for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra (1 flute, 1 oboe, 1 English horn, 1 clarinet in B flat, 1 bassoon, 1 French horn, 1 harp, 1 percussion, strings: 6-12, 4-8, 4-8, 3-6, 2-4.) and (optional) SATB chorus. 2002. Texts from hymns of the Holy Week in Armenian. Commissioned by The Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America for Isabel Bayrakdarian. 50 minutes. Score and parts available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.

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Poster artwork: Neshan Koulian

Light from the Cross is a work for soprano and orchestra that is based on Armenian liturgical hymns of the Holy Week and it is dedicated to Isabel Bayrakdarian, the singer for whom it was written. When conductor Mario Bernardi asked me to get involved with this project and gave me printed arrangements of some of these hymns as well as a CD of similar hymns recorded by Isabel, I realized that there were quite a few discrepancies between Isabel’s renderings and the actual notation of these melodies. Hers was a “liquid”, flowing rendering with a myriad of small vocal modulations and ornamentations that defied notation. Knowing that she grew up with these hymns—and therefore with the oral tradition that has preserved them to this day—I preferred to follow her far richer renditions rather than the notated versions of the same hymns. I had Isabel record the hymns for me unaccompanied at the Walter Hall of the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto and then used these recordings as the basis of my own composition, creating an orchestral ‘presence’ around her actual pre-recorded voice. I composed the work using a computer and it was a great inspiration to hear her voice constantly as I was sculpting the music around the minutest inflections of her recorded rendering.  

From the outset I had decided that I wanted to create an oratorio-like composition based on the Lord’s Passion and not a set of arrangements of existing hymns. Hence I focused a great deal on the themes touched upon by the texts and on developing these themes within the orchestral context, but I also used the texts and the pre-existing melodies as a vehicle for meditation on the subject of the Lord’s crucifixion. Part of the spring and the entire summer of 2002 were spent in a splendid state of thinking about (but primarily ‘feeling’) this most profound of mysteries and trying to convert my poor intimations on this subject to music. It was one of the most spiritually fulfilling periods of my creative life so far. The mystery did not confine itself to the religious dimension only. Working with a language that I do not understand, although fully equipped with all the necessary material for the task at hand, meant that the sound of the Armenian language, beyond the actual semantics of the texts, acquired a life of its own after daily exposure to it for several weeks. The sonic quality— the music—of the language began to ‘mean’ something beyond the meaning of the individual words. I believe that this ‘meaning’, which I have not successfully managed to define in a more concrete manner being fully happy instead to just sense its inner resonance, was unconsciously embedded into the music itself.  

My inspiration for Light from the Cross came from various sources: first and foremost from the hymns themselves, beautiful and timeless as they are; then from Isabel’s voice that was ever-present during the composition of this work. But the greatest inspiration was the subject matter itself: Christ’s self-sacrifice and what it means for the present and future of our world, a subject that has become prominent in my thinking and my meditations and is increasingly having an all-consuming effect on me. The external influences can be traced to various sources: Byzantine icons, in the company of which I have existed since childhood, other religious art and literature, but also Hollywood, the various filmic renderings of Christ’s life, particularly King of Kings which I have watched repeatedly since it first came out. These are not as strong an influence as my own personal meditations on the subject, but I believe that one could sense their presence in this work non-the-less.  

The stylistic eclecticism of Light from the Cross is pervasive in my work in general. It is not the result of any desire to be ‘fashionably postmodernist’, but rather of my desire to walk, however imperfectly and embarrassingly, in the footsteps of a Master who was “All things to All people”.  I believe that, if one’s music can make a deep difference even to only one other human being, then that music is worthwhile for that reason alone. I hope and pray that Light from the Cross may have the opportunity to do just that at some point in its life as a piece of music.


Texts and notes for the individual movements: (texts in italics by Rev. Sahe Panossian. The rest of the texts by the composer)

 

1.
OORAKH LER
Rejoice, o Holy Church
 Text & melody: ST. SAHAG BARTEV, 5TH CENTURY 

OORAKH LER YEGEGHETSEE SOORP EE KALESDYAN SOORP MEEYADZNEEN.
OORAKH LER YEV TSENDZA HANTERTS AMENAYN SERPOVK
.

