Mikael Ayrapetyan: «Let us live, create and be the devotees and advocates of our Homeland, our culture and our arts»
While hosting Diasporan Armenian pianist Mikael Ayrapetyan and his wife, pianist Yulia in the editorial office of Hayern Aysor electronic newspaper of the RA Ministry of Diaspora, we talked about the purpose of Mikael’s visit, which is a sacred duty for the devoted musician to identify the great Armenian musicians and composers who have made contributions to the world of music and have been unfairly forgotten. Mikael, who was born in Armenia, studied in Moscow and shares his professional skills with young musicians of China, will be giving a concert through the Secrets of Armenia musical project and has dedicated this concert to renowned Armenian composer and People’s Artist of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic Haro Stepanyan.
“Of course, I have come to satisfy my longing for my birthplace, my Homeland and enjoy the sun in Armenia, but I am mainly in Armenia to give a concert at Cafesjian Center for the Arts on August 3. I am dedicating the concert to renowned Armenian composer Haro Stepanyan. Unfortunately, few people talk about that talented composer and don’t reflect much on his works. This makes me sad, and I want people to remember all talented musicians and often remember them and reflect on their works. Haro Stepanyan was born in Gandzak, the native land of 12th century renowned historian Kirakos Gandzaketsi, fable writers Vardan Aygektsy and Mkhitar Gosh. At the age of 17, Stepanyan participated in WWI. In 1919, he studied at Tbilisi State Conservatory for a year and met Romanos Melikyan. In 1923, he studied at the Gnessin Music School of Moscow and was a student of Mikhayil Gnessin. In 1926-30, he was a student of Shcherbakov at Leningrad Conservatory. In 1927-29, he participated in the folk music gathering campaign that Kristapor Kushkaryan organized in different regions of Armenia and wrote more than 350 Armenian and foreign songs that were later adapted. In his memoirs, Haro Stepanyan wrote that that campaign helped him better recognize the beauty of Armenia and he confessed that he had written most of his songs under the influence of his impressions of those days, particularly the song “Hey, Aragats!” This great composer created five operas, three symphonies, several romantic songs, chamber and instrumental music and a concerto for the piano. Haro Stepanyan also helped enrich and enhance Armenian classical music. From 1930 to 1934, he was the chair of the creative class of Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory. In 1947, he chaired the Union of Composers of Armenia. In 1938, he was elected Deputy of the Supreme Council of Armenia. Gnessin said the following as he expressed his unique opinion of Stepanyan: “Stepanyan’s delicate taste, poetry and stylistic glimpses deserve to be admired.”
We don’t have the right to forget or rarely remember the musician who has made such great contributions. Through the “Secrets of Armenia” musical project, I have decided to reflect on such world-class musicians. I am always supported by founder of Armenian rock music, director of Ayas Group Artur Metinyan, who is my stepfather and good friend. Spiritual values have always been highly appreciated by my family of musicians and art lovers (my grandfather, Hrant Dmitryuk played the piano, my mother, Katya Dmitryuk also played, my grandmother is Merited Artist of the Republic of Armenia, actress of Stanislavsky Theater of Yerevan Irina Marchenko). My family taught me to love music, appreciate and learn from our greats and never forget all the people with great talent and who have made their contributions to Armenian music throughout history. We have given many concerts through this musical project. In June 2015, we organized a classical music concert dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide at the Large Hall of Moscow State Conservatory, performing the works of Komitas, Armen Tigranyan, Aram Khachaturian, Arno Babajanyan, Eduard Mirzoyan and Robert Amirkhanyan. We advocate Armenian classical music and the composers whose works are rarely performed. We organize world premieres, record and release albums of Armenian academic music at Armenian Music Records. In October 2012, we organized the concert featuring performances of the chamber music of pianist Eduard Baghdasaryan, who was a very unique musician of the 20th century.
This will be ongoing. This is a job that is pleasant and binding, but I do it with pleasure. After the August 3 concert dedicated to great composer Haro Stepanyan, we have a lot of things to do. Let us live, create and be the devotees and advocates of our jobs, our nation, our Homeland, our culture and our arts. This is the mission, and I am ready to invest my professional skills and potential to accomplish that mission. I thank all those who support us. I also thank the Armenian people, Armenia and all art lovers in general.”
…And we are grateful to you, patriotic Armenian! We thank you for your exceptional efforts and dedication.
Eduard Abramian’s 24 Piano Preludes
Review by: Jed Distler
Eduard Aslanovich Abramian (1923-1986) played a central role in modern Armenian musical life as a teacher, pianist, and composer. Although his creative output was not particularly large, his 24 Preludes from 1958 add up to an hour’s worth of keyboard music. Unlike other composers whose 24-prelude sets are systematically ordered and feature one prelude in every key, Abramian is less doctrinaire about tonal relationships, and in fact omits D major and A minor while offering two preludes each in D minor and E-flat minor. More importantly, the music is both accessible and well written for piano, frequently using folkloric motives and gestures to launch more intricately-wrought textures and ideas.
No. 2 in C major begins with a curvy melody supported by a lilting left-hand ostinato, building into a full-bodied climax that suggests a great pops virtuoso like Roger Williams sweeping through Nacio Herb Brown’s 1933 hit song “Temptation”. No. 6’s spiraling passagework recalls Rachmaninov, while the melodic twists and turns are pure Borodin. For all of No. 8’s Russian-tinged modality, the rhythmic snap and fanciful right-hand flourishes could have walked out of Falla’s Three Cornered Hat.
Annotator Malcolm MacDonald calls No. 11 “the skittish dance”, but its brooding opening pages dominated by the lower registers and impassioned repeated chords suggest a dark, necromantic outing in Scriabin land. It contrasts to the lyrical No. 18 in G minor characterized by gentle chromaticism. Imagine Rachmaninov and Scriabin collaborating on a Prelude, and you’d probably get something like the concluding B minor.
