Composer’s Work Sends A Message

By David N. Dunkle

Patriot-News, PA
March 22 2007

manner of speaking

When Tigran Mansurian writes music, in his mind he is carrying on a
conversation with his wife.

"It is a way of speaking to her," the Armenian composer, 68, said.

"She is in all my work."

Nona Mansurian passed away about a year ago, and since that time,
Tigran has composed four pieces, an unusually high output. "Usually,
I write with a lot of difficulty," he said.

His latest work, a sextet titled "Con Anime," which is Italian for
"Within the Soul," will premiere Saturday night at Whitaker Center
by the chamber music ensemble Concertante. Also on the program are a
clarinet quintet by Johannes Brahms and a string sextet by Bohuslav

"Con Anime" is the second of six pieces commissioned by the New
York-based ensemble, as part of its three-year "One Plus Five"
project designed to create six new sextets.

Each member of Concertante is commissioning one of the pieces.

Mansurian’s work was sought by violist Ara Gregorian, who also will
be the soloist for the piece.

"The wonderful thing about this process is that you get to help the
piece come to life as a performer," Gregorian said. "At the core of
being an artist is this idea of creation."

Gregorian does not know Mansurian well — they’ve met just once and
have exchanged correspondence — but they share Armenian roots.

Gregorian’s father is from the former Soviet republic, which gained
its independence when the Iron Curtain fell.

While the state is new, Armenian culture dates thousands of years.

"That’s why I originally asked Mr. Mansurian to write the piece,
to be in touch with that part of my culture," Gregorian said. He has
never visited Armenia, but lists it among his goals.

Mansurian, who was born in Beirut but raised in Armenia, now spends
part of his year with his daughter in Southern California. He often
incorporates Armenian musical traditions into his compositions and
said he has done so again with "Con Anime."

He said the piece is about "confession and redemption," built around
a repeating pattern using F sharp and G flat.

"The atmosphere changes when F sharp becomes G flat," Mansurian said.

He said the music flowed out of him, "like words lined up, letter by
letter. It was just inside me."

Gregorian said he can understand Mansurian’s conception of the piece,
but is reluctant to say too much about it during this learning phase.

"It’s a tough thing to put into words," he said. "Until I know a
piece really, really well, I’m reluctant to say it’s exactly this or
exactly that."

Mansurian is expected to attend the premiere in Harrisburg. The piece
will be performed later in New York City.

The decision to premiere "Con Anime" in Harrisburg is an outgrowth of
the acclaimed ensemble’s decade-long history. Harrisburg Symphony
Orchestra concertmaster Odin Rathnam was a founding member of
Concertante, and while Rathnam is no longer involved with the group,
it remains the resident chamber music ensemble at Whitaker.

The first One Plus Five commission, by composer Lowell Lieberman,
made its debut last fall, featuring Concertante violinist Xiao-Dong
Wang as soloist.

Upcoming composers, and the Concertante member who commissioned them,
are: Richard Danielpour, for violinist Ittai Shapira, fall 2008;
Gabriela Frank, for violist Rachel Shapiro, spring 2008; Kevin Puts,
for cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach, spring 2009; and Shulamit Ran, for
cellist Zvi Plesser, spring 2009.