PYRRICHEAN DANCES. A double concerto for viola, percussion and string orchestra. 2001. Commissioned by Rivka Golani and Beverley Johnston with funds from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), The Ontario Arts Council and the Laidlaw Foundation. 33 minutes. Score and parts available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.

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instrumentation:

Solo Viola
Solo Percussion
(in order of appearance):

Talking Drum played by its own beater and by hands
Kick Drum
Djembe
Five Roto-Toms
(Chinese Opera) Bender Gong placed flat on an absorbing surface
Almglocken
(Swiss Cow Bell) in D
Two Castanets mounted and played (both) by one hand
Slap Stick
mounted on a flat surface and played by one hand
Hi-Hat
Tambourine
mounted right next to the Hi-Hat
Waterphone
partially filled with water and bowed with Double Bass bow
Japanese Temple Bowl
in F quarter sharp bowed with Double Bass bow
Mark Tree
Metal Chime
made out of discarded piano pegs
Lion’s Roar
mounted so that it can be played with a single hand
Large Thai Gong
placed flat on a surface and scraped with a Triangle beater
Two Brake Drums scraped with a Triangle beater or hit with a hammer
Musical Saw
bowed with a Double Bass bow
4˝ octave Marimba
(Military) Tenor Drum

6 or 12 or 18 First Violins
6 or 12 or 18 Second Violins
4 or 8 or 12 Violas
4 or 8 or 12 Cellos
2 or 4 Double Basses
(with e-string extension attachment)


Pyrrichean Dances, a concerto for viola, percussion and strings, was commissioned by Rivka Golani and Beverley Johnston with funds from the CBC, the Ontario Arts Council and the Laidlaw Foundation. The work was composed during an unsettling time in world affairs and it has been influenced to a great degree by a number of events that have changed the lives of a great number of people worldwide. The title is borrowed from the Greek word ‘Pyrrichios’, a war dance. Even though the music is not always dance-like, the concept of aggression as a form of ‘dance’ permeates the entire work and is symbolically and physically present everywhere. The music is in four movements: the outer movements are very virtuosic and focus on both soloists; the second movement is for all intents and purposes a piece for solo viola and strings with the percussion receding in the background; in the third movement this emphasis is reversed and the spotlight turns to the percussionist (on musical saw and marimba). The two middle movements can be performed independently by each soloist as self-contained pieces. Broken Mirrors, the first movement, is a post-modern discourse on the discontinuity of contemporary life. Multiple tempi, polyrhythm, folk-like tonality, twelve-tone rows, pseudo minimalism and free improvisation make the progress of the music very slippery and full of unexpected turns. Postcards from the (un)Holy Land, the second movement, is a long cadenza for the viola. Two conflicting intonation systems extensively employing quarter-tones, the first approximating the overtone series and the second vaguely reminiscent of intonation systems in Middle Eastern music compete for predominance throughout the movement as the increasingly frustrated violist is caught in the midst of this contest. The music of this movement has been inspired by the events surrounding the indifada unrest in Palestine and is dedicated to all the victims of violence in the Middle East. Love among the Ruins, the third movement was composed shortly after the September 11 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in NYC and is inspired not by the event itself, but by the devastating effect it had on my wife, Beverley, and me (and reportedly to millions of people in North America and around the world) during the ensuing months. From the romantic opening melody on the musical saw to the interrupted attempts of the marimba to find love and solace in an environment increasingly dominated by hate and intolerance, this movement is a documentation of people’s efforts to piece their lives together during the traumatic days following the disaster. Indebted for its title to Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, the final movement of the work, is a clash between two very different ways of looking at the world: Nationalism represented by the Kodaly-like opening viola melody and the New World Order represented by the mechanically repetitive and physically overpowering moments which span all the way from atonal minimalism to disco-like aggression. At the very end the music appears to favour the latter in the form of hollow triumph. The work ends in D minor, a key audibly unrelated to the course of events preceding it, yet the key in which the entire work begins. Far from being an endorsement of a certain worldview, the dark irony of the conclusion confirms rather the growing discrepancy between the ever increasing political tensions of the world and our inability to understand anything except through surface rationalisations and haphazard expediencies. If the quirkiness and haphazardness of the closing measure is a cause for a smile, it should hopefully also be a cause for more serious reflection on the meaning and significance of continuity in both life and art.


