STRING QUARTET NO. 1 (THE AWAKENING) for string quartet and tape. (Formerly known as Nunavut) 1994. Commissioned by the Smith Quartet with grants from the Canada Council and the London Arts Board (UK). Winner of the 2006 JUNO Award (Classical Composition of the Year). Winner of the 1998 Jean A. Chalmers National Music Award. Score, parts and digital soundtrack available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.

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2006 JUNO AWARD
Classical Composition of the Year
 
 


NO. 3—EDITOR'S PICK: SOLO AND CHAMBER MUSIC
NO. 15—TOP 25 EDITOR'S PICKS IN CLASSICAL MUSIC
 
WINNING RECORDS [No. 2 in Best of 2005]
THE TAMPA TRIBUNE (USA) December 18, 2005.

AWAKENING is nominated for a Juno Award
in the Classical Album of the Year: Solo or Chamber Ensemble
category

The String Quartet No. 1 (The Awakening), was a turning point in my career as a composer. It was composed at a time in my life which could best be described as a crossroads - musical and otherwise. The two most prominent and immediately recognizable references in the piece are Inuit throat singers and locomotive engines. The first has been haunting me since 1992, the year I worked on a CBC radio documentary, The Idea of Canada. It was then that I first became exposed to the chanting and vocal games of the natives of northern Canada, and ever since my fascination with their music grew steadily. The String Quartet No. 1 (The Awakening), originally named Nunavut after the Inuit name for their homeland, was the first of a number of projects inspired by this rapidly vanishing culture. The tone for the composition of this piece was set by the news of an alarming increase in the suicide rate among Inuit youth during the winter of 1994 and by the constitutional turmoil two years earlier, during which Canadians refused to grant our country's aboriginal people constitutional recognition as a distinct society. The sound of the locomotive engines has been haunting me for much longer... since early childhood. My father was a railway engineer in Volos, my hometown in Greece, at a time when the train was still the primary means of inter-city travel. Occasionally he used to take me aboard the locomotive engine of a miniature train for trips up Mt. Pelion, the seat of the mythological Centaurs (I discovered years later that, long before me, another railway engineer's son, surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico, used to make the same journey up the same mountain as a child). The "dragon train" as I used to call it, which was actually transformed into a dragon during carnival, had left a strong impression on me. Its hungry, fiery mouth with my father constantly feeding it coal and the loud sounds it produced, especially the limpid triple beat the wheels made against the rails were among the most awesome visual and acoustical images of my childhood. Eventually, all these sounds - the locomotives, the locomotive-like throat singing, and the constant up-bow, down-bow articulations of the strings - became a metaphor for primal breathing, Yin and Yang, the endless cycle of creation and destruction which determines the fate of individuals, nations and humanity as a whole. There are countless references and cross-references in the String Quartet No. 1 (The Awakening) which need not be mentioned, except one: the solo cello melody following the opening section of the piece and its ensuing development are a musical affirmation of my faith in the divine and its ability to bring balance, resolution and simplicity in the midst of all the overwhelming complexity we have brought upon ourselves and others.
 


World premiere performance: by the Smith Quartet, June 11, 1994, Greenwich Festival, St. Alsege Church, Greenwich, London, England.

Reviews and Comments:


Mitten im Leben.
Musik der Neuen Welt: Das St. Lawrence String Quartett im Konzerthaus
Viel Neugier lief dem Auftritt des kanadischen St. Lawrence String Quartett im Konzerthaus voraus. Es gilt seit längerem schon als das künstlerisch hervorstechendste der Neuen Welt, als das ehrgeizigste auch, das eigenwilligste, unternehmungslustigste. Das St. Lawrence Quartett hält es nicht mit der kammermusikalischen Esoterik. Es stellt sich tatkräftig den Herausforderungen des musikalischen Daseins. Es weiß durchaus Härten in sein Spiel einzubringen, es aus den luftigen Höhen feinsinniger Schwärmerei herab auf die Erde zu reißen, ohne darüber an Schönklang einzubüßen. Es war darum haargenau der rechte Interpret für das 1. Streichquartett von Christos Hatzis (51), des in Kanada eingebürgerten Griechen. Eines Stückes, in dem sich Weltenlärm, Halluzination und Erinnerungsseligkeit mischen. Um die Spieler, Kopfhörer über den Ohren, entfalten sich höchst unterschiedliche Geräusche: feinstimmiges zurückhaltendes Gesinge und Getanze der Inuit, zeitweilig leise eingespielt in den Saal. Überdies wird die Komposition konfrontiert mit den Fahrgeräuschen dahinrollender Eisenbahnen, die Hatzis' Kindheitsträume durchklangen.....Bei Hatzis gehen die verschiedenen Komponenten eine aufrüttelnde, durchaus suggestive Verbindung ein. Die Musik gibt sich handfest existentiell. Sie schreitet mit ihren bunten Klängen das Leben aus. Sie drückt sich nicht davor, anrührend zu bleiben. Sie kreist die eigenen Gefühle, Sehnsüchte, Erinnerungen, gleichzeitig einleuchtenden Klängen ein. Das Stück ist ein Reißer - im Gewand herausfordernder, exzellenter Kammermusik. Von Klaus Geitel BERLINER MORGENPOST, 28. Februar 2005 (DE)

