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Armenia’s struggle for international acknowledgment that the extermination of more than a million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during the First World War was genocide has been the work of historians and politicians. But it is also a job for art, especially with the recent 100th anniversary of the first deportations from Turkey.
On Tuesday, Armenia was awarded the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion for best national pavilion, “Armenity,” which addresses the Armenian diaspora. Armenia is also a musical nation, and on Tuesday, the Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra made its first appearance in Walt Disney Concert Hall with “A Concert of Remembrance.”
Founded in Armenia’s capital of Yerevan 90 years ago, shortly after the country was incorporated into the Soviet Union, the orchestra had the reputation as a solid Soviet band while still maintaining its spirited national identity.
Nearly all of its artistic directors and principal conductors, as well as its players, have been and continue to be Armenian. An important exception was the twentysomething Valery Gergiev, who led the orchestra in the early 1980s.
The Disney Hall program, conducted by Eduard Topchjan (artistic director and principal conductor since 2000), represented both the orchestra’s Armenian and Soviet heritage. Splashy potboilers — the most popular numbers from Khachaturian’s ballet “Spartacus” and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony — opened and closed the concert.
It was a notably less ambitious, or commemorative, occasion than the imaginative and comprehensive all-Armenian gala program given last week in Washington, D.C., the orchestra’s only other U.S. stop on its first North American tour in 19 years.
But there was also Tigran Mansurian’s significantly somber Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra, featuring an eloquent young soloist, Anush Nikoghosyan. The 76-year-old composer, who divides his time between Yerevan and Glendale, represents both to his country, where he is a national figure, and the international music community, the soul of Armenia.
Like much of Mansurian’s work, this 1981 violin concerto is interior music. The orchestra is small, only 18 strings. There is an underlying quality of dirge. Melodies are made of few notes, but they are so intensely beautiful that they seem to capture the very essence of beauty. The tempo is always slow. For much of nearly 30 minutes, the dynamics remain ethereally soft, except for explosions of shocking anger, which are breathtaking in their violence.
As far as can be determined, this was the first time any of Mansurian’s music, a mainstay of the Dilijan chamber music series at the Colburn School across the street, has been played at Disney. It is a perfect venue for it, but a half-hour of demandingly serious music between showpieces was not a good idea for an antsy, gregarious crowd, which added a percussion section of shuffled feet and coughing.
The orchestra, on the other hand, does not give a gregarious impression. Topchjan, who led the program without scores, is an unsmiling, serious, commanding conductor. His orchestra is a serious, stony-faced group as well. Not a single player broke a hint of a smile, even when showered with enthusiastic bravos and whistles.
The seriousness did help, though, with Khachaturian. A sugary Adagio was tart and grand. Spartacus’ garish victory music was stern and compelling.
The debate continues about what Shostakovich meant with his 1937 Fifth Symphony, whether the composer acted as a sop to Stalin or employed surreptitiously dissident context to harmonic consonances. Topchjan’s approach suggested the latter.
There were few sweet sounds. The strings produced a Russian bite. The winds avoided mellowness. Brass could be edgy. Climaxes were permitted to hurt ears. The orchestra did produce some surprising humor in a drunken rendition of the Allegretto, but that vanished with an intently sorrowful slow movement. Shostakovich’s bombastic victory march at the end had the character of tanks not stopping for man, woman or child.
The mournful encore was “Shushani” by Edvard Mirzoyan, chosen to commemorate the late composer’s 94th birthday Tuesday. The audience had the last word when cheers, which sounded more celebratory than impatient, interrupted Mirzoyan’s quiet close.
LOS ANGELES, Calif.—Armenian American violist Kim Kashkashian won the award for the recording “Kurtág & Ligeti: Music for Viola” at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards this evening.
Kim Kashkashian (Photo by Steve Riskind)
Kashkashian has established herself as one of the most accomplished artists of her generation. Inspiring world-wide critical acclaim, she has been hailed by The San Francisco Chronicle as “an artist who combines a probing, restless musical intellect with enormous beauty of tone.” The New York Times has joined in these accolades, praising her “rich, mellow timbre and impressive artistry.”
In recent seasons, Kim Kashkashian has appeared as soloist with the major orchestras of New York, Berlin, London, and Munich. and Tokyo. Her recital appearances take her to Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Cleveland and Los Angeles.
Kashkashian has made guest appearances with the Tokyo, Guarneri, and Galimir Quartets and toured with a unique quartet which included violinists Gidon Kremer and Daniel Phillips and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Her June 2000 recording of concertos by Bartók, Eötvös and Kurtág won the 2001 Cannes Classical Award for a premiere recording by soloist with orchestra. In January 2002, ECM New Series released Voci, her recording of two large works by Luciano Berio. The album comprises the title work for viola and orchestra as well as Naturale, a related work for viola and percussion (Robyn Schulkowsky), and archival field recordings of Sicilian folk music. Hayren and Monodia, released in 2003 and 2004, respectively, focus on Kashkashian’s work with the Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian.