Rejoice, O holy Church,
At the advent of the Holy Only-Begotten,

Rejoice and delight with all the saints.

 After forty days of Lenten period, the Palm Sunday celebration in the Armenian Apostolic Church is the first outburst of joy. Christ is coming; the King is coming in the name of the Lord into the city of Jerusalem. It is the fulfillment of the prophecy (Zech. 9:9). The hymn "Rejoice O Holy Church" truly expresses the Palm Sunday festive character and the joy of the Church. 

In my setting of Oorakh Ler I attempted to musically depict Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The musical images that I conjured are influenced by icons and artistic renderings of this subject, my own meditations, but also Hollywood, particularly the film “King of Kings” which I have watched repeatedly since childhood. As with the other hymns included in this work, I have used the original melody of Oorakh Ler as a vehicle for meditation on the meaning of the words, hopefully without betraying the spirit of the original music in the process. I first reinterpreted the harmonic implications of the melody to arrive at a richer palette of color and harmony. Then I “pushed” the harmony in the instrumental sections between the various utterances of the hymn so that the music could travel to remote harmonic areas that are not possible to accommodate within the framework of the hymn itself. Every time the hymn returns back to the original key it has a startling effect on the ear—at least on the ear that is accustomed to the chant in its original form. There is a 19th century harmonic landscape throughout, which gives the melody of the hymn a completely new musical meaning. In terms of the imagery: the orchestra depicts the triumphant entry into Jerusalem in rather virtuosic instrumental passages, which, however, die suddenly in mid-course. The French horn's calls for a worldly king (as most of the crowd understood the advent of their Messiah) is left hanging in mid-air when the crowds (the rest of the orchestra) disperse and leave Jesus alone, thus presaging His Passion. Oorakh Ler captures both the grandeur of the day but also the trying moments that are to follow. At least two cadences in the piece, including the final one, are left unresolved indicating that this is not the ultimate triumph in the sequence.

 

2.
PATS MEZ DER
Open for us, Lord 
Text & melody: unknown. Early middle ages

PATS MEZ DER,
PATS MEZ DER,
PATS MEZ DERUZTOOREN VOGHORMOOTYAN

VOR VOGHPALOV GARTAMK AR KEZ.

We beseech You, O Lord, open for us,
Open for us, Lord, the gate of Your mercy.

We beseech You imploringly, O Lord.

One of the most touching ceremonies of the Armenian Church is the Vespers of Palm Sunday, called "Opening of the Gates" ceremony. The service is held at the door of the church or before the veiled altar, which represent the gates of the heaven. The ceremony has the mystery of the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment. With the singing of "Open for Us" hymn, the door of the church is knocked thee times and, with a beseeching voice and on behalf of the congregation, the celebrant asks Christ in humility to be able to enter into the Kingdom.  

In Pats Mez Der the darkness of the approaching Passion becomes more evident. There are several meanings in this passage. The knocking on the gates of Grace (a solemn bass drum pulse that is almost constant throughout the first three quarters of this movement) is not only the call for the Second Coming of Christ, but also the subconscious longing of the pre-Christian world, inviting Him to open the gates of salvation through His passion. I did some soul searching before embarking on this setting. The ceremony of the "knocking on and opening of the gates" is common with the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic Church, but in the latter cases it takes place after the crucifixion when Jesus visits the underworld knocking on the gates of Hades (death). The placement of the ritual on the eve of Palm Sunday in the Armenian Church—that is before the Passion—gives it a completely different significance and meaning. Here we, living outside of God’s Grace and longing for transcendence, knock on the gates of His Kingdom to be let in. Overcoming physical death (the understanding of physical death), the pattern that Jesus set with His own passion and eventual triumph, is the way through these gates, not by our efforts alone (which are feeble) but by the Grace of Him who took the pattern upon Himself and thus became the Way. The darkness of Pats Mez Der originally depicts the fall from Grace, but also the longing, like a rising tide, to enter into the presence of Christ. When the text of the second line—“open for us Lord the Gate of Your mercy”—is finally uttered, the music experiences a startling and luminous transformation: the darkness of the orchestration disappears and there is a short instrumental reference to the music of Oorakh Ler before the conclusion. The original melody of Oorakh Ler is gradually transforming itself into a symbolic reference to the spiritual “presence of Christ” and it appears in this spirit on a number of occasions throughout the work.

