EVERLASTING LIGHT for percussion (five-octave marimba, bells) countertenor, tenor, baritone, SATB choir and crystal glasses. Commissioned by Canada Music 2000 for Beverley Johnston and the Elmer Iseler Singers with financial support from the Julie-Jiggs Foundation and the Canada Council for the Arts. 30 minutes. Score and parts available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.

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EVERLASTING LIGHT
was nominated for a 2004 JUNO Award in the
Classical Composition of the Year

category
 

Everlasting Light was written especially for a concert by the Elmer Iseler Singers dedicated to the memory of Elmer Iseler, the group’s distinguished founder and life-long conductor. It is a setting of the Greek Orthodox funeral "Trisagion" which is sung by the three solo voices (countertenor, tenor, baritone) and of the first two lines from the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass which are sung by the choir. In addition to the voices there is a five-octave marimba and four crystal glasses which are played behind the audience.

The work is more a ritual than a piece of concert music. It is meant to be performed at appropriate church services (memorial or funeral services). In such occasions the performance of the work may be interrupted at points specifically marked in the score, so that the priest or the service attendant may insert prayers, commentary or anything else that may be appropriate for the occasion. There are instructions in the score for adapting the language (Byzantine Greek and Church Latin) to the specific gender and case (singular/plural) particulars of the person(s) commemorated in the service.

The role of the marimba in the work merits particular mention: I have heard percussionist Beverley Johnston perform Bach chorales on her beautiful five-octave instrument and the sound was nothing less than astonishing. It sounded like a shimmering organ with constant and subtle dynamic variation. After hearing her perform I realized that this was a sound that would work very well as support for actual choral voices. For the most part the role of the marimba in this work is that of organ-like support, however, towards the middle of the work the music for the marimba breaks out into complex rhythmic patterns, which require considerable technical and expressive virtuosity from the performer.

The crystal glasses are tuned to partials 12, 13, 14 and 15 of the overtone series based on a low Dflat, a chord which is heard several times during the course of the work set to the words ‘Requiem aeternam’. The glasses are microtonally tuned to approximate the actual pitch of these partials in the ‘chord of nature’ as it is usually called. This chord of nature produced by the choir, the marimba and the crystal glasses is the musical equivalent of Utopos, which the Hellenic texts describe as "a place full of light, a green pasture full of refreshment, from which pain and sorrow are absent". We often wonder what—if anything—lies beyond the great divide that physical death is. We are so preoccupied with daily existence that we do not stop to think that physical life as we know it may be nothing more than a dream in which the soul enacts its own fantasies within the domain of materiality; that reality may be a state that presently eludes us, for it may exist beyond the experience we call death. It is with this understanding that Everlasting Light is offered to the memory of Elmer Iseler and to the memory of all those who in the future may be commemorated through and by this work. Special thanks to Wayne Strongman, my friend and long time supporter, who inspired, instigated and saw this project through from its beginning to its final fruition; to Niki Goldschmidt, Artistic Director of Music Canada 2000 and The Canada Council for making possible the commission of this work; and last, but not least, to the Elmer Iseler Singers, the soloists and my wife, percussionist Beverley Johnston, for turning this work into reality (or dream, depending on how one views life).


Premiere performance: April 8, 2000 by Carl Strig, countertenor; Michael Colvine, tenor; Michael White, baritone; Beverley Johnston, percussion and the Elmer Iseler Singers, Lydia Adams conducting, in a concert in memory of Elmer Iseler. Rosedale United Church, Toronto.
 

Listen to an online audio feature on Everlasting Light (or read the online transcript) by the Oregon Public Broadcasting

Reviews:

"This is the work that I would like to hear performed at my own funeral." Larry Adler after hearing a performance of Everlasting Light by the English Chamber Choir on March 8, 2001 at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, UK. [Everlasting Light is based on Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic funeral texts].

  As far as I was concerned, this 40-minute piece [Everlasting Light] was the whole program and it's surprising we haven't heard more about this masterpiece...there was nothing to lead one to expect a piece of music that turned out to be so ravishingly beautiful...Its movement is slow, some of the harmonies are very close and the feeling of ambience is indescribable...I personally found Everlasting Light very heartening because until now I've felt like a heathen listening to the music of Henryk Górecki and the so-called "holy minimalists" and even Arvo Pärt to an extent. This was far more beautiful than anything I've heard from any of them. The music has, in fact, a potent sense of otherworldliness and an immense quiet dignity. It has (grave) melody where the others supply only monastic medieval-sounding monody - frankly, monotony - and there isn't a moment in it that feels calculated or anything less than sincerely felt. Echoes of it followed me all the way home. The Cantata Singers under conductor Eric Hannan rose magnificently to its demands, as did its subtle percussionist, Anne-Julie Caron. She was the special guest on the program and performed with a talent reminiscent of Evelyn Glennie. It was amazing how she managed five minutes, or it could have been 10, of very soft thrumming as she held down a minor third. As already said, it could have been the whole concert...But everything was forgivable for the the unforgettable Everlasting Light.
Lloyd Dykk, The Vancouver Sun (Canada) October 21, 2008 ldykk@vancouversun.com

