a modern piece, but unlike most of the mildly interesting, but bloodless items ground out by the conservatory crowd, it was suffused with intense emotion. Technically, it could have been by any of the eclectic composers of today, but emotionally, it could have been by Rachmaninov! Whatever it was, it was profoundly moving. But I was interrupted, and didn’t learn what it was or who composed it. Two years ago, I heard another piece, very similar, performed by the Gryphon Trio. It was labeled “Old Photographs”, by the Toronto composer Christos Hatzis. I liked this almost as much as the first, and it was clearly connected to the mystery piece I had heard before, part of a suite or something.  I subsequently found a number of his choral pieces, all of them enjoyable. I eventually picked up a copy of Hatzis’ Constantinople, noted that it was a multi-media work on a large scale and that “Old Photographs” was one of its movements, so I set it aside to play when I hit the approaching item 18000 mark.
I discovered that the piece that had so moved me half a decade ago was the movement entitled “On Death and Dying”. The entire work maintains an astonishing degree of involvement and intensity, though the first part I heard remains my favourite.
I don’t say this about many works:  listen to it in darkness, or in some other contemplative setting.  There is no snobbery in this work. It weaves middle Eastern, Greek Orthodox, classical, jazz and even some pop components together without the “wink-wink” poseur attitude that many eclectic composers indulge in. Every element there is to serve the musical drama, not merely to establish “post-modern” credentials. Hatzis has carved out a place as Canada’s most dynamic composer, drawing huge crowds and standing ovations from an audience as varied as his influences. If I had been  paying more attention to the local concert scene, I would have known this. Hatzis has an extensive and well-designed website, here.
philpaine.com

Several days ago I took out from my post box at the Jerusalem Academy your CD [CONSTANTINOPLE]. It is a beautiful music, wise, indeed a sanctuary...As you may already know, another bus had exploded this morning. Our TV went onto emergency transmission, but we did not listen to the words of the commentator, as quietly, but very powerfully the voice of your first composition [Creeds] rose, bringing some kind of wise soothing and even blessing. In more details I will respond a little later (with God’s help!). Z. P. Jerusalem.

We were entranced by the Gryphon Trio's "encore" this morning at Lincoln Center of part of your multimedia work. Although not mentioned by name in the program, I concluded from an internet search of your website it must be CONSTANTINOPLE (Is that right?)  In any case, is it available anywhere in some viewable/listenable format? (Dec. 10, 2001).....Annette and I are utterly transfixed by your music. (I am an old fogey who usually has a hard time with most contemporary music...but this is extraordinary. I know its special when the hair stands up on the back of my neck!!!!!.Lucky for me it's on CD....a vinyl disc would have been worn through by now.( March 13, 2002). A. N. New York, NY.

I just wanted to congratulate you on the success of CONSTANTINOPLE.  I was very moved by the work. The music, especially the melodies from the Alleluia and On Death and Dying continued to reverberate in my head for days. I was also "blown away" by the preview of the piece with its attendant visuals.  It was then when your vision of CONSTANTINOPLE became truly clear. The depth of your sincerity and the absence of cynicism in your work, continue to inspire me in my journey through new music. Bravo. M. R. Toronto.

The performance seemed to be absolutely perfect, and I believe that this is an offshoot of your music’s beauty, character and diversity. The title is very apt for this work, with the Eastern and Western voices serving as a musical crossroads, where as the city of the title is a cultural and geographical crossroads. Ultimately, you have created an opus of incredible charm and depth, and one that I will not soon forget. Its two sections of about 36 minutes each floated by in a rush, proving that the music is indeed capable of transposing oneself into its lush musical sphere, where nothing else seems to matter but the music itself. So, I send to you my heartfelt congratulations and thanks for this very moving musical monument. D. A.

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to hear the interview on This Morning regarding your work CONSTANTINOPLE....When a portion of the piece was played however, I was fully grabbed.  Though I had arrived at my destination and was surely late I sat in my car just to hear all that I could.  I am not one generally taken to do that.  I just wanted to hear more and was so disappointed when it was over.  I sat in my car and breathed an audible 'wow'...You have created a fan! E. H. Toronto.

