TELLURIC DANCES. For oboe and orchestra (1 flute, 1 piccolo, 1 English horn, 1 clarinet in B-flat, 1 bass clarinet, 1 bassoon, 1 contrabassoon, 3 French horns in F, 2 trumpets in B-flat, 1 tenor trombone, 1 bass trombone, 1 tuba, 3 percussion, 1 harp, strings: 8, 6, 4, 4, 2 or more). Commissioned by Symphony Nova Scotia for Suzanne Lemieux and by Joseph Salvalaggio with funds from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 29 minutes. 2005. Titles of Individual movements: I. Snake Dance (Chiftetelli). II. Eagle Dance (Zeibekiko). III Dancing in the Light. Score and parts available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.


Telluric Dances was commissioned by Symphony Nova Scotia with funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Two different requests for oboe concerti brought this work into being: one by Joseph Salvalaggio, a young Canadian oboist living and working in the USA and one by Symphony Nova Scotia for Suzanne Lemieux, their principal oboist. Telluric (Earth) Dances is in three dance movements. The keys of the three movements outline an augmented chord: the first movement starts in F and ends in A, the second starts in A and ends in C-sharp, while the last movement starts in C-sharp and ends in F, the opening key of the work. The music makes extensive reference to tonal modes and popular dance forms from the Balkans and my native Greece in particular. Some of these modes and dances have their origins in Turkish and Arabic music, but my first encounter with them was in the Greek night clubs of Toronto where I made a living playing in local bands during my early years as a composer.  

Snake Dance, the first movement, is based on one of the most common dance forms of the Eastern Mediterranean, the Chiftetelli. It starts with a slow introduction which eventually gives way to the first dance with very virtuosic oboe passages frequently accompanied by half-improvised hand drums and an orchestra that occasionally sounds more like a world music band than a conventional symphony orchestra. This slow-fast sequence is repeated in a different mode before the music takes flight and begins to explore various other references beyond the Eastern Mediterranean motifs that were prevalent in the first half of the movement. It ends with a rather long and technically very demanding cadenza for the soloist. 

Eagle Dance, the second movement, is a passacaglia based on a nine beat rhythmic pattern that in Greece is known as Zeibekiko. It is an improvised dance originally danced by men drawing on a limited repertory of very sudden and unexpected movements. A non-Greek friend of mine described once the dance as “the eagle dance”, for one of the common poses involves stretching out one’s arms and dropping slightly the hands downwards while testing the limits of one’s balance, “like an eagle in mid-flight”…hence my title for this movement. Both the rhythmic pattern and the accompanying melody by the soloist are repeated constantly and throughout this movement, building momentum through orchestration. (The aural effect is very similar to that of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero). At about two thirds into the movement, there is a sudden harmonic change, a new melody, and lyrical, rich harmonies and orchestration that are reminiscent of Hollywood movie soundtracks. Eventually the original melody and the accompanying Zeibekiko rhythm reappear and are combined in counterpoint with the new material. In the end, just like in the beginning, the oboe and the bass drum state the opening melody and rhythm one more time in stark contrast to the preceding rich texture. 

Dancing in the Light, the last movement, is based on a folk dance in 7/8 which is common throughout the Balkans. It takes a while for the main theme of this movement to settle into the 7/8 meter and discover its full thematic substance, transforming along the way into a variety of odd-numbered rhythmic structures based on asymmetrical permutations of three’s and two’s. The music is episodic and exuberant, alternating between softer textures supporting the soloist and intense orchestral outbursts. On a number of occasions it nods towards the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Easter European national schools (on other occasions it sounds remotely Celtic) but, overall, this monothematic movement never rests for too long on any given reference. Towards the end there is even a section for the percussionists to shine, particularly the hand-drummer, who is treated as a secondary soloist in this work. A fast coda for oboe and unison orchestra, which culminates in a theatrical break down of communications between the soloist and the orchestra musicians, concludes this hyper-virtuosic movement. 

Telluric Dances is dedicated to the two soloists who requested it and to Symphony Nova Scotia and Maestro Bernhard Gueller who made its composition possible.

Premiere performance: May 3, 2005. Suzanne Lemieux, oboe; Symphony Nova Scotia under the direction of Bernhard Gueller. Rebecca Cohn Auditorium; Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Reviews and Comments:

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

Lemieux rocks on Hatzis piece

If you had walked by the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium at about 9 p.m. Tuesday night, you might have thought from the roar of the audience that a rock concert was on. But it was Symphony Nova Scotia - the finale of the premiere of Telluric Dances for Oboe and Orchestra by Christos Hatzis, written for and played by principal oboe Suzanne Lemieux. With that last note the packed audience jumped up and started yelling and cheering. It went on for five minutes. Each time Lemieux returned to the stage to take a bow, the roar surged again, for composer Hatzis, conductor Bernhard Gueller and the astonished members of the orchestra...the Hatzis full of technical innovation and surprise, panning the sound in the air from right to left and 180 degrees into the orchestra and back; there are multiphonic screeches, bent tones, an array of ornaments and roulades. Lemieux played elegantly but not overly so, preserving character, suggesting both a folk oboe and a concert soprano. With an instinct for musical proportions that would have made Hatzis a great architect and one of the finest ears in music for orchestral colour, allied to his astonishing musical imagination, he constructed a concerto full of rhythmic rococo, lively in the interplay of tones, and clear and easy to follow despite its complexity. Stephen Pedersen, THE CHRONICLE HERALD (Halifax, Canada) May 5, 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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