Classical Score: In Armenia, Discovering The Past And The Present

Classical Score: In Armenia, Discovering The Past And The Present


By Anastasia Tsioulcas

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

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
like the traditional Armenian duduk). Rounding out the collection is
1981’s Violin Concerto, played by Leonidas Kavakos.