Tigran Mansurian’s composition “Nostalgia” was recently hailed as a highlight of Alexei Lubimov’s recital disc Der Bote. Now an important new recording from Kim Kashkashian brings Armenia’s leading contemporary composer to ECM New Series in a programme that also explores the roots of Armenian music. Compositions by Mansurian for viola and percussion, played by Kashkashian and Robyn Schulkowsky, receive their premiere recordings here, and frame a selection of Mansurian’s arrangements of the music of Komitas.
Komitas (1869-1935) is revered by Armenians as his nation’s most brilliant songwriter. He was also more than this. Composer, priest, philosopher, poet, ethnomusicologist, collector of folk songs, writer of sacred and secular music that bridged the old and the new …. The fine line that connects the melodic character of the most ancient Armenian music with the works of contemporary Armenian composers runs through Komitas.
In his settings of the Komitas pieces, Mansurian shows us the rich soil from which his own music springs. Analogies can be drawn also with Kashkashian’s last disc, the widely acclaimed “Voci”, on which Berio’s music was set alongside the folksongs that inspired it. In exploring Komitas, American-Armenian violist Kashkashian is also contacting her own roots. Kashkashian and Mansurian understand each other perfectly here. When they first met, the music of Komitas proved a common bond. “The necessity to live with our traditional melodies was already apparent to both of us,” says Mansurian, “and I understood that these pieces belong as much to Kim as they do to Komitas.”
The Mansurian/Kashkashian association was further strengthened by an “Armenian Night” realized with the help of Manfred Eicher, at the 1999 Bergen International Music Festival, in which Kashkashian, Robyn Schulkowsky, and Jan Garbarek participated, along with the Yerevan Chamber Choir and leading Armenian soloists. During the concert some of Mansurian’s works were played for the first time, including the Duet for Viola and Percussion, and “Havik”. Mansurian: “The poetical text and the melody of this song were written by the great 10th century Armenian mystic Grigor Narekatsi.” An early 20th century recording of Komitas singing this song exists, and it inspired Mansurian’s composition, in which he “tried to retain all the nuances of Komitasian performance.”
The album’s title, Hayren alludes to the “poetical style most beloved by Armenians, which has a tradition of centuries.” Mansurian continues, ‘Hayren’ is dense with the phonetics and intonation of our language, and the Armenian landscape and aspects of Armenian worldview and sentiment are also present.”
The Kim Kashkashian/Robyn Schulkowsky duo is an enduring and original chamber music group, first brought together by producer Eicher and now in its 14th year of existence. A number of composers have now written work specifically for its unorthodox instrumentation. Mansurian himself, having composed for the duo, also makes his own unique contribution as a performer on Hayren, both as pianist and vocalist in his own arrangements of the Komitas songs. As he makes clear in his liner notes, he is not a “singer” in the accepted sense but it is precisely the heartfelt “artlessness” of his delivery that draws out the charm of the material, that returns it to “folk music”, in the best sense.
Tigran Mansurian was born January 27, 1939 in Beirut (Lebanon) to Armenian parents. In 1947 the family, like many Armenians at the time, returned to their home country, finally settling in the Armenian capital of Yerevan in 1956. Mansurian studied at the Yerevan Music Academy for four years and, from 1960, at the Komitas State Conservatory where, after taking his doctor’s degree, he taught contemporary music analysis. In only a few years he became one of Armenia’s leading composers, establishing friendships and creative relationships with composers Valentin Silvestrov, Arvo Pärt, Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina, André Volkonsky and Edison Denissow as well as Natalja Gutman, Oleg Kagan, Alexei Lubimov and, later, Kim Kashkashian, Robyn Schulkowsky, Christoph Poppen, Eduard Brunner, Leonidas Kavakos, Jan Garbarek, the Hilliard Ensemble and other interpreters of his work. In the 1990s, a difficult period for Armenia, Mansurian became the director of the Komitas Conservatory. In recent years he has retired from administrative work and teaching, concentrating exclusively on composition. Mansurian’s œuvre, characterized mainly by the organic synthesis of ancient Armenian musical traditions and contemporary European composition methods, comprises orchestral works, seven concertos for strings and orchestra, sonatas for cello and piano, three string quartets, madrigals, chamber music and works for solo instruments.
Kim Kashkashian's quest for new directions and forms, which she obtains through intense and continuous work with composers, is an active part of her musical life. As a result of these relationships with such composers as Mansurian, Gubaidulina, Penderecki, Kancheli, Kurtág, Pärt and Eötvös, she has extensively enlarged the repertoire for the viola. Her commitment to chamber music, which began during years of participation at the Marlboro Music Festival where she was strongly influenced by her work with Felix Galimir, continues through appearances at the Salzburg, Marlboro, Lockenhaus and Stavanger Festivals. Current ongoing partnerships include duos with percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky, pianist Robert Levin, and harpsichordist Robert Hill.
Recordings by Kim Kashkashian give an index of the range of her activities. Her extensive discography with ECM comprises many works including the complete Viola Sonatas of Hindemith, the Shostakovich Sonata op. 147 (Robert Levin, piano), the solo concerti from Britten, Penderecki, Kancheli and Schnittke as well as works by Linda Bouchard and Paul Chihara for viola and percussion (Robyn Schulkowsky), the Bach Sonatas for viola da gamba and cembalo (Keith Jarrett), music from Eleni Karaindrou for the film Ulysses’ Gaze by Theo Angelopoulos and a chamber music CD with works of Kurtág and Schumann together with Eduard Brunner, clarinet and Robert Levin, piano. Ms. Kashkashian’s recording, with Robert Levin, of the Brahms Sonatas won the Edison Award 1999. Her June 2000 recording of concertos by Bartók, Eötvös and Kurtág won the 2001 Cannes Classical Award for a premiere recording by Soloist with Orchestra. In January 2002, ECM New Series released Voci, her recording of two large works by Luciano Berio. The album, comprises the title work for viola and orchestra as well as “Naturale”, a related work for viola and percussion (Robyn Schulkowsky), and archival field recordings of Sicilian folk music. It recently won the Edison Award 2003 as Best Contemporary Music Recording.
CD package with additional three language book in slipcase includes a personal note by Tigran Mansurian, a biography of the composer, notes on Komitas by Steve Lake, and poetry and prose of Osip Mandelstam, plus session photography by Petra Goldman