Premiere performance: February 19 2003. Rivka Golani, viola; Beverley Johnston, percussion; Manitoba Chamber Orchestra; Westminster United Church; Winnipeg. Manitoba.

Reviews:

The two concertos recorded here confirm Christos Hatzis' reputation as one of Canada's foremost composers, as well as an important voice on the international scene. Hatzis, who was born in Greece in 1953, was educated in the U.S and Canada, and went on to teach at the University of Toronto. He has a full grasp of the resources available to contemporary composers, as well an understanding of the folk musics of the near Middle East. Those resources, combined with a lack of any ideological musical agenda, have allowed him to develop a distinctive and recognizable musical voice. The folk influence is never far away, and a mysticism hovers over much of his music, but the independence and unconventionality of his thoughts prevent his music from being easily pigeonholed as predominantly folk-like or mystical. Pyrrichean Dances, a concerto for viola and percussion, and Telluric Dances, an oboe concerto, are notable for their colorful orchestration, mercurial eclecticism, and wide-ranging musical inventiveness. The scores are complex and engaging, with much to involve the mind and emotions. The concertos are dance-like, as the titles suggest, not always in a conventional way, but in their propulsive energy. The soloists -- violist Rivka Golani, percussionist Beverley Johnson, and oboist Suzanne Lemieux -- meet the virtuosic demands of the scores with panache and conviction. Bernhard Gueller leads Nova Scotia Symphony in energetic and committed performances. The CD is an excellent introduction to Hatzis' work, as well as a testimony to the vitality of new music in Canada. Stephen Eddins, ALL MUSIC GUIDE (UK).

Canadian composer Christos Hatzis first came to my attention in 1999 with an outstanding Centrediscs CD of electroacoustic music ("Byzantium"), also reviewed here. (Unfortunately, it now seems to be out of print.) Since then, I've heard several other discs of his music, and I've been increasingly impressed with his breadth and his imagination. Here's a composer who writes music that is unmistakably his own; there's no mistaking Hatzis with anyone else. Pyrrichean Dances is effectively a double concerto for viola, percussion, and orchestra, and similarly, Telluric Dances is an oboe concerto, although it too gives a prominent role to the percussion. Hatzis describes these two works as "complementary," and explains that they incorporate dance in the sense of "dance as an expression of life." There's a yin and yang quality here. The word "Pyrrichean" suggests conflict and war, and indeed, an aggressive streak runs through the Pyrrichean Dances. By the same token, "Telluric" is an adjective relating to the Earth, and there's an order, sanity, and, if you will, groundedness to this work which will be very satisfying to many listeners, I think. Specifically, the four Pyrrichean Dances ("Broken Mirrors," "Postcards from the (un)Holy Land," "Love Among the Ruins," and "Worlds in Collision") were inspired by catastrophic situations in recent world history (the Palestinian indifada, the 9/11 attacks on the United States), and by the idea of cultures in conflict . . . for example, the frictions between nationalism and the "New World Order." (Hatzis's musical representations of the latter in the last movement leave the listener with no doubt as to his opinions on this phenomenon.) Not only is Hatzis' writing for the two soloists incredibly evocative and virtuosic, his creativity with orchestral timbres has few parallels among today's composers. Pyrrichean Dances is one of those rare modern works that neither talks down to listeners, nor submerges them under waves of irony or postmodernism, yet still has the ability to pull them in. I think the same is even more true of the three Telluric Dances: "Snake Dance," "Eagle Dance," and "Dancing in the Light." (The latter gives this CD its overall title.) In this work, Hatzis draws upon inspiration from the Mediterranean region in general, including from his own Greek heritage. Here, the oboe sometimes serves as a proxy for instruments native to Greece and the Middle Eastern countries. The "Snake Dance," mysterious, exotic, and ever so slightly menacing, had me thinking of faraway market places where Western eyes seldom penetrate. The "Eagle Dance," in spite of the occasional brashness of its scoring, has tremendous dignity, and yet it moves forward with unstoppable power. "Dancing in the Light" is based on a folk dance associated with the Baltic region. Classical music has a long history of composers "dressing up" folk music, but Hatzis treats his materials with great freedom. Also, I must say that at 4:38 in this last movement, there is a passage which is so gorgeously "Hollywood," that I don't see how anyone could resist it. With its impact on the head, Pyrrichean Dances might bring down the house. Telluric Dances will almost certainly do the same, but through its actions on the feet and heart. Not since John Corigliano's Oboe Concerto has there been such a work, and truth to tell, I think that Hatzis' surpasses it. Pyrrichean Dances was commissioned for Golani and Johnston, the soloists heard here, and similarly, Telluric Dances was intended, at least in part, for Symphony Nova Scotia and Suzanne Lemieux, the orchestra's principal oboist. These are world-class performers, and Symphony Nova Scotia is truly an impressive ensemble....The engineering on this CD will beg you to turn up the volume, and you will be glad that you did. These works deserve to be heard and recorded frequently. Given the way classical music is today, it is unlikely that they will be given their due. Grab this CD while you can. Raymond Tuttle CLASSICAL NET (USA)