 

3.
SEERD EEM SASANEE
My heart trembles
Text & melody: MEKHITAR VARTABED OF AYRIVANK, 13TH CENTURY

SEERD EEM SASANEE, SARSAP ZEES OUNEE VASUN HOOTAYEE
NA VOCH AMACHE YEV VOCH ZARHOOREE, SEEROGHEN ARDZATEE.

My heart trembles, fear clutches me, on account of Judas.
The lover of silver, Judas, is not ashamed, nor is he afraid.

On the evening of Maundy Thursday, a service of Washing of the Feet takes place in the Armenian Church, which is held in memory of our Lord's action on that day, and in His command (John 13:14).  After the actual washing of the feet ceremony, some of the most melodious hymns of the Armenian Church are sung bringing up the mystery of the day. The deeds of the Lord, the iniquity of man, the state of awe, shame and sorrow is raised up through the singing of this hymn. 

My exclusive focus on Judas Iscariot in this sublime hymn of Maundy Thursday was not my decision. Isabel Bayrakdarian recorded the first three verses of the hymn that deal exclusively with Judas and that was the only section of the hymn I had to work with. Judas has been the most perplexing figure in the story of Jesus, one that I have tried quite often—unsuccessfully—to scrutinize. The fact that Judas is indeed a psychologically difficult character to scrutinize is evidenced in the various filmic renderings of the Lord’s life. In the “King of Kings” Judas is portrayed as a closet-Zealot who promises Barabas, the Zealot leader, that he will force Jesus’ hand in the Temple in order to give Him no alternative but to proclaim Himself king, which in turn is tantamount to a revolution against the Roman occupation of Judea. A psychological profile of Judas as a closet-Zealot who has let his dedication to a nationalistic cause blind him from understanding the greater and far more universal mission of his Master is not only a convincing profile, but also one that can help us understand better our own times particularly in relation to the Middle East and its ever-elusive search for peace and escape from violence. Seerd eem Sasanee starts with a klezmer-like dance melody symbolizing Judas’ external connection to a nationalist tradition while the internal and infinitely more profound connection to this tradition is embodied by the very Master that he has betrayed. Herein lies the tragic irony of Judas’ life and choice. The movement alternates between the soprano’s renderings of the text underscored with dark orchestral textures and the klezmer-like melody that gradually disintegrates into a horrific caricature of itself, ending with a musical depiction of spiritual death. Judas’ choice between thirty pieces of silver and his Master is ultimately the choice between the World (and its own needs) and the Kingdom of God.
 

4.
ARDZATSEEROUTYAMPN MOLYAL
Seized by the love of Money
Text & melody: ST. SAHAG BARTEV, 5TH CENTURY

 

 Ardzatseeroutyampn molyal hoota,
zyour uzmedz uzvartabedn unt yeresoon ardzato hreyeetsn madner. 

Unt voroom yes hampooretseets aseh uzna galarook,
Ov hampouyr nenkootyan nshan yev areet mahoo. 

Mergatsav hinkenen zasdvadzayin soorp hokeen
Yev uzketsav uzsadana vorbes hanterts argav zyouyav.
 

Seized by love of money, Judas betrays his great teacher for thirty pieces of silver 
He whom I shall kiss is the one, arrest him. O kiss of betrayal—the sign and cause of death. 
Judas put off from himself the divine Holy Spirit and put on Satan, whom he put on like a garment
. 

