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Q&A | 21 Questions for Christos Hatzis

By Michael Vincent on April 22, 2015

composer Christos Hatzis
composer Christos Hatzis

Every so often, MT poses 60 questions to a local or visiting artist in Toronto who has made our classical music community that much more interesting. They pick and choose. The minimum response is 20 answers. A kind of Rorschach personality test, if you will.

Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis is one of the most important and prolific composers working today. His work is wide-ranging, and characterized for its emotive power and use free use of multiple genres. He has been awarded the Jean A. Chalmers National Music Award, the Jules Legér Prize, the Prix Italia and the Prix Bohemia, and two Juno Awards. His most recent work includes recordings with violinist Hilary Hahn, (Deutsche Grammophon) and Sarah Slean, as well as Going Home Star, a full length ballet for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet on the subject of the residential schools with (Inuk) throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Hatzis is the 2014 recipient of the HHF Life Achievement Award (The previous recipient was Mike Lazarides, founder and CEO of Blackberry) and is professor of composition at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Hatzis lives in Uxbridge, Ontario.


What are three things about Toronto that make you want to live here?

I am not sure how to answer this question now, but I knew how to answer it when I first came here in the early eighties. I was working on my Ph.D with Morton Feldman in Buffalo at that time and occasionally some Greek colleagues at the university would drive up to Toronto to visit the Greek coffee houses on the Danforth. On my first visit with them, while we were still on the Gardiner in the car, I spontaneously announced to everyone that this was the city that I would be spending the rest of my life in. I have no idea why, I knew next to nothing about Toronto, but there it was. I loved then the cultural vibrancy of the city, a sense that anything was possible, the fact that the city was more concerned with what it wanted to become rather than what it was. I felt there was a place for me here and, in spite the fact that it was very difficult making ends meet, I felt at home. I was not interested in the predominately colonial culture of the city at that time but I could breathe its multicultural air and the fact that I could define myself as an artist anyway I felt like.

Where did you go to school?

The local branch of the Hellenic Conservatory (in Volos, Greece,) Eastman School of Music for my Bachelor’s and Master’s and SUNY at Buffalo for my Ph.D.

The historical personalities, both good and bad, that fascinate you the most?

On the positive side: Yeshua of Nazaerth, Mahatma Gandhi, American mystic Edgar Cayce and many others. They all understood that the world does not change without personal sacrifice. On the negative side: Alexander (the not-so-Great) and Lenin. They ruined the lives of so many people by believing that they could change the world through coercion.

What are the three things you’d like to change about Toronto?

1: Public transit that does not pay for itself principally through token price increases. 2: More subsidized housing for the city’s homeless or borderline homeless. 3: Increased funding for education and culture in the city.

Your first three record store purchases?

Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra
Bob Dylan: Slow Train Coming
Debussy: La Mer, Nocturnes

The strangest place you’ve ever been to?

Baffin Island in the mid-nineties. It felt like I landed on Mars. It is not just the experience of life in the permafrost zone, but things you do not think about until you actually experience them, like the deafening sound of jets flying overhead with no vegetation on the ground to muffle the sound and the sense of wilderness virtually untouched by humans. It must be very different now than it was then with quite a bit of traffic there from the south, but I was fortunate to catch it during what was frontier days.

The three books that you read that made an impact on you in your formative years?

The Bible; Hegel’s Philosophy of History; Marx’s The Capital. The impact: faith in a divinely ordained future for all humanity; understanding history and human action (including musical composition) in hierarchical layers of cause and effect; the need for our worldview and our social and political philosophy to include and serve everyone, particularly the disadvantaged.

Whose musical style do you covet?

Everybody’s, but not passively. I try to understand the fundamental thinking behind every musical style and the best way to understand is to be creatively engaged with it. I do this also with styles and ways of thinking I do not like. My understanding of humanity and its culture is all-inclusive; nothing can be left out. It is in its totality that humanity makes sense.

Where was the last place you traveled to for work or pleasure?

Winnipeg last fall for the premiere of our ballet GOING HOME STAR: Truth and Reconciliation, by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet on the subject of the Residential Schools and with choreography by Mark Godden, script by Joseph Boyden and my music. A very transformative experience, particularly because of the massive participation of the native community in such a divided city. It is moments like these that make me feel redeemed for being an artist. It will tour widely next season, including Toronto and Burlington, so I can’t wait to experience it again.

The different career path that you could have gone on?

Painting. Music and painting were my teenage loves. I decided eventually to follow one only. Music won.

Television show that you could tolerate re-runs of?

Studio 60 on the Sunset Boulevard. The West Wing. I have the DVDs and watch them often.

Under what circumstances would you join the army?

Under no circumstances. I believe in turning the other cheek, even when I do not have the strength to practice it all the time, so . . . any kind of army is a non-starter for me. Besides, I am 62. No army would want me (thank God.)

Your major character flaw?

Gullibility. Irritability. I am getting better at mastering both, however.

The character flaw in others that you can’t abide?

Dishonesty and pretention (redundant, actually, since both are the same thing.)

What are you the most proud of?

My beautiful daughter, Maria Hatzis, who has a heart of gold and loves everyone, even when she gets hurt. She is everything I wish her to be.

What are you the least proud of?

When my competitive instinct stands between me and other people. I am working on this but I am not proud of my track record as yet.

The relatively normal piece of clothing that you believe you’d look the most ridiculous in?

I look pretty ridiculous in all my clothes and I don’t care. I have spent most of my early life inside second-hand clothes and colour mismatches. Fashion is of no interest to me, whatsoever. My greatest accomplishment in the attire front has been keeping my socks in pairs.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

I love, therefore I am.

Three pieces, songs, or arias that you could listen to on repeat for an hour?

Debussy’s The Afternoon of a Faun; the aria “When I am Laid in Earth” from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. “One True Love” and “Cosmic Ballet” by Sarah Slean.

The one place that you have the least interest in ever visiting?

Wall Street.

The best way to die?

With no regrets.



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Michael Vincent
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