  Since hearing Erotikos Logos by Hatzis in the mid-90's, I have fallen in love with this composer’s ability to blend the traditional and the modern, the harmonic and the discordant, the melodic and the atonal. In fact, I consider him one of the most melodic of modern composers. And it’s not because melodies dominate his music – even though Love Among the Ruins, his response to 9/11, features some neo-romantic flourishes á la Rachmaninoff. It is more because melody appears in his scores, even amid cacophony, like a flower blooming through a crack in concrete. In Hatzis’ music, the instruments sing, even when the song is a cry of anguish. The two dance cycles contained on this disc are vastly different in mood – the viola and percussion concerto Pyrrichean Dances give us the music of conflict and war; the oboe concerto Telluric Dances conveys sensual, sensuous celebration. The disc’s liner notes are an exception to the general rule – most composers are not great at explaining their music. Here, Hatzis offers thoughtful and helpful interpretation, proving himself to be not only a great composer, but also a talented writer. The rich texture of this music defies sparse instrumentation and the principals, as well as the orchestra, give great justice to the score, inspired seemingly in equal parts by Greek and Byzantine mystery as well as rather Canadian aloofness. This disc could conceivably convert those who proclaim “I hate modern music”. For those already converted, it confirms yet again, that we are fortunate to have a great master in our midst. Robert Tomas, THE WHOLE NOTE (Canada) May, 2007.

  Symphony Nova Scotia’s Dancing in the Light, Music of Christos Hatzis, is the most remarkable recording in a remarkable category. It consists of two pieces only: the four-movement Pyrrichean Dances commissioned by the CBC for violist Rivka Golani and percussionist Beverley Johnston; and Telluric Dances commissioned by SNS [Symphony Nova Scotia] through the Canada Council and the CBC for SNS principal oboist Suzanne Lemieux. If you are unfamiliar with Hatzis’s contemporary music style, this recording is your chance to listen to one of Canada’s brightest lights at the height of his powers. Though contemporary, the brilliance of his writing, its imagination and scope, and the virtuosity of the performers on Dancing in the Light, created pandemonium in the Rebecca Cohn auditorium when the works were premiered there shortly before the recording sessions in West Chezzetcook’s St. Anselm’s Church in the spring of 2005.At the end of the evening, the Halifax audience leapt to their feet and roared their approval in a uniquely rousing endorsement of 21st century original Canadian music. You had to pinch yourself to believe you were hearing such enthusiasm. Stephen Pedersen, THE CHRONICLE HERALD (Halifax, Canada) February 17 2007

