A Musical Trip to Armenia
Ashot Zograbyan was the guest composer at a performance
of Armenian music by Creo April 14, 2003 at Chandler Recital Hall. Mr. Zograbyan (b.1945) was
invited to the stage at the conclusion of the concert where he commented that he
was pleased to have his music heard in such a fine hall and performed with such a high
level of accomplishment.
Song was very much a part of the evening; mezzo Lisa Relaford Coston
sang with power and clarity. When I asked the composer about Ms. Coston's performance
he commented that she immediately grasped what he was asking for in his song. She did
not have to work at it. "It is a gift that you are born with" he went on to say. "She is a
natural singer with a very smooth delivery."
Armenia is a rugged mountainous republic with 3.5 million people.
About one third
of the country's population lives in the capital, Yerevan, which is the home of
the Komitas Conservatory. While a student at the conservatory Mr. Zograbyan
wrote a number of chamber pieces for various instrumental combinations. Two
of these pieces were on the program.
Elegy "An den Knaben Elis" is a song
for mezzo-soprano, cello, clarinet and piano with a text by German poet-symbolist
Georg Trakl (1887-1914). Elis is a young boy who has died before the poem begins.
In questioning the composer whether he sets words and phrases for meaning or "Do
you strive for an overall mood?" He replied "I set every phrase for precise meaning of
that phrase." The opening instrumental music of the piece is evocative of dark
forests and blackbirds, both symbols of death. Even so this piece is not gloomy
and when he sets the phrase "Yet with supple steps you traverse a night", "night"
is set very sweetly. There is a warm easy acceptance of this major part of human
existence. There is a section of loud, intense and exuberant music where the
voice is treated as another instrument. The piece ends with a fine, thin
cello note that fades away, expressive of the idea that our silence in death is "the final
gold of a dying star." The excellent cellist was Sungzhin Peter Lee. See Issue
#19 for more about the poet and his psychology.
In Sonata for Cello and Piano (1977), Zograbyan's
second piece, the cello is played by Tanya Anisimova with Andrey Kasparov at the
piano. This piece in three main sections is typical of the composer. "It is an
amalgam of Armenian folk elements and western contemporary music." The plaintive
voice of the cello and the rather hollow sound of treble piano notes expressed
deep pain. The ending came abruptly but gently and sadly. In conversation with the
composer about the pain expressed in this music we were told that "Tanya Anisimova's
interpretation lessened the pain expressed in the piece." It seems that my first
question being about the "pain" established a connection that was palpable in
the remainder of the interview.
The brilliantly played piece Festive (1962)
with Oksana Lutsyshyn and Andrey Kasparov on piano and David Walker on marimba
and tambourine and Nicholas Bartolotta on snare drums opened the program.
Composed by Alexander Arutunian (b. 1920) and Arno Babayanian (1921-1983) for two
pianos and percussion , it is a very accessible fun piece,
an organic, stylistic mix of folk elements, popular appeal and brilliant instrumental
Lisa Coston and Mr. Kasparov collaborated to bring us
the American premiere of three songs by Tigran Mansurian, born in 1939 in Lebanon
but raised in Yerevan where he studied music at the state conservatory. He is a
prolific composer and many of his works are for voice. We heard Four Hayrens of Nahapet
Kuchak. Kuchak is a 16th century Armenian poet. Hayrens are free-form poems consisting
of four to fifteen verses. When I was born...and I was one of those birds brought
out qualities of expression that I never heard before in Ms. Coston's voice. It is
powerful music with elements of early chant, folk music and an absolutely
stunning soaring line in the voice to the text of a bird soaring to avoid being drawn into
"a love trap."
In The Land of Nairi (Nairi is the ancient name for
Armenia) the composer, using text
by Vahan Terian (1885-1920), encapsulates the bloody, painful history of this ancient
country conquered by Alexander the Great and then the Romans in 69 BC. Armenia became the
first country to adopt Christianity as the state religion in AD 303. Later came the
Mongols and the Ottoman Empire and finally the Russians promising religious tolerance.
It has been a battle-ground in modern times over and over again. After the Soviet
Union broke up Armenia became independent. Currently there is an uneasy ceasefire
with neighboring Azerbajan over a territorial dispute. The song opens
in a pensive mood, becomes a lament and concludes celebrating the will to survive
of Nairi. Ms. Coston was marvelous in communicating
all of this in a three minute song with Andrey Kasparov's support at the piano.
Mr. Kasparov's Piano Sonata Number 1 was played by Ms.
Lutsyshyn. This was our third hearing of this piece written by a very gifted 22 year old composer.
See the review in Issue #21 as part of Lisa Coston's recital. To demonstrate
the connection with Armenian music the sonata was preceded by Sarah Glosson playing
an ud (Middle Eastern lute) in a religious piece by Nerses Shanorali (1101-1173) titled The Light of the Lord.
The second movement opens using this melody which soon unfolds in a free strophic form
using elements of free variations. In time
the music skews off track, then more and more. Suddenly you find yourself
in a new auditory landscape - there are familiar elements but only as
The third movement is very tactile. The physicality
of the act of playing the piano dominated my attention. The quickly played
treble notes in the right hand were punctuated by the powerful chords in the left.
It is awe-inspiring to experience such brilliantly played music, so complex and so moving at the
same time. Before the third movement Ms. Coston sang an Armenian hymn from which
melodic material was used, I Cry for God's Mercy, by Mezrob Maslitotz (361-440 AD)
a legendary monk, musician and poet. Maslitotz also invented the Armenian alphabet of 39 characters which
is still used today. The third movement begins as the pianist stands and with the left hand
dampens the bass strings and plays the bass keys with the right. The movement ends the same way. In between
the technical demands are prodigious.