Translation:
Real Life

Music from the New World: The St. Lawrence String Quartet in the Konzerthaus
, Berlin
The city was in eager anticipation of the concert given by the St. Lawrence String Quartet in the Berlin Konzerthaus. For quite a long time now, they have been considered the most artistically outstanding, the most ambitious, the most original and the most adventurous musicians the New World has to offer.The St. Lawrence String Quartet do not limit themselves to esoteric chamber music.They take up the challenges of musical existence. After an artistic flight of fancy, they succeed in bringing the music back down to earth, without losing any of the beauty of the sound.... That is why this quartet was the perfect interpreter for the String Quartet No. 1 (The Awakening) by Christos Hatzis, a 51-year-old of Greek origin who was naturalized in Canada. It is a piece in which worldly din, hallucination and nostalgia come together. The musicians are surrounded by very different sounds: delicate, restrained songs and dances of the Inuit are played briefly and softly into the hall. Moreover, the composition is challenged by noises of trains passing by which sounded through Hatzis' childhood dreams....The different components in Hatzis' composition compound in a truly striking and suggestive manner. The music is solidly existential. It personifies life in general and does not shirk from being touching. It reflects emotions, longings and memories with its all-embracing sounds. The composition is simply sensational —disguised as excellent, challenging chamber music. Von Klaus Geitel BERLINER MORGENPOST, February 28, 2005 (Germany)

Inuit and Quartet

The Canadian of Greek origin Christos Hatzis (b. 1953)who is among the most important composers of his countryconceives of music not as an art of sound that is distant from reality or an aesthetic end in itself, but rather as a living means of expression, with which he communicates personal messages: his unshakeable Christian spirituality, for example, which even in the face of powerful social conflicts always preserves a belief in humanity. This attitude is also evident in both of the quartets recorded here. Hatzis’s first contribution to the genre, created in 1994 and titled “Awakening,” was inspired by his contact with the endangered culture of Canadian aboriginals. As he weaves tape recordings of Inuit singing into his own post-romantic musical language, the composer shapes a Utopia of peaceful coexistence between man and environment. The second quartet (“The Gathering”), from 2000, is in many respects comparable to its predecessor, with which it also shares motives. This work, though, is concerned with the events of the Balkan war, and joins together quite disparate stylistic influences, from Brazilian Tango to minimalism, into a very colourful, expressive mixture that occasionally sounds a bit like film music. After a powerful culminating moment of brutality, the quartet ends peacefully with an Orthodox-Christian melody. A glimmer of hope for peace in the future. Naturally this all makes for rather strong medicine: an almost placatory, confessional music that is not exactly “modern” in language, about whose aesthetic qualities one could have heated debates. In the hands of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, to whom the works are dedicated, the quartets display ample powers of persuasion.
Music ****

Sound ****

Marcus Stäbler
, FONO FORUM (Germany), December 2005. (Translation: Robin Elliot)

Wonderful quartets by Greek-born Canadian composer Hatzis are given performances of compelling conviction. The first incorporates Inuit singing and locomotive sounds for a powerful statement about cultural conflict. The second, responds to the Balkans conflict, drawing on diverse musical cultures for inspiration. Engrossing and electric; highly recommended. John O'Donnell, QANTAS IN-FLIGHT MAGAZINE (Australia) December 2005.