Hatzis' Work Deserved Standing Ovation

Foot stamping, bravos and a deserving standing ovation greeted the premiere of a dazzling new work by Canadian composer Christos Hatzis at last night's Manitoba Chamber Orchestra concert. So seemingly unanimous was the audience response, politeness gave way to genuine honesty. You had to search hard to catch anyone mouthing the dreaded word "interesting," that so often involuntarily accompanies reaction to new music. Hatzis' piece got what it deserved and it was for real. Entitled Pyrrichean Dances, Double Concerto for Viola, Percussion and Strings, the music follows various guises of its Greek war dance allusions, tracing world events in an eclectic, absorbing way. Its 35 minutes fly by as Hatzis seizes essential moments from a variety of eclectic sources over the four movements, expanding them in compelling journeys, with plenty of tonal hooks and handles as reference points and a soundscape that never lets up in its ability to surprise. It's quite the trip and this was quite the premiere.

The soloists were the commissioners, in fact. Any composer would jump at having violist Rivka Golani  and percussionist Beverley Johnston advocating. And the natural response, as Hatzis has done, is to load them with work. Certainly there was as much to look as to hear. Golani's fiery temperament was amply explored. Johnston's flashing hands darted over a large battery of percussion instruments as she alternately moved from one side of the stage to the other. Roy Goodman led the MCO, who delivered as if having lived with the complex score much longer than we know they did. The first movement, Broken Mirrors, balances the two soloists in jagged modern discourse. The second, Postcards from the (un)Holy Land, draws its flavour from events in the Middle East, with unforgettable rushes of string harmonics and affecting solo viola. The third, Love Among the Ruins, is a haunting elegy whose bowed saw from Johnston will remain in the mind for a long time. The finale, Worlds in Collision, contains modal Hungarian sounding folk material in a cross cultural clash with turbulent happenings. To say the performance was a knockout would be damning it with faint praise, such was the effect. James Manishen, WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, February 20, 2003 (Canada)


SNS masters Hatzis's eclecticism

Canadian composer Christos Hatzis is a master of musical style. He not only makes a virtue of eclecticism but has developed such confidence in its use that he splits the universe with it, multiplying his musical imagery and symbolism thereby to something approaching infinity. Echoes of Vivaldi, Bach, minimalism, world music, the Middle East, Stravinsky, Debussy, computer music, Varese, Boulez: all play a noble role in his Pyrrichean Dances, "maintaining a human core," throughout the out-of-control destructive energy raging through our times, as Hatzis said from the stage at the Symphony Nova Scotia Celebrity Series concert Tuesday night in the Cohn. His evident mastery of his palette, amounting to genius, was partly responsible for bringing many members of the audience to their feet after the performance, which featured violist Rivka Golani and percussionist Beverley Johnston - prolonged applause and bravos from a conservative Halifax audience for 35 minutes of new music.

