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Constantinople promises an utterly captivating musical experience January 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Americas.

How many times have you heard a tune over the airwaves and become utterly captivated by it?

It almost becomes an obsession as you try to find out the title, artists and composer. Such teasers often promote a forthcoming concert featuring the whole work and, should your aural senses have been tickled sufficiently, you will probably be in the audience.

Just such a scenario occurred in Toronto some six years back when a couple of movements from Christos Hatzis’s Constantinople were played on radio to advertise the work’s premiere. So successful was the tease that the performance has gone down as one of the most successful premieres in Canadian musical history.

The music-driven, multimedia theatre event will reach these shores in the new year and receive its European premiere at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre on March 21, followed by three further performances on March 23, 24 and 25.

Despite taking its name from the old Byzantine capital and the great crossroads between Europe and Asia, Constantinople comes to London not from the Middle East or the Balkans, but from the pen of a Greek musician who has lived in Canada for the past 25 years.

Hatzis says the title should not be taken literally. Rather its eight scenes and 85 minutes use music, both live and recorded, words, movement and visuals to explore the convergence and tension between cultures and ends in a celebration of cultural and religious diversity.

Toronto, whose name is thought to come from the Huron word for meeting place, is home to both the composer and the Gryphon Trio, the group that commissioned the piece. All four musicians teach at the University of Toronto.

Hatzis, who left his native Greece when it was still under the rule of a handful of colonels, recognises that “second-generation immigrants in Canada do not subscribe to a ghetto culture, they become part of the country’s cultural mosaic”.

Indeed, the members of the Gryphon Trio are themselves something of a cultural mix. Violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon is of Thai and German descent, pianist Jamie Parker is Japanese-British and cellist Roman Borys stems from Ukrainian stock.

“We originally chose the name Gryphon because it embraced a range of possibilities, the hybrid creature of mythology and the capacity to grow in different directions,” explains Borys. For all the work’s theatricality, it is the music that, as Hatzis says, is the central protagonist.

“While the words are not a libretto in a conventional sense, the music and words tended to materialise at the same time, although some of the texts were chosen or created after the music had been written,” he says.

Hatzis’s previous London premiere was in 2004 at St Paul’s Cathedral during the Byzantine Festival. The Troparion of Kassiani, commissioned for the festival, was performed by Patricia Rozario and the English Chamber Choir.

Hatzis draws on a Byzantine rather than specifically Greek heritage. “As I was raised in Greece, I experienced both the Classical Greek tradition of reason and the more instinctive and spiritual influences of the Middle East. When I left Greece during the military junta, I was disillusioned about what was going on politically in my country. It’s very important for me to understand both sides of any debate and I have been drawn to musical explorations of cultures as diverse as those of the Inuit and the Armenian.

“Constantinople acknowledges the dark aspects of cultural confrontation over the centuries and the tragedies caused by narrow-minded allegiances. But the work clings stubbornly onto the positive effects of cultural and religious diversity and it celebrates the richness of that diversity. There is a spiritual inheritance for each and every one of us.”

Performances of Constantinople are at 8pm on March 21, 23 and 24and at 4pm on March 25. Tickets are £9-£18 (standing), £10 for students. For more information, go to www.roh.org.uk.

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