The night of Maundy Thursday is kept as a vigil in the Armenian Church. Overall, the vigil is a contemplation of the mystery of the Cross in the Prophets and the apostles and, on the other hand, the narrative of the last moments of the life of Christ. During the service, passages from the Scriptures are continuously read and hymns are sung to show the people that whatever the prophets had said would come to pass concerning the Passion of the Lord. In another word, during the vigil people are taught that nothing happened which was not first prophesied and that nothing was prophesied which was not completely fulfilled. It is astonishing how well this chant develops the ideas of the gospels. The vigil is culminated with the reading from the Gospel according to St. John where Christ gave up His spirit. 

The theme of Judas’ betrayal continues in this movement but, whereas in Seerd eem Sasanee the music is torn by Judas’ anguish in arriving at his decision, here the music reflects the dark intensity of his action carried out, but also the deep mystery of the Lord’s Passion which was predestined since the beginning of time (and thus, in a sense, independent of Judas’ decision to betray his Master). There is a deeper view of suffering in this movement than in Seerd eem Sasanee: suffering and self-sacrifice are portrayed here as the key to humankind’s salvation.

 

5.
OOR ESS MAYR EEM
Where are you, o mother?

Text & melody: unknown, late middle ages

Oor es mayr eem kaghtsur yev anoush, ser dznogheet zees ayreh.
Lutsan ack eem tarun ardasvok, voch zok ouneem vor srpeh.
Tkeen, hareen, abdaguetseen, bsag yeteen ee psheh.
…..
Tchour khntretsee, katsakh arpee hanoreenats tseraneh.
Azt ararek morun eemoh zor yes seerem ee surdeh.
…..
OOR YES, MAYR EEM, YEG ZEEM DZARAV GATAMPET ARPO KAGHTSRAKEEN.
 

 Where are you my most sweet mother? Your motherly love do I seek fervently.
My eyes are full of bitter tears, I have nobody to wipe them off.
They spat on me, beat me, slapped my face, and crowned me with a crown of thorns.

.....
I
asked for a drink of water, but the wicked gave me vinegar instead.
Inform my mother, which I love with all my heart.


Where are you,  my beloved mother? Please come and quench my thirst.
 

In the Armenian Church, the night from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday is kept as a vigil and devotional meditation. This is the night of Tenebrae. Sin, evil and death come into culmination. The world, which prefers darkness over light, evil over good, death over life, has its way. Desiring to remain in the darkness, men chose to kill the Light. At midnight, as the lights of the church are gradually extinguished, the real "mood" of the ceremony, which is one of sorrow and destitution, is expressed by the singing of this melody, which symbolizes the final contemplations of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. 

Oor ess Mayr eem is probably the most well known of all the hymns of the Holy Week, a sublime chant the various verses of which are set to the same melody. In the original recording, Isabel’s interpretation of each verse was in fact a series of wonderfully subtle variations of this melody and I chose to capture some of these subtle variations in the notation of the vocal line. I was faced with two problems during the composition of this movement: First, Isabel’s recording was in F#, rather low for a soprano voice, but rich in vocal/timbral modulations. (I asked her during the recording if she would sing it in G instead, a key more related to the keys of the rest of the hymns, but she felt that the key of F# was the “right color for it”.) This makes it easy for the orchestra to overpower the vocal line, which in turn made the orchestration of this movement a particularly daunting task. With the exception of the third verse (“they spat on me, beat me, slapped my face….”) where an outburst by the orchestra is required to underscore the emotional charge of the texts, the orchestra plays at dynamic levels and with timbres that still allow the solo voice to soar above it even in such a low vocal register. The timbres are carefully selected not to interfere with the vocal delivery of the text. In the first verse the strings play in either the deep register or the violin “stratosphere” allowing a vast hallow space in the middle for the soprano to sing with no contest from the orchestra. In two other verses the string players are instructed to play with chopsticks on the strings to simulate (along with a “murmuring” marimba and a bisbigliando harp) the sound of a distant mandolin orchestra. The effect is further enhanced by an (optional) off-stage choir that hums throughout, doubling this orchestral shimmering texture. The second problem in approaching this hymn is its already strong semantics among Armenian listeners. Not being Armenian myself, I wondered rather early on why this particular hymn is so close to the Armenian psyche. It occurred to me that it might in fact have something to do with a historical inaccuracy in the text itself. In this hymn, a son that suffers mortal wounds, Christ, sends for his mother with a plea to come and soften His pain: a very human reaction to suffering and pain that solicits a human response from the listener. However, biblical evidence places the Lord’s mother right by the cross, not far away from the Lord, who in fact addresses her directly from the cross and commits her to His disciple’s care. In some unconscious manner, this discrepancy, far from rendering the Lord’s utterances in the hymn text inauthentic, allows a downtrodden and persecuted people, such as the Armenians throughout history, and the twentieth century in particular, to personally identify with this plea and make it their own. Christ’s voice transforms into the voice of a people as a whole. His plea chronicles the plea of an entire nation that has experienced brutal genocide, persecution, and exile; the first nation in history to openly identify with Christ and His church, and like him suffer martyrdom before witnessing its resurrection and reinstatement. My treatment of Oor ess Mayr eem as an actual hymn in my rendering—unlike the previous hymns in the cycle that have been transformed to various degrees according to the requirements of the text—was inspired by this special place that Orr ess mayr eem holds for the Armenian religious and national psyche. As the hymn advances through its various verses, the orchestra gradually vanishes leaving the soprano alone to carry the last verse completely unaccompanied and at the end fade into a moment of silence, healing and remembrance.