...A major feat of composition...that wonderfully symbolized the durability of sacred music. [Everlasting Light] is a profound work—its performance most apposite in the aftermath of the terrorist slaughter of innocents—that puts vocal soloists up front with choristers intoning lines from the mass and [Beverley] Johnston coaxing a swath of shimmering sound from marimbas (and crystal glasses). Counter-tenor [Daniel] Taylor was in glorious voice, his high notes and phrase extension spine-tingling, as tenor [Benjamin] Butterfield and baritone [Russell] Braun joined in rich harmony over the cavernous swell of sound from the chorus. Braun's closing recitative was a powerful, moving contribution to this rich tapestry of feeling...[an] outpouring of belief and grief. Geoff Chapman, The Toronto Star (Canada)

Hatzis' Everlasting Light has taken on a life of its own in international choral circles, and is sure to become a choral classic. The work combines two religious threads. The choir sings the first two lines of the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass which functions as background commentary against the three soloists who perform the entire Greek Orthodox funeral Trisagion. The voices are underlaid by the other worldly sound of a marimba and crystal glasses. Together, the three elements movingly speak of the life that was, and the life that will be. The solemn threnody of the choir was like the tolling of a funeral bell, a constant reminder of man's immortality. Against these muted murmurings, the bright, uplifting voices of the magnificent soloists - counter tenor Daniel Taylor, tenor Benjamin Butterfield, and baritone Russell Braun - were the heartfelt human plea for God's infinite mercy. Blending the voices together was gifted percussionist Beverley Johnston who treated her instruments with the appropriate lightness of touch that painted pictures of a soul hovering in the air. The last five minutes or so were absolutely sublime. The men of the choir kept up a low hum of notes as the three soloists, repeating the line "May the memory be everlasting", walked slowly down the three aisles of the church to beyond the sanctuary doors, their receding voices like a gateway to the afterlife. It was truly a mystical experience. Paula Citron, arts reviewer for CLASSICAL 96.3 FM Toronto.

Hatzis' work stands up to a legend 

The wise composer is careful about what else appears on a program with a new work. A composer who writes symphonies doesn't want to go up against Beethoven's Fifth. Composers don't get to make that call, however. It's the artistic director and the marketing geniuses who decide what goes on the program. Toronto composer Christos Hatzis had his choral setting of Greek Orthodox funeral texts on a program with one of the best and most significant Renaissance Masses. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli is a timeless home run of a choral masterpiece. Hatzis' Everlasting Light came out unscathed from the encounter. Inventive, balanced, emotional and true to its text, Everlasting Light more than impressed a full house at Toronto's St. James Anglican Cathedral on Oct. 19. People don't usually cheer for funeral prayers, but the standing ovation at the end of Everlasting Light just wouldn't quit......Since embracing his search for a spiritual identity in the 1990s Hatzis' work has found a wider audience. Everlasting Light has been performed by major ensembles in Toronto, London and Athens in its first year. As he worked on the commission of Everlasting Light, which commemorates the life of great Toronto choral conductor Elmer Iseler, Hatzis spoke of his search for structure in music. Working with Greek texts which have been chanted unaccompanied through the centuries , what Hatzis has achieved is not so much a structure as a musical rhetoric. As in Palestrina's Mass, nothing is done merely for effect. At each moment he expresses the text, and each phrase builds from the last and toward the next. In the end, Hatzis repeats a simple and beautiful phrase over and over. It might have been a maudlin or self-indulgent musical trick if it weren't for the bit of liturgy he adds. To end the piece, the three soloists processed out of the church, passing by the barely breathing audience. Michael Swan, The Catholic Register (Canada)

Everlasting Light, while never sweet or maudlin, is almost unbearably beautiful, suggesting that death brings out the best in many of us. Given the composer's background, it is not difficult to discern an affinity between Everlasting Light and music for the Greek Orthodox service, albeit with a gently experimental twist. Raymond Tuttle. Classical Net

  Everlasting Light (1999), a Greek Orthodox Requiem service, is also a profoundly meaningful experience....The work opens with a startlingly beautiful setting of the Latin 'Requiem Aeternam' following the first seven overtones of the harmonic series in linear form—this unfolding of the "chord of nature" acts as a refrain. The music is written with assured contrapuntal skill, in a modal style that wouldn't frighten Faure; the final repetitions exhorting everlasting peace are truly unforgettable. The great harmonica virtuoso, Larry Adler, apparently requested that this work be heard at his funeral—I would imagine the piece will attract substantial additional attention with this release. Allen Gimbel. AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE.

At last – a free moment to write and tell you about the wonderful performance and reception of Everlasting Light in Seattle last week. The performance was riveting – and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house by the time the dying voices of the three male soloists echoed throughout the church following their recessional. Cappella Romana, directed by Alexander Lingas, were an integral part of its success, as was Brett Paschal on marimba. Congratulations! C.C., Toronto, ON
 


 

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