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Canadian composer confronts changing climate

New piece's première will help open the Winnipeg New Music Festival

JEFF DE BOOY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Downtown’s Hudson’s Bay Building will be the venue for Thursday night’s performance.</p>

JEFF DE BOOY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Downtown’s Hudson’s Bay Building will be the venue for Thursday night’s performance.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/1/2017 (661 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis has delved into the Pandora’s box of global warming to find inspiration for one of the centrepieces of this year’s Winnipeg New Music Festival.

The composer of the score for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star: Truth and Reconciliation marks his return with Syn-Phonia (Migrant Patterns), an electro-acoustic, multi-disciplinary work featuring Inuit throat singer Tiffany Ayalik and Sufi singer Maryem Hassan-Tollar. The piece receives its world première by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra when the festival launches tonight at 7:30 p.m. and runs through Feb. 4 with a jam-packed slate of nightly concerts, panel discussions, pre- and post-show chats, art exhibitions, food, fashion shows, after-parties and other satellite events celebrating the now and new.

“After Going Home Star, I felt that next big issue that really concerns me both as a human being and as an artist is climate change,” Hatzis, the longtime University of Toronto music professor, says over the phone. “I can see how it is dividing the world into two different parts: the ones who think of humanity as a whole, and the other ones who think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ But our world is so interconnected that no cause and no effect is independent of each other. We are pretty much together, and it is never someone else’s problem.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/1/2017 (661 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis has delved into the Pandora’s box of global warming to find inspiration for one of the centrepieces of this year’s Winnipeg New Music Festival.

The composer of the score for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Going Home Star: Truth and Reconciliation marks his return with Syn-Phonia (Migrant Patterns), an electro-acoustic, multi-disciplinary work featuring Inuit throat singer Tiffany Ayalik and Sufi singer Maryem Hassan-Tollar. The piece receives its world première by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra when the festival launches tonight at 7:30 p.m. and runs through Feb. 4 with a jam-packed slate of nightly concerts, panel discussions, pre- and post-show chats, art exhibitions, food, fashion shows, after-parties and other satellite events celebrating the now and new.

Christos Hatzis</p>

Christos Hatzis

"After Going Home Star, I felt that next big issue that really concerns me both as a human being and as an artist is climate change," Hatzis, the longtime University of Toronto music professor, says over the phone. "I can see how it is dividing the world into two different parts: the ones who think of humanity as a whole, and the other ones who think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ But our world is so interconnected that no cause and no effect is independent of each other. We are pretty much together, and it is never someone else’s problem."

Winnipeg audiences can’t seem to get enough of Hatzis’s eloquent, soulful music that communicates on deeply visceral levels, including his last WNMF première, Redemption: Book 3, which was performed here in 2012.

"Christos is this really creative person who is writing in the symphonic tradition, including counterpoint and melodies, yet he’s not coming from an academic place. He’s a true individual," says Alexander Mickelthwate, the festival’s artistic director who also leads tonight’s concert. "And not only does he embrace cultural diversity and writes in all these different styles, but he is also connecting them and their different worlds, while creating something imaginative and purposeful."

Two of those distinct worlds in the four-movement work are the frigid Arctic and the "cradle of civilization," the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent. Hatzis has infused his piece with musical influences from those areas, chosen as two spots deeply affected by climate change as waves of migrants grapple with the phenomenon’s ensuing perils. The third movement, simply titled Thank You, features excerpts from the 3,500-year old Egyptian Book of the Dead, with the two vocalists intoning a steady litany of thank-yous that culminates with pre-recorded voices of two refugees from Aleppo, Syria, expressing gratitude for escaping to Canada. The effect promises to be chilling.

Hatzis has added further layering with Winnipeg artist John Pasternak, who will create a live, onstage painting while wearing a virtual-reality helmet. Audience members will peer through provided 3D glasses to visualize his painting in full dimension. The performance will round out with suround-sound electronics (Khaled Shariff, creative director) as Hatzis’s "kinetic energy of sounds" washes over the audience throughout the 40-minute performance.