Christos Hatzis' life and music have been shaped by several cultural strains. Born in Greece in 1953, now living in Canada, where he teaches at the University of Toronto, his compositions have been influenced by his Byzantine heritage and "proto-Christian spirituality", American minimalism, and Canada's native Inuit "chanting and vocal games." The style is eclectic, what he calls "transnational and transdogmatic," tonal, modal, harmonically and rhythmically static, but with many build-ups and climaxes and surging and receding dynamics. There is much repetition of brief motives and longer phrases; sound effects include harmonics, erhu-like slides, wails, whispers, slashing chords, and sudden explosions. In quartet No. 1, a soundtrack representing Inuit throat singing and the noise of railway locomotives plays alongside the strings. Quartet No. 2 was inspired by the horrors of the war in former Yugoslavia, as well as that between Iran and Iraq, and includes Islamic, Middle Eastern, and Eastern Orthodox musical elements. Hatzis says that his music is "an affirmation of his faith in the divine" and a "form of exorcism against the absurdity of war and senseless violence." Hence, lengthy, calm passages of really beautiful quartet writing appear like oases amid the chaos, with lovely melodies soaring into the stratosphere on one or two instruments, often over an agitated, multilayered counterpoint. The St. Lawrence Quartet, ever-adventurous champions of living composers who commissioned the Second Quartet, plays this fiendishly difficult music superbly, with consummate technical mastery, a gorgeous tone, and total emotional commitment. Edith Eisler, STRINGS magazine August/September 2005, No. 131. 

One of the most evocative classical recordings of the year, thus far. This is immensely expressive music by a fascinating and deeply poetic Greek/Canadian composer. The string Quartet No. 1 for Quartet and Prepared Tape is full of Inuit throat singing and locomotive sounds — "A personal awakening to the richness of Canada's native cultures and how immigrant cultures like my own confronted and nearly destroyed them." It's haunting, full of rich melodic lament. No less impressive is the post-minimalist second quartet called "The Gathering." And the playing by the St. Lawrence Quartet is exceptional. J. S., CD LISTENING POST, THE BUFFALO NEWS, May 22, 2005 (USA)

Winning Records [No. 2 in Best of 2005]

Just when you think the classical recording industry has exhausted itself, reissuing Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" ad nauseam, a batch of invigorating new releases opens the ears. So today, we offer eight favorites from 2005's rich crop of compact discs, ideal stocking stuffers for the curious listener... Christos Hatzis—Awakening; St. Lawrence String Quartet (EMI). A violin paints a lament against the sound of a rumbling train, while someone utters coarse chants in the background. Hatzis' Awakening for string quartet and taped sound takes listeners on a haunting journey that juxtaposes themes of creation and destruction. The music feels like a passing thunderstorm, drenching everything before returning the world to light. Kurt Loft, THE TAMPA TRIBUNE (USA) December 18, 2005.

Christos Hatzis is what in older days would be called an “engaged artist”, a term that nowadays would raise eyebrows rather than generate unconditional support...As a Greek immigrant who ended up in Canada via the USA, Hatzis knows the feeling of homelessness like no other. In his new country he is attracted to the plea of the Inuit, whose culture is threatened with extinction. His String Quartet No. 1 (The Awakening) embodies a tormented pitting of the modern world in a devastating confrontation with the throat songs of the Inuit. The sound of a locomotive train engine not only refers to Hatzis’ youth—his father was railway engineer—but also invokes the eternal circle of progress and decline. String Quartet No. 2 (The Gathering) was inspired by the war in former Yugoslavia and incorporates Balkan melodies in a western minimalist idiom. Both quartets contain also lyrical passages, which invoke Hatzis’ belief in a more harmonious world. The musicians of the St. Lawrence String Quartet play with razor sharp intensity, and Hatzis could wish for no better interpreters of his sumptuous, passionate sound world. Thea Derks, KLASSIEKE ZAKEN Magazine (Netherlands).