6.
TRISAGION
Text: universal church hymn. Melody: unknown, 5TH CENTURY

 

SOORP ASDVADZ, SOORP YEV HEZOR, SOORP YEV ANMAH.
VOR KHATCETSAR VASEN MER,VOGHORMYA MEZ.
 

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and immortal,
Who was crucified for us. Have mercy on us.
 

On the evening of Good Friday, the ceremony of the burial of Christ is held in the Armenian Church. The Church is paying homage to Christ and the faithful are assured that from the tomb will rise the Almighty King. During the ceremony, both priests and congregation kneel down and sing the Trisagion.  

Barely two and a half minutes long, Trisagion is a departure from the previous movements in that a single timbral idea pervades the music throughout. Plucked strings, bells, bass drum and harp, a percussive ensemble with no sustaining sounds provide a fitting accompaniment for the soprano voice that sings in an unusually low register. The image that has inspired the composition of this movement is that of a seed that is buried in the ground in order to produce a new tree, a metaphor of Christ’s death as the seed of His church.

7.
BARKEVADOON
Bestower of gifts
Text & melody: ST. SAHAG BARTEV, 5TH CENTURY

Barkevadoon amenetsoun aysor khntree barkevs ee bighdoseh
yev argoghen uzloys vorbes zotots havanee badeel ee hovsepa.
...
Tsundzoutyoun araradzots kreesdos aysor ardasvee vorbes meryal i duerdmazketseetsun
yev pouroumun anmahootyan khunguee ee uzkasdeetsun youghapereets.

Christ, the bestower of gifts on all, was sought today as a gift from Pilate.
And He, who clothes himself with light, as it was a garment, agrees to be shrouded by Joseph in linen.
...
Christ, the joy of all creatures, today is being lamented as dead by the mourners.
And the exhalation of immortality today is being incensed by some modest oil bearers.
 

On Good Friday evening, the Armenian Church assembles to perform the ceremony of the burial of Christ. In front of the Chancel, a flower girded "Tomb of Christ" is placed and the office of Burial begins. The office of Burial is constructed around a regular Evening Vespers service, although in a highly developed shape and the "mood" of the service is of sorrow and destitution. It is important to mention that the Church is not paying homage to the tomb, but to a reigning sovereign. The coffin is the throne and the Church is taking part in the homage of the Kingdom. Otherwise it is not possible to explain the mystery of the prayer of the Church in front of a Tomb if there is not the hope and the assured faith that from that tomb shall rise the Almighty King. The hymns and chants of the day are built on simple contrasts; mostly, the poet puts a divine character on the first line, and on the second line points out a fact from the burial of the Lord.