With so many stylistic complexities and practical considerations at play — and especially during a nail-biting world première — is Hatzis nervous in any way?

"For me, music-making is almost like an alchemical art," he says thoughtfully, adding that he can’t wait to hear compositional fruits of his labours this weekend. "During a performance, each person’s energy feeds upon everyone else’s — you get this collective energy and then suddenly something magical happens."

ANDREW HARNIK / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS</p><p>Composer Meredith Monk, whose works highlight three nights of the Winnipeg New Music Festival, receives the 2014 National Medal of Arts from former U.S. president Barack Obama.</p>

ANDREW HARNIK / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Composer Meredith Monk, whose works highlight three nights of the Winnipeg New Music Festival, receives the 2014 National Medal of Arts from former U.S. president Barack Obama.

The 2017 festival also notably welcomes its latest coup — American composer-singer-performance artist Meredith Monk. The trailblazing musician, hailed as a pioneer in "extended vocal technique" in the 1960s, will have her work Weave performed opening night.

Sunday and Monday’s performances, The World of Meredith Monk and Songs of Ascension, respectively, feature a program of retrospective works performed by Monk with her own vocal ensemble, as well as local choirs Camerata Nova and Polycoro Chamber Choir for the latter show.

"Meredith Monk composes in a minimalist style but almost has this Mother Earth, shamanic feel about her,’ Mickelthwate says. "She really connects with her local communities and creates this synergy, which is very special."

SUPPLIED</p><p>Pianist Lubomyr Melnyk's brand of continuous music will play a part in Thursday night's festival event.</p>

SUPPLIED

Pianist Lubomyr Melnyk's brand of continuous music will play a part in Thursday night's festival event.

In the wake of last year’s wildly successful concert at the Pan Am Pool, Thursday night’s audiences will be taken underground to the historic Hudson’s Bay downtown store for the spookily named Ghosts of the Hudson’s Bay Building. An eclectic bill performed in the round highlights former Winnipegger Lubomyr Melnyk, a newly signed Sony Classical recording artist, who will be performing the world première of his live ballet/film score The Dreamers Ever Leave You, written in his own invented style of continuous music.

"Continuous music turns the piano into an orchestra all on its own; the sound is far richer and far more complex than regular piano playing," Melnyk explains in an email from Europe, where he lives like a gypsy with constant touring, composing and recording dates.

"The spirit of this ballet is an homage to (Group of Seven artist) Lawren Harris, the great painter of mountains and seascapes. The music is an enormous two-hour production of which we are presenting just a smaller part. It is the most ‘classical’ of everything I have done in the last 20 years."

Festival curator Matthew Patton’s The Limits of Almost (with film) will also be featured during Thursday’s program.

Other highlights include hearing Never the Same River from Harry Stafylakis, the WSO’s newly minted composer-in-residence, performed during Tuesday’s New Music Tomorrow – Canada program, which also includes works by Claude Vivier, Avner Dorman, Eliot Britton, Dinuk Wijeratne and Michael Ducharme.

Wednesday evening’s evocatively titled The End and the Beginning of Music features two Canadian premières: William Basinski’s The Deluge, and Symphony No. 7 Angel of Light from late Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara.

"I personally chose the most spiritual work by this composer, who said he had visions of angels and celestial beings when he was a child," Mickelthwate says of the latter piece by one of his personal musical heroes. "So this whole evening will go to heaven in a way that’s really beautiful."

The week caps off Feb. 3 with the gala finale, The New World, which includes premières by Fjola Evans and Cassandra Miller along with Turkish composer Fazil Say’s monumental Mesopotamia Symphony.

Finally, after such an action-packed week, new music lovers can relax with the 12-Hour Drone: Experiments in Sounds of Winter, a marathon extravaganza that begins at midnight on Feb. 4, and runs until Saturday noon at the Duncan Sportsplex, 55 Duncan St. The all-immersive event created by New York-based Basilica Hudson and Le Guess Who? offers an easy, come and go evening of solo voice, piano and electronic drone, as well as ongoing meditation, yoga, and for those in need of their next kick-start, an in-house espresso bar.

holly.harris@shaw.ca

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