In the 1980s, Steve Reich wrote a piece called Different Trains, in which the sampled voices of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and the sounds of trains – taking them to the concentration camps, or taking them to freedom – were combined with a string quartet, which sometimes imitated the samples. In the first string quartet by Christos Hatzis (b. 1953), the composer does something rather similar, albeit with different results. Hatzis, who came to Canada from Greece, was impressed by the sound of Inuit chanting and throat singing, and incorporated it into several of his works. As a child, he often rode on a locomotive – his father was a railway engineer. Both of these influences can be heard in "The Awakening." The string players are joined by a prepared tape containing both locomotive sounds and Inuit singing. The live musicians play a sort of commentary to the tape . . . or is it the tape that is commenting on the performance of the live musicians? At times, the music is motoric and harsh; it other times it is reassuring, even inspiring. It is always dramatic. At one point early in the piece, the cello "sings" a melody which Hatzis identifies as his affirmation of his faith in the Divine, "and its ability to bring balance, resolution and simplicity in the midst of the overwhelming complexity we have brought upon ourselves and others." Lest one think that "The Awakening" is a gimmick or a stunt, the second quartet "The Gathering" is for string quartet alone, and is no less powerful. Hatzis's motivation for writing this quartet was his distress over the situation in Kosovo, and of the fate of the peoples of the former Yugoslavia in general. The four movements are titled, "Awakenings," "Fleeting Moments," "Nadir" (a kind ofTotentanz initiated by shouts from the quartet's members), and "Metamorphosis." Throughout the quartet, there are allusions to musical styles typical of the Balkans and of the Middle East – a reflection of the region's diverse influences. Much of the quartet is angry and impassioned; the destructive powers of hatred and warfare are never far away. Nevertheless, Hatzis extends an olive branch at the end of the work by quoting an Eastern Orthodox melody referring to the transfiguration of Christ. Hatzis knows how the world is, but he also knows how the world could be. The second quartet was dedicated to the St. Lawrence String Quartet, an ensemble formed in 1989 in Canada. Currently, they are the ensemble in residence at Stanford University. The passion of their playing on this CD makes unfamiliar music achingly familiar. Hatzis is fortunate to have such polished and communicative players performing his music. The recording venue was the Banff Centre in Banff, Alberta, and the sound is first-rate. Raymond Tuttle,CLASSICAL NET REVIEW (USA)

Greek-born Canadian composer Christos Hatzis seems to be fairly prominent in his home country, but his music has not been heard much here. On the evidence of this engaging new disc, Hatzis' voice is muscular, probing, a little sentimental and all-embracing—there's very little in the musical landscape that he doesn't enfold into his music. In the String Quartet No. 1 (The Awakening), Hatzis joins rich string harmonies with a recorded tape of Inuit throat singers and locomotive engines; the String Quartet No. 2 (The Gathering), goes even further afield to encompass everything from Philip Glass to Balkan dance music. The result would probably sound hopelessly diffuse if not for the steely assurance with which Hatzis weaves together the disparate threads, and if not for the lush, forthright playing of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, which lends the music an irresistible sonic depth. Joshua Kosman, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, May 22, 2005 (USA).

Quartet No. 1 requires some explanation. Composer Christos Hatzis says of his work, "... it was composed (1994) at a time in my life which might best be described as a crossroads, musical and otherwise, and was influenced by my own personal awakening to the richness of Canada's native cultures, and to how immigrant cultures like my own (Greek) confronted and nearly destroyed them." He continues "... this encounter of civilizations is depicted in two sounds on the soundtrack that plays alongside the quartet: Inuit throat singing and railway locomotives." Of course it is necessary to know this, else the sounds one hears would be puzzling and would seem to detract rather than add to the composer's invention. His invention, I hurry to add, is quite beautiful. This is expressed most feelingly when the solo cello is heard after the opening section of the piece. Hatzis says cello's ensuing sections "are a musical affirmation of my faith in the divine and its ability to bring balance, resolution and simplicity to in the midst of the overwhelming complexity of have brought upon ourselves and others." Quartet No. 2 (premiered in 2000) was inspired by the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. And as in Quartet No. 1, we must appeal to the composer for a greater depth of meaning. He tells us, "The presence of heterogeneous stylistic elements in this piece also acts as a form of exorcism against the absurdity of war and senseless violence." One should read all of the composer's own explanations of his works that are in the liner notes with this disc. I need only add that, as usual, the splendid St. Lawrence String Quartet responds most eloquently to the demands of this sometimes-difficult music This certainly is no surprise coming from this splendid ensemble, now in residence at Stanford University in California, that, since its organization in 1989, has quickly risen to become one of the premier string quartets in North America. King Durkee, COPLEY NEWS SERVICE (USA) June 14 2005.