What a thrilling, inspiring, completely riveting piece...It has a massive scope, and I know I have barely scratched the surface of it as yet. Thank you for taking on such a challenging project centered on a theme of convergence. In our time of unrest and fragmentation, it is a necessary yet courageous endeavour. M. H., Waterloo, ON

What a marvelous amalgam of cultures, musical creativity, passion, and idealism!  It is also an up to the minute response to current events, even though it looks from the notes on your web site that it was composed well before Sept. 11th. As a peace activist, I would like to use this music somehow in a peace event.  I would also like to have it widely heard. D. D. New Hampshire.

Over a year ago, I raved about a performance of some pieces from Christos Hatzis' Constantinople. Ever since then I've been yearning to hear this incredible music again, but unfortunately, Constantinople doesn't seem to be playing out west, and recordings won't be available for some time yet. But that's okay - because next Sunday, October 28 at 7:05 PST and appropriate numbers of time zones later, the entire thing will be aired on CBC Radio Two's Two New Hours. Take my word for it - this music is the stuff. If you have access to CBC Radio Two in any format - listen to this show. Check CBC Radio Two's frequency in your area. Buy a radio. Come to Canada. Anything. Listen to this. Trust me. Isomorphisms.

 

 

Write-ups

 


So much new music theatre fails to do anything innovative with such a wonderfully plastic medium
that when a work comes along which looks as if it might be a genuinely original synthesis of art forms
it demands close attention....Indeed, many who have seen the piece appear to have been
bowled over by its sheer richness and unclassifiable theatricality.
THE GUARDIAN (UK), March 17, 2007


The Gryphon Trio will be bringing Christos Hatzis' extraordinary work Constantinople to the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio
 later this month, but first they staged the piece at Montreal's En Lumière festival, where I witnessed how
 its computerized lighting and video effects, eruptions of quadraphonic surround-sound
and polyglot mix of musical styles could be moulded into a persuasive 90-minute whole....
The joy of Constantinople is the way Hatzis has assembled it from simple but powerful musical themes,
which develop and sprout variations and overtones as the piece progresses.
However complex the staging may be, the music is always eloquent and emotionally direct

Adam Sweeting, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
(UK), March 8 2007


Like Chinatown (according to the Polanski movie) Christos Hatzis' Constantinople is a state of mind....
He's collaborated with live performers, projections and recorded voices to produce a dream-like meld of east and west,
past and present, expected clishés turned slightly askew, freshly constituted to produce the unexpected...
The result is a work that incorporates different musical idioms while retaining a basic unity....
linked by Hatzis' own vein of often introverted melancholy.
Martin Hoyle, TIME OUT London (UK) March 20 2007
 


Call "Constantinople" a cultural harmonic convergence

By David J. Baker, THE NEW HAVEN ADVOCATE, New Haven CT (USA) June 5, 2005

An exploding sun hovers over the stage, soon replaced by a giant arch of triumph. Pounding gypsy rhythms intersect with medieval chanting. A collage of faces from every continent and race come closer and closer to the audience, seeming about to speak. An Arabic lament meanders darkly through the theater.

These moments from "Constantinople" give a rough idea of the cross-cultural, mixed-media extravaganza that opens the 10th anniversary of New Haven’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas at the Shubert Theater Friday and Saturday. The occasion also marks the U.S. premiere of this unclassifiable theater work.

At a time when fusion seems omnipresent, from the upscale restaurant menu to the flavor of popular music, from motley colors and textures of fashion to the postmodern architecture of our cities and monuments, "Constantinople" should be right at home.

After sold-out performances at the Banff Festival and in Toronto, this Canadian hybrid has demonstrated an ability to move and excite audiences with the infectious rhythms of its adventurous musical score.

What began in 2000 as a piece of chamber music for three instruments and two female voices, has grown into a fully staged work that draws on music, dance, drama and the visual arts without belonging entirely to any one genre.

Hailed by the Canadian press as "a winning, passionate work," the piece was compared to a quilt that "contains bolts of Greek Orthodox chant, Sufi melodies, jazz, North American pop songs, Argentinian tango and straightforward chamber music."

Composer Christos Hatzis draws on this panoply of styles and flavors to capture what he calls "the clash of cultures" in our world, "this conflict of opposing views that can also, somehow, be a cross-pollinating force, a force for peace."

The effort to move from that conflict to a peaceful transcendence is what Hatzis considers the dramatic arc that controls the many worlds of "Constantinople." But, he adds, "No one should come to this piece expecting a linear narrative. There is no straight story line moving from point A to point B. It’s not a concert, not an opera, not a libretto-based structure."

