Hatzis’ Departures

We’re thrilled to be performing Christos Hatzis’ Departures on April 27th.  Little did we know when we programmed it that it would be a perfect and fitting way to send off our Principal Flute Sarah Yunji Moon on her departure from the SSO.

From the composer:

Departures for flute and string orchestra was written for Canadian flutist and friend Susan Hoeppner and was given its premiere performance by her and the Kyoto Symphony at the Japan Flute Convention 2011 where she was invited to perform as a keynote guest at the Gala Concerto Concert. I worked on its composition during a time when a number of dear friends had passed away and the 2011 tsunami in Fukushima, Japan, and the resultant nuclear disaster was constantly in the news. All of these events were foremost in my mind as I was composing Departures and are acknowledged in the subtitles of each movement.

Blooming Fields, the first movement, is dedicated to the memory of theatre and television director George Bloomfield. In his obituary, George was quoted describing his own life as”the most fun anyone has ever had, ever!” This is certainly how I remember him. George used to buy new clothes and sew his own buttons on them. One’s appearance was an important statement to him but he would always find half-convincing excuses to justify my own utter neglect for my apparel or appearance in generalóto my unfailing amusement, I might add. The music reflects his playfulness and sheer delight with life, people and deliberate style and a wide expressive range, which was also the hallmark of his television and stage work. From its “Asiatic” opening, through the acrobatics for the flute and the orchestra, to the unexpected “burlesque” interpolations further along, the music of Blooming Fields is full of exuberance and delight. However, the flipside of George’s existence was his constant flirting with death (one medical emergency after another, at least during the years that I knew him) and his constant cheating of death each time, except for the inevitable final encounter. The deeper experience of these encounters he kept hidden from his friends but, to me at least, it must have been the great teacher of his life: the one that revealed to him the more profound aspects of being and the richness that results from interacting with them. In the music, this is the moment when the out of control burlesque-like revelry is interrupted by an intense and dissonant flute multiphonic, which in turn introduces a different way of listening: to the small voice within, depicted here by the quiet whistle and Aeolian tones of the flute. In the end, a soft, muted tremolo on high strings confirms this introspection of the soloist as the path to true awakening.

Serenity, the second movement, is dedicated to the memory of Bertha Modlich, an inspirational woman who passed away just shy of her 105th birthday. Bertha lived alone, ran her own house and a pottery workshop, played the violin and did sports (mostly rowing) until the very end of her lifeóa remarkable feat for a woman of that age. She modestly attributed her longevity to her daily dose of Lindt chocolate (from the factory on Lake Zurich, right across the lake from her family home) but I think her secret was her perpetual optimism and her determination to always see the best in other people no matter what the circumstances. Bertha experienced hardships in her life, like living in Berlin as a young woman and mother of two during the allied bombings of the city and the material deprivations that followed the fall of the Nazis, but she always focused on the positive aspects of life and had a way of making other people feel important. The music of Serenity follows her lead: there are clouds but they are short-lived and the music returns quickly to sunnier vistas. The latter part of Serenity is a song without words. As I was writing it immersed in my loving impressions of Bertha (and perhaps her own ghostly presence,) I imagined her dancing away into eternity in this unpretentious, slow waltz melody that seems to exist on its own terms and against all conventional wisdom about human limitations.

Progress Blues, the final movement, is a meditation on the nuclear disaster of Fukushima; not on the accident itself, but on the lessons that can be learned from our unwarranted and single-minded faith in technological progress. Even though the tsunami caused more human tragedy than the near meltdown of the nuclear reactors, the latter event may end up having a more transformative effect on the Japanese psyche than any act of God, however devastating. The modern history of Japan has two nuclear disasters 66 years apart as bookends, one at the end of WW2 and one in our days. After the Hiroshima and Nagasaki holocaust, Japan embarked on a path of technological development and exuberance, which, although it brought a great deal of material and emotional satisfaction and wealth, it also caused fissures within the Japanese psyche and society that are only recently becoming visible to everyone. The music follows this path of exuberance, which is not that different from that of the first movement, although in Progress Blues it is more relentless, more impulsively driven. Its fissures show occasionally, as in the “wobbly” phonograph effect that exposes the emotional pretentions of the Hollywood-like treatments of the main theme or the “ticking clock” metaphors of the string pizzicati. Introspection is not absent for long (even the Hollywood-like theme undergoes a dark rethinking as a fugato) but the sheer drive forward and the forces that have given it impetus in the first place, repeatedly succeed in sidetracking any attempt to question the wisdom of this relentless drive or the dire consequences that it may engender. At the apogee of speed and energy, the music suddenly collapses, the clocks keep on ticking ominously and then . . . (well, I will let the music tell you what happens next.) Progress Blues is dedicated to the victims of falsely understood “progress” in Fukushima and elsewhere.

Leave a Comment