Each of the four movements expresses the human reality of living with chaos (Broken Mirrors), the intifada (Postcards from the (un)Holy Land), 9/11 (Love Among The Ruins), and the invasion of Afghanistan (Worlds in Collision). Golani began Broken Mirrors with a series of tangled figures within a restless rhythmic algorithm of shifting metrical accents in the string orchestra, while Johnston executed acrobatic figures mostly on drums. The virtuosity of soloists and orchestra under Bernhard Gueller's direction, were contextualized by Hatzis's intuitive sense of how long a texture should prevail before being relieved. Postcards is an ethereal music, a lament for viola, inspired by Golani's powerfully rich sound (she commissioned the work), played against a cascade of silken overtone ladders glissed up and down upon the cellos and basses. Johnston accompanied with delicately anguished echoes from the waterphone, a Japanese temple bell, and a variety of gongs, all set in vibration by a double bass bow. The third movement with Johnston as main soloist, led off with a hauntingly romantic theme played on the musical saw against softly voiced triadic harmonies in the upper strings, to sympathetic murmurs and echoes from the viola. The musical imagery, somewhat reminiscent of the Garden music from Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony, abruptly changed when Johnston began playing on the five-octave marimba, varying texture and intensity with throbbing strokes from four, and possibly more, mallets. Worlds in Collision pulled out all the stops, using all the forces in a, by now, dizzying succession of exquisite sounds and textures and agitated passages.

Brilliant as Hatzis, Golani and Johnston are, they need a superb orchestra to bring such a profoundly difficult work off the page. Symphony Nova Scotia, under Gueller, played world class all the way, instantly switching from texture to texture with the sure-footedness of mountain goats. Stephen Pedersen, THE CHRONICLE HERALD (Halifax, Canada) April 14, 2005.

 

Orchestra masters contemporary mix of styles

By STEPHEN PEDERSEN Arts Reporter  The CHRONICLE HERALD (Halifax, Canada) December 14, 2006

Symphony Nova Scotia’s recording of Pyrrichean Dances and Telluric Dances by Christos Hatzis took place in St. Anselm’s Church in Chezzetcook shortly after the orchestra and soloists performed the works over two early spring nights at the end of the 2005 SNS season....It would be impossible for any recording to capture the electric buzz in the Rebecca Cohn on those two nights, which witnessed an unheard-of standing ovation for new music by a Halifax audience. The extraordinary performances by Golani, Johnston and Lemieux clearly impressed the listeners, as well they should. But St. Anselm’s Church has an almost ideal acoustic for digital sound...Recording engineer Rod Snedden and producer Jeff Reilly (SNS) took full advantage of it. On disc, the Telluric Dances (Snake Dance, Earth Dance and Dancing in the Light) immediately sound familiar, even on a first hearing. Folk dance rhythms knit together the stranger sonorities of modern oboe technique — panning the sound, bending the tones, playing more than one note at the same time (multiphonics). They are colourful and irresistible, evoking the Middle East, the Balkans, Turkish and Arabic music. Lemieux’s virtuosity is tamed by her extraordinarily beautiful sense of tonal colour, but when the going gets technical, she aces it with the skill of an Olympian. Paced by rhythmic complexity, the Pyrrichean Dances are more abstract than the oboe work, and also less immediately accessible, were it not for the fact that the orchestral effects are sensational. So is Golani’s playing, which is particularly rich in her long viola cadenza in the second movement (Postcards from the (un)Holy Land). The music is also more programmatic than the Telluric Dances. Broken Mirrors, the first movement, is organized chaos representing "the discontinuity of contemporary life,"" according to Hatzis’s program notes. Postcards was inspired by the intifada unrest in Palestine. Love among the Ruins is a response to the 9 / 11 victims of violence. (It features Johnston in a poetic lament on musical saw and later on trying to counter the increasing violence in the orchestra with soft sound of the marimba). The final movement, Worlds in Collision, pits Nationalism against the New World Order in which a plaintive tune on the viola is challenged by restless complexity. While the Pyrrichean Dances are jaw-dropping by virtue of the sheer scale and scope of Hatzis’s virtuosic scoring, they are almost too big to absorb. The impact of the Telluric Dances is quicker and more enduring in its effect. The orchestra, superbly directed by Gueller, whose understanding of what Hatzis had in mind went far deeper than the notes, plays compellingly and brilliantly.

 I became enthusiastic from the first moment. Your compositions gave me back my believe in contemporary music. M. G. Bad Ditzenbach-Gosbach, Germany.

 

 

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