Mikael Ayrapetyan’s assured technique and natural flair for his countryman’s aesthetic result in performances that effortlessly fuse poetic nuance and high-octane virtuosity. My one half-quibble concerns loud passages where certain high notes slip out of tune and the engineering turns strident and congested. Thanks to Grand Piano for continuing to uncover rare and previously unrecorded repertoire such as Abramian’s Preludes. Well worth hearing.
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24 Preludes for Piano
Mikael Ayrapetyan (piano)
Grand Piano - 665
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Komitas (Komitas VARDAPET) (1869-1935)
Six dances for piano (1916) [15:41]
Aleksandr SPENDIARIAN (Spendiarov) (1871-1928)
Crimean Sketches, Op.9 (1903) [10:00]
Arno BABADJANIAN (1921-1983)
Prelude (1947) [1:43]
Melody (1973) [2:09]
Humoresque (1972) [1:51]
Impromptu, ‘Exprompt’ (1936) [2:39]
Vagharshapat Dance (1947) [1:47]
Elegy (1978) [4:06]
Eduard ABRAMIAN (1923-1986)
From 24 Preludes (1948-1972) [10:15]
Eduard BAGDASARIAN (1922-1987)
From 24 Preludes (1951-1958) [8:11]
Robert AMIRKHANIAN (b.1939)
In Front of a Portrait (2009) [3:52]
Children’s Images (2009) [8:21]
Spring Drops (2009) [5:15]
Mikael Ayrapetyan (piano)
rec. 2012, Grand Concert Hall of the Moscow State University of Culture and Arts, Moscow
NAXOS 8.573467 [75:51]
Recently someone criticised me for saying I had been pleased to be introduced to the music of Albania which I described as “...this little known corner of Europe...” implying I was being condescending. I fail to see how and I’ll risk it again by saying that it’s a privilege to be educated in the music of Armenia which, to me at least, is not well known.
The disc begins with six marvellously melodic dances for piano by priest composer Soghomon Georgi Soghomonian, known as Komitas who was, like Bartók, a great collector of native folksongs and tunes which he helped preserve by using them as a basis for his compositions. A gifted singer himself he crafted many of his collected pieces into a state in which they could be presented for performance. These short pieces have a disarming simplicity and a feeling that they could go on forever. They could easily be woven into the fabric of a symphony. These are the stuff of which earworms are made though in my ears each of these six vies with the rest to take precedence.
Aleksandr Spendiarian (known in Russia as Spendiarov) concentrated more on orchestral music in preference to the vocal music that formed the majority of Komitas’ output. He is credited with helping develop an Armenian national sound that kept its own distinctive voice and set it apart from the ‘domination’ of Russia whose musical influence was understandably strong. Most would-be composers from Armenia and for that matter from all the other countries that were eventually to become republics within the USSR naturally ended up in either Moscow or St. Petersburg/Leningrad for their musical education. Spendiarian was no exception, having lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov (1896-1900) and spending most of his creative life in Russia, hence the other spelling of his name. His Crimean Sketches were inspired by the melodies of his homeland and were premièred in 1903. As with the Komitas pieces these bear the recognisable imprint of folk music but use a more complex style and as the note-writers explain show an influence of Chopinesque figuration. There is no doubt that every piece on this disc is captivating due to the rich nature of the source material. These are no exception with a frequent mesmeric feeling to them.
The same influences exerted themselves on all the composers represented here and there is a collective feel that stretches across from the earliest pieces (late 19th century) to the most recently composed, dating from only a few years ago. Arno Babadjanian whose works here date from the 1930s to the 1970s also incorporated these folk-inspired melodies. Sometimes it is only the more modern style of writing that gives away the fact that you are listening to a different composer to the two previous ones. This is not to imply that there is little that distinguishes the music of each from another but merely that they were all drawn to tap into the rich vein of folk melodies from their homelands.
Eduard Abramian and Eduard Bagdasarian were contemporaries and of Babadjanian. Each was born within three years of each other and died within four years of each other. Both Abramian and Bagdasarian wrote collections entitled 24 preludes and the disc presents four of the Abramian and three of Bagdasarian sets. Abramian’s do not present pieces in major and minor keys as did Chopin - some keys appear more than once others are omitted altogether. This may be explained by the fact that they were composed over a long period of almost 25 years and only after completion were they arranged as a set. Bagdasarian’s on the other hand follow Chopin’s lead in concept while echoes of Rachmaninov are most evident in the writing. They are all brilliantly inventive and infectious works and it is nice to know that each composer’s complete collection of these is available on Grand Piano discs GP665 (Abramian) and GP664 (Bagdasarian). Having heard them I am sure listeners will feel encouraged to explore them all which is well worth doing.
The sole composer of the music presented here who is still among us and composing is Robert Amirkhanian (b.1939). Even though the three works of his date from only six years ago they embody the same compelling folkloric motivation as do all the other 23 pieces on the disc. Completing a full circle we read that Amirkhanian was a teacher at the State Conservatory in Armenia’s capital Yerevan which institution bears the name of Komitas in that composer’s honour. Once again the threads of Armenian folk melodies are detectable in his music though through a more modern prism. This incorporates elements of French impressionism with whiffs of the dreamy nature of Debussy and of jazz that adds a touch of ‘spice’.
All the music here is highly enjoyable and draws one back for repeated listening. Pianist Mikael Ayrapetyan is the perfect vehicle to drive these pieces. Yerevan-born himself the music inevitably runs through his musical veins and all the nuances inherent are subtly illuminated by this skilful musician. This is an extremely enjoyable disc.