Classical Score; In Armenia, discovering the past and the present

BPI Entertainment News Wire
March 22, 2004, Monday 01:18 PM Eastern Time

Classical Score ;
In Armenia, discovering the past and the present

By ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, Billboard

Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian is a man of passion and intensity.

Whether discussing his friendship with Dmitri Shostakovich,
describing his childhood in Beirut, Lebanon, or recounting the
influence of William Faulkner’s writings on his work, Mansurian
punctuates his reflections with sweeping hand motions and piercing
glances.

Yet the 65-year-old’s own music exemplifies the power and pungency of
the small and subtle gesture. Renowned violist Kim Kashkashian —
herself Armenian-American — explains the appeal of Mansurian’s music
this way: “His writing is very distilled, very concentrated. The
intensity is extreme.”

Mansurian says his music is steeped not just in Armenian music and
history but is also influenced by a Japanese artist he observed some
30 years ago.

“I saw an ikebana artist creating a composition from flowers,” he
says, “and the theory behind this art is to reveal beauty through
simplicity. When they cut off leaves, you can see the childhood of
the plant. From that emptiness, you imagine and create life
yourself.”

Despite his renown at home and his friendships with such colleagues
as Arvo Part, Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina, Valentin
Silvestrov and others, Mansurian is not well-known internationally.
However, that is rapidly changing.

Since their first meeting several years ago, Kashkashian has become a
champion of Mansurian’s work, and the composer has written several
works for her. Kashkashian’s advocacy has blossomed into a long-term
commitment to Mansurian from producer/ECM label head Manfred Eicher.

The first fruit of that relationship arrived last July, when the
Munich-based ECM released “Hayren,” a disc that included Mansurian’s
piece “Havik” as well as songs by the revered Armenian
composer/ethnomusicologist Komitas (1869-1935), arranged by
Mansurian.

On March 30, ECM continues to explore Mansurian’s exceptional work
with a two-CD set titled “Monodia.” Two compositions on the new disc
were written expressly for Kashkashian: the 1995 viola concerto “And
Then I Was in Time Again …” and “Confessing With Faith” for viola
and voices (in which Kashkashian is joined by the Hilliard Ensemble).

“Lachrymae,” a piece for viola and saxophone, is played here by its
dedicatees, Kashkashian and Jan Garbarek (who makes his instrument
sound remarkably like the traditional Armenian duduk). Rounding out
the collection is 1981’s Violin Concerto, played by Leonidas Kavakos.

WHO’S FIT TO BE ARIADNE? The brouhaha stemming from Covent Garden’s
decision to drop Deborah Voigt from this June’s production of
Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” because of her weight shows no signs of
abating, despite the outpouring of support for Voigt.

You know the opera-sized wars have hit the big time when the fury
elicits outraged comment from The New York Times’ editorial board, as
it did March 10.

Asuggestion for the beleaguered Voigt: Perhaps a suitable venue in
London would be pleased to present you in a solo recital on the same
night that “Ariadne” opens?

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