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Prolific composer Christos Hatzis to have premiere here October 08, 2009, 2:52PM

Happy is the composer who hears his or her music performed on a regular basis, which means Christos Hatzis should be positively delirious. He is. The Greek-born Canadian composer is having the rare pleasure of attending the world premieres of no fewer than three of his works this fall.

Last month, violinist Angele Dubeau and the ensemble known as La Pieta introduced Hatzis' "Arabesque" in Quebec. A few days later in Winnipeg, the composer's "Mirage?" for vibraphone, cloud gongs and string orchestra was unveiled by Dame Evelyn Glennie and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra.

Hatzis' premiere No. 3 happens this week in the Cleveland area. "Redemption: Book I," the initial entry in a five-part work about humanity's spiritual fall and redemption, will receive inaugural performances throughout Northeast Ohio by the chamber orchestra CityMusic Cleveland and the Pacifica Quartet under guest conductor David Alan Miller.

"It's pretty crazy, but exciting," Hatzis said recently by phone. "I've been working all year on these three pieces, and now it's payback time."

How Hatzis became associated with CityMusic Cleveland is pretty crazy, too. Several years ago, the professor of music at the University of Toronto was asked by the St. Lawrence String Quartet to write a work for performances with Pilobolus Dance Theater. The chairman of the Pilobolus board at the time was Eugenia Strauss, executive director of CityMusic Cleveland.

When CityMusic set out to commission a composer for a piece featuring the Pacifica Quartet, Strauss suggested Hatzis. The Pacifica, which is noted for championing new string-quartet music, met with the composer and gave its blessing.

Hatzis appealed to Strauss for many reasons, especially given CityMusic's tradition of performing in communities that don't often hear classical music.

"I was fascinated by his music," she said. "But I was also fascinated by him as a person. He's incredibly community-oriented. He has a great amount of interest in using music as a way of healing people and going into communities and making life better."

Hatzis' interest isn't surprising, considering that his art has roots in sacred and humanistic sources. According to the bio on his Web site (, the composer's music "is influenced by early Christian spirituality, Pythagorean and Hermetic ideas, his own Byzantine music heritage, world cultures and religions, and various classical, jazz and pop music idioms from the past and present."

While intrigued with the breadth of Hatzis' music, the Pacifica Quartet members had a more practical concern when they met with the composer. They told him they feared being swallowed by the orchestra.

"The big problem is putting these two forces together," said Hatzis. "And like with a concerto grosso, it's so easy for the quartet to get lost.

"I think the earlier Classical composers had it right in the sense that they understood the relationship between the individual and the group."

Hatzis, 56, will explore a spectrum of relationships as he proceeds through his "Redemption" cycle, which has origins in the writings of Edgar Cayce (1877-1945). Cayce, an American psychic who was called the founder of holistic medicine, believed that a Master Soul -- Yeshua of Nazareth, or Jesus Christ -- guided humanity toward its purpose. Among other biblical figures identified with the theme are Adam, Joseph and Joshua.

The three movements of "Redemption: Book I" focus on the fallen angels, Adam and Eve, and the King of Salem, also known as Melchizedek. The score will be followed by two audio-video installations, a violin concerto (for Jennifer Koh, the remarkable soloist in Gyorgy Ligeti's Violin Concerto with CityMusic in 2008) and a piece for vocal soloists, choir and orchestra.

The "Redemption" work-in-progress is only one of the creations on the drawing board for Hatzis, who came to the United States to study at the Eastman School of Music and received a doctorate at the University of Buffalo under Morton Feldman.

Hatzis, a Canadian citizen since 1985, is booked for the next three years, when he'll complete the "Redemption" cycle, write an encore piece for violinist Hilary Hahn and compose an opera with novelist Margaret Atwood about Pauline Johnson, a Canadian poet and actress of First Nations heritage.

"It's my first opera," Hatzis said. "I actually love the medium because it has so many layers already embedded in it."

Oh, happy composer.

By Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer -