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A Canadian composer melodically brings two worlds of music together

By Gregg Redner

By Christos Hatzis

While sacred CDs make up only a small portion of my annual music purchases, I have indeed bought one extraordinary CD this past year: composer Christos Hatzis’s Constantinople, which was nominated in 2008 for a Juno Award.

Hatzis, a member of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, has composed many choral compositions and received numerous international awards. Constantinople is scored for chamber ensemble, choir and soloists and comprises eight movements, drawn from liturgical texts and a variety of poetic sources.

Listeners should not approach this work assuming they will find something familiar and comfortable. This is a challenging but highly rewarding composition, which combines a number of musical syntaxes and styles that will be new to many. Hatzis draws upon the quasi-improvisational techniques of Eastern music and its variety of melodic and harmonic constructions. There is also a strong suggestion of Western plainsong, which creates a sense of rhythmic freedom that brings both elevation and disequilibrium, propelling the work ahead with a fervour that is both brutal and tender.

The blending of East and West reminds me of how Astor Piazzolla, the great bandoneon player, managed to unite the worlds of the popular tango and classical chamber music in his great opera Maria of Buenos Aires. Perhaps Hatzis’s greatest gift to us is to bring together two worlds that appear locked in a perpetual dance of misunderstanding. 

Gregg Redner is music director at Metropolitan United in London, Ont.
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