While thinking about setting Barkevadoon to music I was aware of the fact that that modally and motivically this hymn is very similar to Ardzatseeroutyamp Molyal. Both melodies were composed by St. Sahag Bartev in the 5th century, but their similarities go beyond just common authorship. My approach to the music of Barkevadoon has been to depict the profound sorrow that is associated with Christ’s burial but, while this is the case with the vocal part and its accompaniment, the extensive instrumental passages in this movement are pervaded by endless statements of a short one-measure motif which can be easily picked out by the listener from the densely chromatic harmonies that surround it. This motif is in fact St. Sahag Bartev’s setting of the word “ardzatseeroutyamp. The emotionally charged development of this motif serves to remind the listener that, while we mourn the death and burial of our Lord, most of us spend our waking hours pursuing the new standard against which everything and everyone is measured nowadays: the bottom line; the possession of material commodities… ardzatseeroutyamp. There is another theme that runs concurrently with the aforementioned one in Barkevadoon. It is my own meditation on the appropriateness of the feelings of sorrow in connection with the Lord’s passion. In my mind the most glorious moment in the Lord’s passion is not the resurrection, but the cross itself, the central theme of this work. The resurrection is the natural consequence of the choice of the cross. It is the light from the cross. It is incomprehensible to the human mind without the cross. In a mystical sense, the crucifixion itself is the moment of His glory; the unveiling of a Mystery of Life, the full comprehension of which still evades us even to this day (if the first Adam fell and was disgraced by virtue of the tree or Knowledge, the second Adam was raised and glorified by virtue of the tree of Life: the cross). In the musical treatment of this theme, the moments of sorrow are the ones primarily associated with the instrumental interludes that are based on the ardzatseeroutyamp motif. Against this background, St. Sahag Bartev’s melodies of Barkevadoon sound luminescent, a glimmer of hope and the promise of God’s presence among humans. Although formally it is still a mourning ritual, the effect on the listener is spiritually uplifting. Christ’s passion is not a calculated act of violence against an innocent individual (which would normally solicit indignation against the perpetrators) but the fulfillment of promises made since the beginning of time. The movement ends in peaceful resignation; in a state of waiting for the dawning of a new day, Easter, and a new era for humankind.

8.
KOVIA YEROUSAGHEM UZDER
Praise the Lord, o Jerusalem

KOVIA YEROUSAGHEM EZDER
HARYAV KRISDOS EE MERELOTS. ALLELUIA.
YGAYK  JOGHOVOURT, YERKETSEK DYAREN ALLELUIA.
HAROUTSELOUYN EE MERELOTS, ALLELUIA.
VOR ZASHKARHES LOOSAVORYATS. ALLELUIA


Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
Christ is risen from the dead. Alleluia!
Come O you people, sing unto the Lord. Alleluia!
To Him who is risen from the dead. Alleluia!
To Him that enlightened the world. Alleluia!  

Musically, Kovia Yerousaghem picks up where Oorakh Ler, the first hymn of Light from the Cross, left off. The movement begins quietly with distant horn calls and shimmering strings symbolizing the dawning of a new era and gradually grows into an exuberant celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Melodically, the music is dominated by the primal interval of the fifth, heard almost constantly in the music for the French horn, bassoon and English horn. This interval (3/2) is also evident in the rather complex tempo map of this movement which is a series of metric modulations on the 3/2 ratio between the vocal entries and the considerably faster instrumental ones. Unlike Oorakh Ler, where cadences were generally avoided, here the work ends with a strong final cadence in B major, which is a half step higher than the B-flat key of the opening of the entire work. This ‘advancement’ of keys signifies the arrival at a new level in God’s soteriological plan for humankind, made possible by and through Christ’s passion. The B major (cadence) key is not the native key of Kovia Yerousaghem. When it appears in the end it has a harmonically startling effect, particularly with regards to the background structure of the work. I wanted the ending of Light from the Cross to point to a moment in time beyond the historical moment of the resurrection and also to draw attention to the fact that Christ’s passion was the beginning, not the end, of the process of human salvation. In this deeper sense, the background structure of the work does not end, pointing instead to Christ’s Second Coming, while in the foreground it concludes with a moment of superhuman triumph.  This moment is preceded by a final short statement of the ‘Christ theme’ from Oorakh Ler, the melody with which St. Sahag Bartev has musically depicted the word “Rejoice”.  