After intermission the selection was Sun Gleams (1984) by
Yarvand Yerkanyan (b.1951) for flute, piano, clarinet and cello with Dr. Kasparov conducting.
This easily likable music removed from our space/time continuum created its own place
in the universe. It gently draws you into this other dimension, this quiet place.
The composer experiments in connecting contemporary musical structures with
medieval Armenian music to create this very original mixture. The piece was dedicated
to the composer Alicia Terzian (b.1934), an Argentinian of Armenian descent.
Terzian was a guest composer with Creo last spring.
David Walker played Ms. Terzian's Yágua ya yuca (1992) for a complex
array of percussion instruments. This work was inspired by a ritual on the last
Sunday of carnival in which Tiger defeats Bull. In this year's performance the
opening sections emphasized the mystery of the events depicted, with much of the rage
of last year's performance drained away. (Reviewed in Issue #11, Dec. 3, 2001).
The percussionist recites "Bull that kills, Tiger that kills, Soul that runs and kills. Watch,
Watch!" Very exciting music making by David Walker.
Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) is Armenia's best known
composer and "Saber Dance" from Gayaneh Ballet (1942) belongs to one of the best known
works of the twentieth century. Andrey
Kasparov arranged the piece for his ensemble and "danced" his way through the piece.
The ensemble included three percussionists: Nicholas Bartolotta, Bryan Maurer and David Walker; F. Gerard
Errante, clarinet; Natalia Kuznetsova, violin; Sungzhin Peter Lee, cello; Oksana
Lutsyshyn, piano; Melissa Sinda, flute. The program ended most happily with this
over the top showpiece with wonderful xylophone solo passages.
Piano Pyrotechnics at Ohef Sholom
On March 30, 2003 Tamara Sanikidze, Oksana Lutsyshyn and
Andrey Kasparov were the featured soloists for this piano extravaganza to inaugurate the Temple's
new Steinway piano, a recent gift of the Sloan Foundation.
At the elegant reception we visited with many musical friends, including
Thibaut Del Giudice who was praising the music and musicians with passion and eloquence. Since
he is a pianist (he studies with Ms. Lutsyshyn) he suggested we give it a great review in AU.
Since we usually review only programs of song and feel unqualified to review piano programs, we asked him to review it for us. Thibaut
is an officer and flyer in the French Navy, currently on assignment with the American Navy.
I would like to mention two things. Howard Scott, who in the 1950's
produced all the early piano recordings of Glenn Gould - including the landmark recording of
Bach's Goldberg Variations, was in the audience and was greatly impressed with Dr. Kasparov's
performance of Mili Balakirev's (1837-1910) Islamy, Oriental Fantasy. "It is only the
fourth time I have heard this piece played." He expressed great enthusiasm for the performance of
this most difficult piece. Second, the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky was a great influence on
Debussy and Ravel. At the Paris World Exhibition of 1889 Ravel heard concerts of
Russian music given by Rimsky-Korsakov.
What an incredible evening we had at the Ohef Sholom Temple with Andrey Kasparov,
Oksana Lutsyshyn and Tamara Sanikidze! The program, entitled Piano Pyrotechnics
truly represented the best of the Russian piano school and everyone stood amazed by
such great composers and interpreters!
The first piece, Sonata in E major by Haydn, was incredibly
and beautifully played by Mr. Kasparov with all the lightness and clear sound required by
such a classical piece. One could follow the whole structure of the piece as
delineated by the interpreter who is also a composer.
Two pieces by Ravel were played by Ms. Lutsyshyn: Une barque sur l'ocean,
as well as Alborado del gracioso, from Miroirs. The pianist managed to show the impressionism present
in these pieces through her inimitable touch of the keyboard. The colors were present and abundant
in that gigantic picture!
Ms. Sanikidze then impressed the audience with three pieces: Domenico Scarlatti's
Sonata in D, Debussy's Feux d'artifices (from Preludes Book II) and Liszt's very famous La Campanella.
At that point the tone was already given to the audience, and one could wonder if any more virtuosity
was possible. Ms Sanikidze not only played technically perfectly these very different pieces,
but also put into each of them such a life! She is truly one of a kind.
After the intermission Ms. Lutsyshyn came back with a wonderful Sonata
#2 in two movements by Scriabin with a quite impressive presto movement which gave the public a
picture of the Russian Impressionism as imagined by this wonderful composer, sometimes touching
The next piece played by Ms Sanikidze was the difficult
Sonata in A major of Beethoven. This four movement sonata with a lot of contrasts and brillance is
a real challenge for this pianist who dares to play with emotion and a perfect technique.
Mr. Kasparov concluded the solo part with three amazing pieces.
Two preludes of Rachmaninoff, G and G sharp minor, that he played with a lot of emotion
and beauty, some of the most beautiful preludes of Rachmaninoff. He finished by playing the amazingly
difficult Islamey of Balakirev. It is such a powerful piece that demands so much energy
and concentration on the keyboard! In the end, people stood up. That was the final touch
of the brilliant program.
The three virtuosos then gave
a humoristic end by playing altogether the Romance and Waltz from Rachmaninoff adapted
for three pianists. They ended such a wonderful evening like a reverence. The public finally
left incredibly happy to have such performers in our area.
We hope to see them again soon.
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