THUNDER DRUM. For orchestra and audio playback Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassons, 2 French horns, 2 trumpets 1 trombone, timpani, 1 percussion, 1 MIDI keyboard, strings (minimum: 4, 4, 3, 3, 1). Co-commissioned by the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia with financial assistance from the Ontario Arts Council. Duration: 20 minutes. Score and parts available from PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.
Co-commissioned by the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia with a grant from the Ontario Arts Council, Thunder Drum is a work for small orchestra and audio playback. (The audio playback is delivered from a MIDI keyboard.) Although the music of the outer movements is reminiscent of Western European 19th Century music and of more recent epic film sountracks, the underlying theme is informed by a vision of human prehistory expounded by the American mystic Edgar Cayce related to the shifting fortunes of what has been traditionally known as the “red race”, the native inhabitants of the north and central regions of the American continent. A great and lasting influence in my thinking and artistic imagination, Edgar Cayce (1877 – 1945) had mentioned in several of his trance utterances that the antediluvian world we know through legend as “Atlantis” was an advanced civilization dominated by the “red race” which had reached knowledge and technological heights comparable to our own. It fell spectacularly, having pushed its unquenchable thirst for ever increasing energy and power to ecological havoc, as our current civilization too is in danger of reaching with an exponentially increasing likelihood.
Elegy for a Lost World, the first movement of Thunder Drum, is a musical meditation on this loss, which is traumatically felt by our collective psyche as deep seated memory, in spite of the absence of any external evidence for the existence and loss of such an advanced civilization in our collective past. Beginning and developing along 19th Century European common harmonic and melodic practice (another vanishing world), the music is a vague reminiscence of a two-theme classical sonata form. Rising and then falling, the first lament-like theme is occasionally succeeded by another of serene reminiscence whose infrequent appearance only serves to highlight the sense of loss represented by the first theme. This melodic/harmonic discourse is gradually overtaken by denser chromaticism and accompanying musical tension, exacerbated by the technological “fly by” sound effects of the playback audio which are becoming ever more prominent. The movement concludes with a Beethovenesque tragic cadence.
Games, the second movement, is a great leap to the present moment. The industrial like “quantized” loops in the playback audio with their unexpected twists and turns are combined with pre-recorded samples by Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, one of the world’s best known Inuit artists, (used by permission from a recording session with Tanya for our collaboration on the ballet Going Home Star: Truth and Reconciliation). This sonic background constantly challenges an agile orchestra to technically rise to its unpredictable rhythmic demands, a task increasingly frustrated by metric modulations and other devices of rhythmic complexity. Fiendishly challenging for the conductor to keep the orchestra and the playback together, this erratic and increasingly aggressive movement ends with a series of short modal melodic gestures, which are rather foreign to the otherwise consistent sonic world of this movement but presages the thematic material of the third movement.Without any pause, Reconstitution, the third movement, begins quietly with a timid thematic development of the aggressive modal gestures that concluded the previous movement. They are in quintuple meter, the number five being a numerological indicator of human strife and aggression (pentagon, pentagram, etc.). The music once more picks up pace and energy and, this time around, it ends in an epic, triumphant but also hollow ending with the opening theme of Thunder Drum modulating to an altered major-like mode. In the aftermath of this triumphant conclusion, however, the two modes, the major and the minor are constantly alternating, suggesting an ambivalence and incompleteness that needs to be mediated upon in a future compositional essay. As history teaches us repeatedly, the phenomenon of the oppressed rising to power and dominance only creates a new imbalance of oppressors and oppressed with roles simply reversed, unless a deeper understanding of human purpose is learned through this macro-historical exercise. While rising to dominance may look and sound like historical justice, it does not address humanity’s deeper challenges and aspirations: of each and every one of us becoming our “brother’s keeper”; of treating others as we would have them treat us—the deeper (and perhaps only) Christian message.
Premiere performance: October 20, 2016, Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arthur Post. TBSO season opening concert, Masterworks Series. Thunder Bay Community Auditorium, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.
I have been meaning to write to you and tell you how much I admire your Thunder Drum. I enjoyed listening to it, and I actually mean “enjoy”, as in close-my-eyes-and-listen-and-dream kind of enjoy, rather than the intellectual “enjoying” that one is used to most of the time nowadays. What struck me most about it was the juxtaposition of a late-romantic lyricism--which felt almost Straussian, even Scriabinesque at times, but so refreshing! -- and the more “contemporary” modes of expression. This contrast was most pronounced in the first movement, the elegy, and that’s what made it my favourite: I liked that duality of it, the fact that it was keeping the two worlds distinct and allowing the listener to enjoy and absorb them individually, and appreciate their dissimilarity when collided. Anyway, a fantastic and inspiring work. For me, the most satisfying works of art are the ones that don’t answer but ask, stimulate but not control the listener’s imagination. Such works elicit creativity and reflection from the audience. And your piece is definitely of this kind. Thank you for sharing and congratulations! N. P. Toronto, Nov. 15 2016.
Canada’s composer wizard Christos Hatzis has written us another visionary piece -- “Thunder Drum,” for orchestra and audio playback. The symphonic soundscape is augmented by sampled Inuit throat singing from Tanya Taqaq, fly-by sound effects and ferocious industrial quantized loops, evoking both the traumas of recent Aboriginal history and the collective psyche’s deep-seated longing for a lost paradise. What an honor to be involved in such a creative project! Facebook posting by Arthur Post, Music Director of the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra. Oct. 6, 2016.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the supercomposer - Christos Hatzis! More imagination than an LSD trip. More technique than a neurosurgeon. Able to reach an audience in a single bound. What a fabulous piece he wrote for the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra - THUNDER DRUM. Facebook posting by Arthur Post, Music Director of the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra. Oct. 21, 2016.
Christos, Thunder Drum is fantastic! It was so well received by our audience, many of them first timers to the symphony. We had solo performances from First Nations beat boxer Nuge Bird, and singers Ann Doyan and Laurent Isadore inserted between movements. Audience on their feet and that was before Tanya Tagaq came out in the 2nd half and blew us all away. Thanks for this wonderful piece. We all loved it! Facebook comment by Rose Thomson, Music Director of Okanagan Symphony Orchestra. October 17, 2018.
I was at the symphony in Nova Scotia last night and I just wanted to say I thought your piece was incredible. I had heard Tanya Tagaq’s name over the years but that’s the first time I’d been exposed to her singing. I didn’t even realize that was part of last night’s performance until I got there. That was such an enjoyable and unexpected highlight for me. The audio playbacks were so AWESOME. That’s the most psychedelic I’ve ever seen the symphony get. I’m really glad I got to experience that. Wow. K. G. Halifax, NS.
Thunder Drum is a sumptuous, complex orchestral work in three movements. Structurally the work is a journey, from "a lost world", through an intervention of "games" leading into a "reconstitution". . . The first movement has a sombre yet vibrant beginning and then moves through a field of lamentation and almost regret. That sound field is not is not languid or static, however, featuring some chordal clashes and extended string passages. In the second movement Hatzis introduces electronic, technical tones that appear in short bursts or waves. The music here takes on a three-dimensional complexity that was marvelous to hear. The closing movement utilized all the colours of the orchestra, but rather than ending with a resounding crescendo, the work ends delicately, sweetly, ambivalently. This is a wonderful new work that I expect will find its way into the repertoire of many Canadian orchestras. Hatzis is a popular composer and his talents are in high demand. It was a wonderful gift for the TBSO to commission and perform the premiere of this work here, in Thunder Bay. Michael Sobota (Thunder Bay) CHRONICLE JOURNAL October 22, 2016
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