The piece moves in a more circular direction, the goal being to embrace differences. Born in northern Greece and a resident of Canada since 1982, Hatzis calls his birthplace "a land on the cusp of the great divide between East and West, the Christian world on the one hand and the Islamic East on the other." The precise point where Europe and Asia are said to meet is modern-day Istanbul, Turkey, a place now on its third name after a tumultuous 2,500-year history.

Byzantium to the ancient Greeks, Constantinople to the Romans who supplanted them, it is now a colorful Eurasian metropolis filled with mosques, Greek Orthodox churches and early Christian art. "I am not interested in describing the place specifically," Hatzis says. "I have not written a travelogue. What I’m celebrating is the spirit of this ever-changing city, because it typifies the diversity of our world."

To capture in music "this place where worlds collide," Hatzis and The Gryphon Trio (which commissioned the work) conceived the idea of two vocalists as the heart of " Constantinople. But, he is quick to add, the two women vocalists are not symbols. "They embody these cultures in their two distinctive, unique voices.

Egyptian-born Maryem Hassan Tollar, raised in Toronto, started her career in blues and jazz. On rediscovering her Near Eastern heritage, she returned to her native region to study with masters of Sufi, the Arabic singing style that can sound so strange to Western ears. Tollar’s resonant, forceful alto, combined with the edgy intonation associated with Near Eastern musical style, has mesmerized listeners prior to the New Haven run.

She is joined by Patricia O’Callaghan, a classically trained mezzo soprano who the composer says is as comfortable in cabaret and rock as she is in opera.

These singers constantly interact with the musicians of The Gryphon Trio, classical performers on piano (Jamie Parker), violin (Annalee Patipatanakoon) and cello (Roman Borys). These players have traded the immobility of the chamber musician’s chair for a fluid performing style that takes them all over the stage amid the interplay of light, color, sound and dance.

The work moves through eight parts, with evocative titles like "Creeds" and "Dance of the Dictators." From the "Kyrie," or lament, early in the work, it arrives finally at a vibrant, exhilarating "Alleluia."

Cellist Borys, of The Gryphon Trio, seems scarcely able to contain his excitement about their "five-year journey, often without a map. Basically we took a piece of music and developed it, with the wonderful director/choreographer Marie Josee Chartier, set and lighting designers, into a theater work." The explosions of light and color on stage come from projections by Lionel Arnould and Jacques Collin.

Borys is also pleased to be returning to New Haven and the Shubert after his years as a student at the Yale School of Music under famed cellist Aldo Parisot. The Gryphon group has a strong track record in the classical music world, with regular tours and several recordings to its credit. "Now, though," says Borys, "we are in a unique place, doing something unknown to almost any chamber music group in the world."

**Like the composer, he says, the trio wanted to break new ground with this venture, and the results have surpassed their highest hopes. "We all can feel with each performance that Christos has managed to bridge different worlds. He finds a common language, which goes much deeper than the news of the day and the divisions among us. ‘Constantinople’ shows, and celebrates, the fact that we have more layers of commonality as human beings than as members of one opposing group or another."

For this musician, it is no accident that this exploration of cultural clashes and cultural understanding comes from Canada. "Canada," he says, "does have a unique way of embracing people that come to this country. It has always encouraged people to hang onto and cultivate their root traditions.

"We were told in school that we live in a cultural mosaic, not a melting pot. What happens here is happening more and more in cities around the world. Cultures converge and coexist in peace."

David J. Baker of North Haven is a freelance writer. He can be reached at david3803@hotmail.com .

 


 The Music of East Meeting West 
Toronto composer Christos Hatzis prepares to debut
a work exploring the marriage of world cultures

by Collin Eatock
The Globe & Mail (Canada)

On a fall Sunday in Toronto, in the cold, windowless basement of the Royal Conservatory of Music on Bloor Street, a half-dozen musicians are intensely absorbed in rehearsal oblivious to the sunny weather outside. It's an unusual grouping. There's the Gryphon Trio (violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, cellist Roman Borys and pianist Jamie Parker), as well as mezzo-soprano Jean Stilwell and Arabic vocalist Maryem Tollar. Leading the rehearsal is Toronto composer Christos Hatzis, who keeps one eye on the musicians and another on a complex array of electronic equipment. They've come together for the presentation of CONSTANTINOPLE, a 75-minute multimedia composition by Hatzis to be presented today at the Jane Mallett Theatre by Music Toronto, with the assistance of Tapestry New Opera Works (this performance is sold-out).