Premiere performance: October 13 2002, 5:00 PM by Isabel Bayrakdarian and the Prometheus Orchestra under Mario Bernardi. Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City. Click HERE for photos from the premiere performance.
 

Reviews and Comments:

"Christos Hatzis is a genius because as opposed to completely reinventing these melodies, he has left them as pure as possible. These were melodies that have survived through the centuries, so there's something in them that made them survive." Isabel Bayrakdarian interviewed by Bill Rankin for the EDMONTON JOURNAL (One Exquisite Voice to Bind Them All), March 25, 2003 (Canada)

The second half featured the Canadian premiere of Christos Hatzis'  Light from the Cross, written for Bayrakdarian and inspired by Armenian hymns sung during Holy Week. In this eight-part work conveying the passion of Christ, Bayrakdarian sings the highly ornamented Armenian church chants against a colourful programmatic score. Her reputation has been built on these chants. Often, the singer and the orchestra are in a dissonant relationship. In Pats mez Der (Open for us, Lord), the Edmonton Symphony, under guest conductor Raffi Armenian, created a wonderful image of an imminent storm, with the rumbling of the bass drum, the violinists knocking chopsticks between strings, the reeds building the sound of the wind picking up. Above it all, we hear the supplicant soprano trying to warm the mood of the deity.  Hatzis' influences are broad. We hear wonky klezmer music, Gypsy violin, surprising percussive effects, continuously shaded by the melismatic meanderings of the singer. The ending nods in Wagner's direction. This piece deserves recording immediately. Bill Rankin, EDMONTON JOURNAL, March 28, 2003 Friday Final Edition (Canada)

From the on-line tour diary of Painting Daisies, the all-girls rock music band, winners of the Great Canadian Music Dream competition:

...the Winspear Centre has redeemed itself in my eyes by having the presence of mind to bring soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian in for what would become an awe inspiring performance. This lady is wonderful. Powerful, gentle, emotive, at times explosive...Christos Hatzis' work [Light from the Cross] was amazing. It's funny that the only two comments I heard as I left the show were "very futuristic" and "very medieval". Oddly, both descriptions fit. Lots of great ambient noise -- thunder, low bass bowing; beautiful breaks of hard crashing noises and cymbals (after going to a Chinese opera in Beijing I thought such a feat was impossible); and yet the piece remained thoroughly melodic, if in a naturalistic sort of way. Primal, brooding, hopeful...

I really was blown away by your piece. The attention to detail in the creation of some of the soundscapes was very impressive. Oftentimes listening to more "experimental" woks I find that my imagination needs to fill in a lot of grey areas--neglected spaces in a composition. I appreciate the way you controlled the space in the work, without restricting artistic feel... I hope that makes sense. I hope you garner the recognition and success you deserve with Light from the Cross. I will be keeping an ear open for its recorded release. C. F. Edmonton, AB.

Breath-taking to say the least! To hear Isabel Bayrakdarian AND your new work Light from the Cross all at the same time was a very rare privilege indeed.  Those soft moments of your work and her voice really filled the hall. Thank you. Even a heathen such as I could enjoy your unique contribution to music. F. L. Edmonton, AB.

Last night's Canadian premiere of Light from the Cross, by Isabel Bayrakdarian with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra conducted by Raffi Armenian in Edmonton's Winspear Centre was one of the most moving I've ever experienced. Ms. Bayrakdarian was amazing with wonderful depth of voice; the orchestra performed brilliantly under the direction of Mr. Armenian.  But it was your composition which captured not only my spirit, but my brain!  I find it difficult to explain my reaction to the complex orchestration... but it attended to all my senses!...The concert was just one of  best musical experiences of my life! J. C. Edmonton, AB.

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