MYSTICAL VISITATIONS. For Arabic singer (alto), World Music band (1
wind player [various Middle Eastern and Indian flutes—saxophone], oud, canun
[optional], fiddle, guitar, bass, one or two percussion) and SurroundSound
audio. Commissioned by Maryem Hassan-Tollar with funds
from the Canada Council for the Arts.
29 minutes (still in progress—with more music to be added later). 2006. Titles of Individual
songs: When the Heavens Sang, Ah Kalleli, This is my Body, Mystical
Visitation. Score, parts
and [SurroundSound 5.1] audio DVD will eventually be available through
(For a Press Release of the premiere performance press
(for an online TV interview about the project
with samples from the rehearsal go to:
Commissioned by Arabic vocalist Maryem Hassan-Tollar, for her voice, background
vocals and a world music band, Mystical Visitations is a collection of
songs set mostly on my own lyrics invoking a number of vernacular musical genres
and styles. For me, it is the natural next step in a process of musical
emancipation that is gradually taking me away from the somewhat "agoraphobic"
world of classical music and into kinds of music that can touch a larger number
of listeners who are unfamiliar with classical music and its semantic and/or
other conventions. They are not pop songs per se, for no matter what I do I
cannot stop thinking from within a compositional core that encompasses all my
accumulated compositional experience so far, the bulk of which is affiliated with
classical contemporary concert music. However, the instrumentation, strophic
structures, meters and vocal/instrumental styles of writing are more akin to
world/cross-over music. Working with my own lyrics is also a natural next step
in my evolution as a composer. I started using my own texts in earlier concert
compositions of mine, like Sepulcher of Life, my
choral symphony, and in an earlier aborted attempt in songwriting in my
multimedia music theatre work Constantinople that eventually found
its true home in Mystical Visitation, the final song of the collection. The subjects of these songs are
invariably religious; the imagery and symbolism are often Christian, but their
spirituality is universal: it transcends religious particulars. These texts and
the music that accompanies them are the traces of my own attempt to understand
in a non-conscious manner the nature and quiet intensity of the divine spark
within each one of us and to share this understanding with my performing
colleagues and my listeners. Since this collection of songs was written for the incredible,
haunting voice of Maryem Hassan-Tollar, the texts are always an exploration of
the female psyche, assuming different personas at different times: the divine
lover, the divine mother or the universal, eternal feminine. In performance it is the vocal soloist revealing
her world to the audience, not a composer speaking to his listeners through a
singer. As the title suggests, the subject of the entire cycle is the inner
world of a woman visited by the divine.
WHEN THE HEAVENS SUNG
Your voice lights up the sky and sets my heart on fire
My eyes begin to see all things unseen
My ears begin to hear the music of the spheres.
This is when I know You’re close to me.
My mind: an open door to pure delights, long forgotten
How can these be so close and yet so far away?
I reach to touch the source of my deepest longing
and I touch Your countenance instead.
My womb: a blackened hole that pulls the planets crashing
A darkness that must be for life to grow
The fear of flesh destroyed is only clouds passing
Beyond the clouds behold: a bright new day!
My breasts: a Milky Way that feeds the endless aeons
The breasts that fed You when you walked on earth
When God and Man walked close and touched each other gently
When the Heavens sang the world to rest.
ya suhbu tijan-ar-ruba bil holi
Waj ali siwaraki mun ata fal-jadwali
Ah ya sama fiki wa fil-ardi
rujuman wa wa-Kullama
Aghrabti najrnan ashraqat anjuman
adorn the crownds of the hills with garlands.
And make the bending stream a bracelet for them
O sky, in you and in the
there are stars. Every time a star sets,
many other stars rise.
Poem by Ibn Sana’ il-Mulk (Egypt 1155-1211)
Music by Muhammad ‘Uthman (Egypt 1855-1900)
THIS IS MY BODY
This is my body,
This is my blood.
In your embrace
I feel both lost and found
And with a glance from you I float above the ground
And when you appear to me the sun begins to fade
For everything was made to not withstand your light.
away my restless mind despairs
I feel so dark inside, I feel like no one cares.
No matter where I look the world begins to fade
And all that was once made dissolves into the night
I lose myself
in your eyes and you are my vision,
I feel your heartbeat inside me and you are my Time,
I feel your breath like a lifeline, like a needed provision
All in spite of your mark on my forehead, the mark of my crime.
Deep in the
heart of the desert: the Golden City.
Piercing the stronghold of darkness: the promise to man.
In this benevolent presence I feel so pretty
Like the stars that were singing together when all things began.
I watch the
centuries passing, deep rivers of sorrow.
Emperors frozen in legends and memories. Gone.
Racing with hate out to nowhere. For them there’s no tomorrow
Those who can’t live together are banished to die alone.
eagles and armies of silver and moonlight
Facing each other and thirsting for offerings of blood,
Killing for God and for country and dying of hunger
For the Arc of the Covenant, haunted by memories of Flood.
Angels of mercy
are catering at my Crucifixion
Wondering what’s like to live and to die in the flesh?
The choice is to drink from the Grail or lose all conviction
Cause the life that you nail on your cross is Life starting afresh
altar in the many-domed temple of your Wisdom
Beholding the Holy of Holies past the Pineal Gate,
There lies my love, and my life, and my hope for the future,
And the courage I long for to stand up and challenge my fate,
December 17, 2006. Maryem Tollar, Arabic vocalist;
Jayne Brown & Sophia Grigoriadis – backup vocals; Ernie Tollar - sax & flutes;
Hugh Marsh - violin; Kathleen Kajioka - oud; Nicolas Hernandez - guitar; Rich
Brown - bass; Mark Duggan & Rick Shadrach Lazar - percussion.
Isabel Bader Theatre, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.
Reviews and Comments:
Provoked—and embraced—by a
Then the moment all were waiting for—the new Hatzis. Hatzis has an abiding
interest in traditional music, stemming in part from his own days of playing
in Greek boîtes and more recently inspired by Tollar, who helped make his
multimedia work Constantinople
one of the most talked about
contemporary classical compositions of the decade to date. (The work will be
performed at London's Covent Garden in March.) Hatzis, a musically voracious
and deeply spiritual populist, created Mystical Visitations
specifically for Tollar in an attempt to provide her with a musical work
grounded in her own traditions....Mystical Visitations
was appealing in
its eclecticism, with Middle Eastern chant, hints of prog rock and fiery
electronic whooshes, all the while making shrewd and sensitive use of Tollar's
marvellous voice. LI ROBBINS, THE GLOBE & MAIL
(Canada) December 19,
...it was worth
living to be one hundred years just to hear this music. BERTHA
MODLICH-STREULI (born 1906), Toronto (Canada), December 17, 2006
...Thanks for a job
well done and music that is filled with life and a character that has the
ability to stay new in the listeners' minds. May God continue to give you His
gifts. G.L.D. Chandler, Arizona (USA) March 18, 2007.
G.D.L recently came
to the Phoenix area and shared with me a story about this fascinating
composition he heard on the radio. It moved him so much that he had to stop his
car to more fully enjoy it without distractions. Although the story made for a
marvelous conversation, I was pleased to know that George had the copy with him.
Well, we proceeded to the parking lot of a Cafe/Grocery Store and we both sat in
silence listening to your magnificent composition and sung by that very talented
singer from Egypt. Sir, I am most gratified to have experienced your music. I
hope someday to purchase the CD and better yet to attend one of your Concerts
when you come to the Southwest United States. I certainly would be willing to
fly to California, for example, to attend your concert. Thank you for providing
the world with this beautiful music. P. M. Phoenix, Arizona (USA) April
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