"Can I tape a breath right in the middle of a word?" asks Stilwell—who, as a classically trained opera singer, is acutely aware of vocal propriety.

"It doesn't bother me", replies Hatzis casually. In fact, a lot of things seem not to bother the 47-year-old Greek-born composer—ideas and combinations of ideas that until recently were regarded as heretical by many classical composers (and, by some purists, still are).

In this new work, Hatzis openly embraces eclecticism: He's quite capable of beginning a movement with Beethovenian solemnity and switching halfway through into a crazy Piazzollaesque tango. The result is a style of music that seems to defy categorization. Or, more precisely, it's impossible to categorize because it draws on a multitude of influences to produce an electro-acoustic blend of Latin, Middle-Eastern, Celtic, medieval, classical and even jazz elements among others.

But CONSTANTINOPLE goes beyond the boundaries of music, also featuring projected images created by media-artist Jacques Collin. (In this regard, Constantinople is still a work in progress, as only two of the work's nine movements will be presented with visuals at the premiere.)

What's the intent behind all this? According to Hatzis, the work is a "cultural convergence"—a meeting place of East and West, just as the ancient city of Constantinople served as a nexus between Europe and Asia.

"The way the piece has been written, the listener is at the centre of gravity, explains Hatzis earnestly, in an interview following the rehearsal. "But at the same time, the worth of the piece is whatever the listener does to it or with it."

Speaking in lightly accented English, Hatzis sounds a bit like a thinking-man's version of the new-age Greek pop star Yanni. But unlike his easy-listening compatriot, there's a rigorous, uncompromising edge to Hatzis—and he shows it at the mention of the word "pastiche."

"I have an aversion to 'pastiche,' " he says, distancing himself from the concept. "For me, if someone says pastiche, it means something that's just a surface juxtaposition of different things that are not related at any other level. A great deal of music that, for superficial reasons, sounds like mine is not necessarily music that I enjoy listening to. Nothing magical happens when you throw things together unless you correlate them and find the internal relationships."

Hatzis traces his interest in the internal relationships of different cultures back 18 years to his days as a music student in Buffalo, N.Y., when he first visited Toronto. "I was driving with friends one weekend from Buffalo to Toronto, and the minute I arrived in town I decided that this was the place for me," he recalls. "At that time, I saw that the culture was in flux. Canada was exiting a colonial mentality and trying to define itself in an indigenous way. I thought there was a job here to be done."

Although he had just finished a doctorate in music, Hatzis found himself playing with bands in Greek coffeehouses to make a living when he moved to Toronto, Nevertheless, his love for the city where "minorities form the majority" grew. "I like its synergy and I like its potential. It's a great place to be an artist, even though it sometimes feels like the public at large is indifferent to what artists do. If it were not presumptuous, I would have called CONSTANTINOPLE 'TORONTO.' "

He developed interests in other regions of Canada, as well—especially the Far North, where he heard Inuit throat-singing on a trip to Baffin Island in 1995. His attraction to this music spawned several compositions, including Nunavut and Footprints in New Snow, which will be recorded and released by CBC Records in the coming year.

Today he is a professor of music at the University of Toronto, and his works are growing in popularity. This year his music has been performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the Elmer Iseler Singers, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. (He was, in fact, the first composer ever commissioned by Tafelmusik.) The English Chamber Choir performed his Everlasting Light in Athens, with further performances to take place in London, Venice and Moscow. He also writes about music, and many of his writings can be found on his Website at www.hatzis.com including extensive notes on CONSTANTINOPLE . 

In these notes, he makes it clear that he anticipates criticism for the accessible style of his new work. "It is almost certain," he writes, "that some members of the audience, particularly avowed 'modernists' who associate musical innovation with a specific musical language, will find CONSTANTINOPLE not elitist enough." He continues: "But for everyone of these listeners there will be incomparably more who will relate to CONSTANTINOPLE precisely because it does not adhere to the rather stale classical-music conventions of 'politically correct' contemporary music."

"Lest I be misunderstood," he says, choosing his words carefully, "what I mean is this reaction would not be from the community itself, which is radically changing, but from certain conservative artists." By conservative, he says he means those composers who still uphold the tenets of 20th-century modernism.