By now, the St. Lawrence String Quartet has developed an enviable series of such relationships with such eminent composers as [R. Murray] Schafer, Osvaldo Golijov and Christos Hatzis. The quartet's latest EMI album, scheduled for release at the beginning of April, is devoted to Hatzis' String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2, the second of them commissioned by the foursome. The mere fact that such an album is appearing in these days of reduced classical recording represents both a tribute to the quartet's belief in the University of Toronto professor and a tribute as well to a great international record company's belief in the St. Lawrence Quartet....With his roots in proto-Christian spirituality, interest in world cultures and ability to mix and match musical styles, Hatzis is very much a composer of and for our time. Both quartets are multicultural musical odysseys, full of fascinating observations on the troubled age in which we live. William Littler, THE TORONTO STAR, March 26, 2005 (Canada)

Legend has it that Christos Hatzis was a wandering soul until arriving in Toronto. It is undeniable that his work here in past decades has been nothing short of stupendous in beauty and sheer audacity. After Constantinople and Orbiting Garden, a lesser man might have rested on well-earned laurels. But here is the St. Lawrence Quartet's new CD on EMI and I just want to listen to it repeatedly. Quartet No. 1 (The Awakening) is powerfully connected to Canada's indigenous cultures. This evident from the opening where the four players are accompanied by a recorded accompaniment of sounds from a steam locomotive and native throat-singing. Somewhat out of step with his contemporaries, Hatzis stays in one key signature throughout the 22 minutes of this work. The mood is one of exaltation and lamentation and it achieves a great deal in the process.....Top marks! John S. Gray, THE WHOLE NOTE MAGAZINE (Toronto-Canada) May 1 - June 7, 2005

"Canadian composer Christos Hatzis made his first trip to the festival. Introducing his String Quartet No. 1 (The Awakening), he described how rampant Inuit suicide rates had deeply affected him, creating an eight-year journey in the piece's creation. Hatzis has a background in electronic music and rarely will you hear taped material so beautifully integrated, in this case, sounds of locomotives and Inuit throat singers. Ripe with a deeply piled tonal base and rich sound world, there was even a big, throbbing romantic cello tune that recurred a few times..." James Manishen. THE WINNIPEG FREE PRESS (CANADA)

...The impressive playing of the four quartet members makes String Quartet No. 1 (The Awakening) one of the greatest moments of contemporary chamber music. Thomas Tamvakos, Jazz & Tzaz August/September 2003 (Greece)

It was, by any standard, an incredible night. Nearly 500 people packed Neptune Theatre's sold-out Fountain Hall on Saturday night...At the end after a profoundly moving musical collage of works by Scotia Festival composer-in-residence Christos Hatzis that was based on Cape Dorset throat singing, they rose as one to shout bravo and whack their hands together as only those do who have undergone the emotional sea change wrought in the heart by the sublime. In Fertility Rites, the incomparable Canadian percussionist Beverly Johnston, for whom the work was written, created utter simplicity out of a ferociously complex interplay of rhythms both in her own part and in her interaction with the equally complex tape. Nunavut, played by the Blue Engine String Quartet against both the persistent ground of altered throat song and a tape of strings enhanced by the most delicate kind of resonances, was the final work on the program...This musical double entendre infused the sweet lyricism of some passages with a subtle but irresistible melancholy that caused many members of the audience to weep silently in their seats. the concert...was touched with genius. It was a unique experience, a kind of psychological chemical reaction caused by bringing all its creative artistic elements into contact with one another...The music...connected us to a powerful and concrete sense of life in the North, to its discernible roots in the ancient past, and to that sense of vastness that haunts our country and deeply permeates the subconscious of all Canadians. If that's not sublime, what is?

Stephen Pedersen, THE CHRONICLE-HERALD (Canada)

SSO Adds Modern Work to Concert

Earl Stafford is hoping to awaken some senses with an unusual modern Canadian work—a particular favourite of his—on Saturday night at the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (SSO) concert...The Awakening by Christos Hatzis. The former SSO artistic director, who guest conducts this weekend, is obviously passionate about this work, and asked the SSO (permission granted) if he could perform it in place of Circadian Rhythms by Kelly-Marie Murphy. He likes Circadian Rhythms, and knows its composer; he just felt that The Awakening fit the mostly-Mozart program better. But it will be a lot of work to get it properly rehearsed before Saturday. "It's got one of the most beautiful cello melodies I've ever heard, almost popular (in style)" said Stafford in an interview Tuesday. "I think there would be a big hole in the concert if we don't do it." Stafford presented the piece at a new music festival a few years ago, and it was met with raves from the audience. "Some people said it was the most beautiful piece they had ever heard. It's always been a favourite piece of mine." The Awakening, also known as String Quartet No. 1, is written for strings and computer generated tape, which carries sound effects and Inuit throat singing. Hatzis, a Greek immigrant, wanted to write a work about the most Canadian of sounds, and chose throat singing backed by a locomotive beat (a beat imprinted on his mind in childhood) to create a metaphor for primal breathing. Joanne Paulson, THE STARPHOENIX. (January 7, 2004; Saskatoon, Canada)
 


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