Kashkashian’s extensive teaching activities have included professorships at the University of Indiana in Bloomington and at Conservatories in Freiburg and Berlin, Germany. In September 2000, she began teaching viola and chamber music at the New England Conservatory in Boston.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, of Armenian descent, Kashkashian graduated from the Peabody Conservatory of Music where she studied with Walter Trampler and Karen Tuttle.
YEREVAN, OCTOBER 2, ARMENPRESS: The words “the talented Armenian is talented in everything” are not in vain. This saying more than meets the French Armenian composer, musician and piano player Michel Legrand, whose life experience has proven that talent is a thing that everybody has got, but not everyone can use it.
Armenpress presents its exclusive interview with the world famous composer Michel Legrand.
Mr. Legrand, on October 20 you will celebrate your 80th anniversary in Armenia. With what feelings you will participate in the jubilee party, organized in your homeland?
Every time, when I come to Armenia, the first thought I have is that I am on my grandfathers’ land and I am enwrapped by the feeling of deep request. In general, on those days I become more emotional. Before the massacres implemented by the Turks my grandfather was the last from our family to remain in Armenia, who then escaped to France and gave birth to my mother, and then the Armenians were spread through me and my children.
Every time I come to Armenia, I again live through all this. I wish to shake hands with all the Armenians, with whom we are connected with inseparable ties. Armenia is a country, which was under pressure much and lived many dramatic moments, tragedies, but it is pleasant that currently the country is reviving.
During your childhood the best friend of yours was the piano. Now whom you entrusted this “position”?
You are right. The piano has always been and remains my best friend.
You have issued more than a hundred CDs. Are you satisfied with the productivity of your work or you could have done more? What news from you should we be waiting for?
I am satisfied that I can write and compose. I am satisfied with my music, which is not so bad, I guess. In the future as well I will continue doing my work, composing music as I have always done and I will continue recording progress. I hope that they would be more and more interesting.
You have been rewarded with all the possible awards: 3 Oscars, 5 Grammies and Emmies, 12 Golden Globes. Is there any award, about which you have dreamed of?
All the awards are equal to me. The most important thing is the inner world and the heart of the person. The most important is the recording continuing progress in your work. And you should not forget about the circumstance to work with your heart.
When you look back at your past, what do you regret for? What would you like to change?
I do not regret about anything. It is quite late to change something. I do not look back at my past, it does not interest me, as everything that is today will become yesterday tomorrow.
One more question concerning the Armenian Genocide. All the Armenians of France struggle against the denial. What do you think what results this struggle would bring to?
The Armenians of France have always struggled so that the Armenian Genocide is recognized in France. They have fought as well that their country (meaning Armenia) would win and be stronger. All the Armenians of the world struggle that the Genocide is recognized, as in case of the Shoah (Holocaust).
Interviewed by Arusik Zakharyan
Armenian “Turandot” scored off against the Italians
This is the opinion of specialists after the Armenian premiere of “Turandot”
The Armenian premiere as a concert performance of Puccini’s “Turandot” opera, one of the masterpieces of all-time opera literature, which took place at the beginning of July and was repeated on July 28 thus concluding the APO 2011-2012 concert season, still remains in the limelight of the experts as one of the main musical events of the year. Armenian audience of operatic art is not always given such a chance to deal with masterpieces of such caliber performed on a highest level like it was with Eduard Topchjan’s version of “Turandot”. (more…)
An Armenian cellist explores his musical heritage.
Alexander Chaushian is on sparkling form of this highly enterprising and beautifully recorded CD, Khachaturian’s rarely heard. Concerto-Rhapsody is performed with tremendous conviction, but although this technical tour de force, originally written for Rostropovich, boasts some vintage melodic moments, the score is rather empty, with too much note-spinning. The darker hues of the Monograph for cello and orchestra by Suren Zakarian are far more convincing musically and receive an intensely imaginative performance from Chaushian. Inspired by the concept of the soul in conflict, the work deploys the cello in a high register with shimmering gentle clusters in the orchestral accompaniment. The emotional fervor increases with the cello incanting urgently before ebbing away in a a lighter vein.
A similar use of harmonic clusters colours Vache Sharafyan’s suite, which with its ingenious allusions to the harmonic patterns and dance forms of the Baroque travels through a kaleidoscope of indecent timbres. Chaushian is again totally immersed in the vernacular and gives a searingly eloquent rendition. Equally enthralling is Sharafyan’s arrangement of Komitas’s Krunk (Crane) for duduk, piano and cello. As in the Suite, tonally conventional elements co-exist with the oscillating pitches and clusters of Sharafyan’s harmonic language to magical effect.
Nareh Arghamanyan has developed by leaps and bounds since her 2008 Concours Musical International de Montréal victory, followed by a debut solo disc containing proficient yet overly rhapsodic performances of Liszt’s B minor and Rachmaninov’s B-flat minor sonatas. Arghamanyan’s new all-Rachmaninov recital reveals a more disciplined, controlled, architecturally aware, and expressively sophisticated artist. (more…)
Review by V. Vasan
Cellist Alexander Chaushian is wonderful artist with excellent technique and musicianship, conveying a wide range of emotions and styles of music. The Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Eduard Topchjan is an excellent accompaniment to the cellist, equally capable of evoking many emotions through their technically solid and artistically superior musicianship. (more…)