But it could be argued that Hatzis is merely rejecting an older political correctness in favour of a new one: an all-embracing, feel-good, world-music style that is becoming de rigueur these days.

Falling as it does across so many musical boundaries, CONSTANTINOPLE will no doubt give listeners lots to think about, and that's what Hatzis wants. "I hope when people listen they will feel that things that normally don't talk to one another somehow could—that they're not as different as we tend to see them when we look at them from the outside. If they get that, it's going to be plenty. 

 


Multimedia event set at cultural crossroads:
Constantinople delves into Islam and Christianity to arrive at 'deeper essence'


by Bob Clark
Saturday, July 24, 2004
Calgary Herald  (Canada) Page: ES08
Section: Books & The Arts

Music as theatre, and an ancient crossroads city as the driving metaphor, are the key elements of a new work now entering the final phase of production at the Banff Centre. Constantinople is a multimedia piece in nine movements that celebrates diversity and an almost utopian ideal of cultural convergence. The work premieres Thursday at the centre's Eric Harvie Theatre in a performance by the Gryphon Trio, soprano Patricia O'Callaghan and alto vocalist Maryem Tollar, a specialist in Middle Eastern music. "The piece is about conflict resolution, if you will," says the composer of Constantinople, Toronto's Christos Hatzis. The score draws on genres ranging from western classical music, and both Christian and Islamic liturgical music, to North American pop and jazz. Hatzis says the work explores Islam and Christianity "as metaphors of two different world views that in some ways are very similar to one another, but have been at each other's throats forever. "It looks at what it would take to transcend the seeming contradiction and arrive at the deeper essence, which is not contradictory at all." Although the score itself was premiered in Toronto in 2000, the technically advanced staging took another four years to materialize—and Hatzis admits he hasn't seen any of it yet. "I can't wait," the 51-year-old composer says. "Both John Murrell and I have written scripts on the piece after the music was composed, and these were used as guidelines or reference points as the visuals were being developed."

In addition to the amplified live music component and a surround-sound electroacoustic environment that engulfs the audience, the 90-minute Constantinople boasts a visual component featuring dramatic lighting effects and projections of both cinematic and computer-generated images. Hatzis recalls his initial reservations over letting others take a visual approach to his score. "I was just not sure, if things were left alone, to what extent the accompanying ideas would actually be preserved within the further development of the piece," he says. "But I realized it's a collaborative project and at some point you just have to let go and see where other people take it." Besides, he adds, "It's very much in the spirit of the piece that different world views somehow get synthesized. Once I wrote the music and also an essay about how I felt about the music—what it suggested to me in terms of further theatrical development—I offered all that as a possibility and then simply walked out of the process."

The work was commissioned in 1998 by the Juno Award-winning Gryphon Trio—violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, pianist Jamie Parker and cellist Roman Borys, who is also Constantinople's executive producer. "At the time, we'd commissioned enough (new work) that we knew we were really interested in having a piece with an electroacoustic component," Borys says. The Greek-born Hatzis, who grew up in the United States but moved to Canada in 1982, was already making inroads with audiences as a composer with an accessible, eclectic musical vocabulary. "It wasn't long after (I first approached him) before we both realized we shared an appetite for trying new things and trying for something bigger than the 15-minute commission I originally thought I was approaching him for," Borys says. The cellist recalls his own interest in the work of the renowned multidisciplinary Quebec theatre artist Robert Lepage "was one of the things that really got Christos excited."

Lepage's audiovisual wizard, Jacques Collin, subsequently came on board as Constantinople's visual projection designer. "He's been in the loop from the beginning," says Borys, who says he wanted to create a theatre piece where the connection between the visual elements and music "would not be unlike the sort of sixth-sense connection we've developed amongst ourselves (in the trio)." Other members of the high-powered Constantinople production team include costume designer Heather MacCrimmon (whose credits include such shows as Mump & Smoot's Flux and Something Else), sound designer Anthony Crea (a mix engineer on productions like the Canadian Idol show) and award-winning director/choreographer Marie-Josee Chartier, whose choreographic work has been broadcast on CBC-TV and Bravo! Chartier says her biggest challenge in Constantinople was "to create something that had a curve, a satisfying evolution throughout, without telling any specific story—while at the same time being respectful of the subjects (religious and political) being treated. "What I chose as the main anchor in this piece was ritual. "Performance itself is a ritual."


Critic's Pick
Bob Clark, Calgary Herald (Canada)
Thursday, July 29, 2004
Page: E6
Section: Hit List


Constantinople is more a state of mind than a recalled historical city in Christos Hatzis's eponymously titled musical phantasmagoria, which premieres tonight at the Banff Centre's Eric Harvie Theatre in all its digital, multimedia glory. The 90-minute work offers a celebration of the power of music to heal political and religious differences in creating a cultural mosaic. Constantinople was commissioned in 1998 by Canada's Gryphon Trio, which performs it in distinguished company—singers Maryem Hassan Tollar, a specialist in Middle Eastern music, and Patricia O'Callaghan, one of Canada's premier interpreters of music by the likes of Randy Newman, Leonard Cohen and Kurt Weill. Incidentally, Old Photographs—featured on the Gryphon's Juno Award-winning CD—has proved a wildly popular calling card for the entire work.


Constantinople's premiere represents creative apex:
Composition an artistic collaboration that defies categorization
by Bill Rankin,
Edmonton Journal
(Canada)
Thursday, July 29, 2004
Page: C2
Section: Culture


EDMONTON - The Gryphon Trio got its start at the Banff Centre 11 years ago, so it's fitting that the chamber music group's most daring project yet should be launched in the mountain town. Six years ago, the Toronto-based ensemble—pianist Jamie Parker, violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon and cellist Roman Borys—commissioned Greek-born Canadian composer Christos Hatzis to create a work. The music for Constantinople debuted in 2000, but tonight the 90-minute multimedia version gets its world premiere as part of the centre's summer arts festival.

"In some ways, the Banff Centre was the midwife of the Gryphon Trio and we've been associated with those artists ever since," says John Murrell, head of the centre's theatre department and an adviser for the $500,000 Constantinople project. He's also librettist of the successful Alberta opera Filumena. He says the eight-part Constantinople is hard to pin down genre-wise. It reminds him somewhat of collaborations between American minimalist Philip Glass and the adventurous Kronos Quartet. Constantinople's complex form is partly a function of the work's long gestation period, during which many artistic collaborators hooked themselves to Hatzis's musical exploration of cultural diversity and the potential for global harmony, particularly between Muslims and Christians.

"It is difficult to categorize the kind of work it is because although it builds from the musical impulse of the wonderful score by Christos Hatzis, it has over the period of its development, involved more and more artists from different fields -- from dance, from theatre, from the visual arts, from multimedia visual projections. "As each artist has been added to the creative team, I think that has redefined the kind of work it is because each of those artists has been allowed creative freedom to sort of be inspired by the music and go from there," says Murrell, who came on board two years ago to try to give the then amorphous project some poetic coherence. "Every different person who spends a lot of time with this music tends to come up with a bunch of similar issues and then tends to have their only little places where they go off to something totally different," says Borys, Constantinople's executive producer.

Borys, 38, says the road to tonight's premiere has been exasperating and exhilarating. Because the concept required so many resources, there were times when it looked like the money would run out, but gradually he and his cohorts were able to excite the imagination of the donors, both public and private, who provided the support. Murrell says Constantinople shows that the Gryphon Trio, which has commissioned almost a dozen chamber works, isn't satisfied with a career that is restricted to traditional classical music performances. (Its Canadian Premieres CD won a Juno in Edmonton in April, the group's first. It was recorded in Banff.) "It's such an act of courage on the part of the Gryphon Trio in this journey they've been on for six years. This is part of what the Gryphon Trio is about. "They're saying 'yes, we are a chamber music trio, but we're interested in kicking the ends out of the box and really seeing where theatrical performance can go, not just limiting ourselves to playing small halls for the kind of small and enthusiastic audiences that chamber music usually has.' "

On his extensive website, Hatzis explains how he wants audiences to approach Constantinople. "Since Constantinople is a work that by design transcends various classical music conventions, we encourage the audience to concern itself as little as possible with these conventions. ... The immersive aspect of the music, the visuals and the on-and-offstage performance is meant to involve you as a creative participant and not just as a passive observer," Hatzis writes. Following its Banff premiere, Constantinople is scheduled to be performed in Cairo in October and Toronto in November. A tour of Europe, Asia and North America is planned for 2005-08.



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