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“All of my works are autobiographical, I have no choice” – Tigran Mansurian

ECM has documented many exceptional composers who emerged from the perimeter of the former Soviet Union: some who had found their voices despite the often severe limits placed on creative expression by Moscow, others who sought artistic freedom in exile. For Tigran Mansurian, leaving has never been an option. His life’s work is so intricately bound up with the culture, history and suffering of Armenia.

For some years now, violist Kim Kashkashian, herself of Armenian descent, has been one of Mansurian’s most dedicated champions, and “Monodia”, a two-disc set, is another of her initiatives. Here, she and producer Manfred Eicher bring together an exceptional cast to play Mansurian’s music in a two-CD set that amounts to a “composer portrait”. The four featured compositions are, as Mansurian puts it, messages-in-bottles from his beleaguered country. Included here are the viola concerto titled “And then I was in time again…”, written in 1995 and, like the piece for viola and voices “Confessing with Faith” (1998), dedicated to Kim Kashkashian. “Lachrymae”, written in 1999, is dedicated to its performers Kashkashian and Jan Garbarek. These three pieces are premiere recordings. Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos reinterprets the only older work on the set, 1981’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, an important piece in Mansurian’s musical development.

These recordings show the unique manner in which Mansurian’s music addresses both the development of contemporary music and the soundscapes of his troubled homeland, including its sacred and secular music traditions. As one critic wrote, “the involvement on the one side with 20th century classics, on the other hand with the music of his Armenian homeland distinguished Mansurian’s own idiom, his rigour, his seriousness, the sensitivity of his sound, and the precision of his formulations.”

Mansurian’s friends and contemporaries have included Arvo Pärt, Valentin Silvestrov, Sofia Gubaidulina, Giya Kancheli and the late Alfred Schnittke. If his music remains less well-known, this has been connected to his geographical isolation and his determination to remain in Armenia – despite the wars, earthquakes, power failures, massive unemployment, population exodus, and other catastrophes that have continued to plague the country.

“Monodia” follows the scene-setting album “Hayren”, issued last year, on which Mansurian appeared also as a performer, alongside American-Armenian violist Kim Kashkashian and American percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky, interpreting music of the great Armenian ethnomusicologist, folk song collector and composer Komitas. Tigran Mansurian: “The very first time I heard Kim Kashkashian play, I felt that the energy of her sound and the inner vitality of her phrasing originated from a characteristically Armenian source. From a place where economy of means is cultivated and ‘ploughing deep’ is the guiding principle.” Kashkashian and Mansurian have collaborated for more than a decade now. Ideas for the present recording began to take shape in 1999, when ECM helped to set up an “Armenian Night” (with the Mansurian/Kashkashian association at its centre) at the Bergen Festival. Jan Garbarek joined the proceedings there and members of the Yerevan Chamber Choir premiered “Confessing With Faith”, a work reprised on the present album with the Hilliard Ensemble.
Release of “Monodia” happens to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Hilliard Ensemble. Their account of “Confessing with Faith” marks the first time that Britain’s foremost vocal ensemble has sung in Armenian. The texts are by the 12th century mystic and Supreme Head of the Armenian Church, St Nerses Shnorhali. Shnorhali, revered as a distinguished spiritual leader achieved that feat which seems today all but an impossibility: he established harmonious relations among all the religious communities in the area.

“And then I was in time again” takes its title from William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury”. As Hanspeter Krellmann notes in the CD booklet: “Faulkner uses an ingenious technique of superposition to conjure up not only a stream of consciousness but its reflection in reality and the imagination. Mansurian’s music transfers these same phenomena to an adjacent artistic level, redefining and transmuting them into acoustical images… The string writing ranges from unison passages and conglomerations of figures to individual forays by each of the eighteen instruments. The result is a wealth of sound-images that split apart and hover in space while remaining constantly interwoven within the temporal continuum. These sound-images give rise in turn to sonic moods. The free flux of the orchestral sound releases a wide range of dramatic gestures, especially in the first section of the concerto. But the accompanying instrumental ensemble maintains its status throughout as a seismograph of the progress of time.” Kim Kashkashian first performed Mansurian’s Viola Concerto”with the Münchener Kammerorchester under Christoph Poppen in 1997.

Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos, whose recent ECM debut, playing Enescu and Ravel, was widely praised, brings his impetuous energies to the Violin Concerto which comes from an earlier period in Mansurian’s evolution.“It joins forces with the Second Cello Concerto and the Double Concerto for Violin and Cello (both composed in 1978) to form a substantive whole. In all three of these concertos (as in the later Viola Concerto) the orchestra consists entirely of strings, an instrumental limitation that vouchsafes a deliberate unity of timbre and sonority. The single-movement Violin Concerto assumes a special place in this triptych. Here, too, the solo instrument is given a wealth of solo passages. The violin dominates the musical stage like a brilliant soloist reveling in his own virtuosity. When heard without accompaniment, its expansive and virtuosic gestures are far closer to cadenzas than those of the Viola Concerto. Yet they too are precisely set down in notation…” The dialogues between soloist and answering strings are vividly directed by Christoph Poppen.

The plaintive mountaintop cry of Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek has inspired musicians as different as Miroslav Vitous and Giya Kancheli to new compositions. Garbarek’s yearning sound is well suited to Mansurian’s “Lachrymae” and well-matched with Kashkashian’s viola; both musicians convey a very ‘vocal’ quality in their phrasing and intonation. “Lachrymae”, Krellmann explains in the CD notes, “is divided between the two instruments in such a way that they share each other’s pitches, often playing in unison, only to emerge thereafter in a contrapuntal duet. The resultant impression is one of strict linearity, as in a Bach Two-Part Invention, while the saxophone and viola preserve the idiomatic flavor of their respective instrument in a freely expanding flow of melody. The listener hears two sound-sources of complementary rather than contrasting timbre. Their vibrations relate so strictly to each other that the lamentation seems to issue from a single source, imparting a fulfilled simplicity to Mansurian’s music.” (This closeness of sound, between soprano saxophone and viola, was to lead to further collaborations between Jan Garbarek and Kim Kashkashian…)

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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. 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.

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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, which subsequently won the Edison Award 2003 as Best Contemporary Music Recording.

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Born in Athens into a musical family with strong traditions in folk music, Kavakos began studying violin with his father, continuing his studies at the Greek Conservatory with Stelios Kafantaris. An Onassis Foundation scholarship enabled him to attend master classes with Joseph Gingold at Indiana University, and he made his concert debut at the Athens Festival in 1984. Major debuts at the London BBC Proms and international festivals in Edinburgh, Salzburg, Ravinia and the Hollywood Bowl, were followed by invitations to play with orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony, City of Birmingham Symphony, Munich Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, Gothenburg Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In May 2003, Kavakos made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

An active chamber musician, Kavakos has been the Artistic Director of his own chamber music cycle in the Megaron, Athens since 1992. He regularly appears at chamber music festivals with partners including Natalie Gutman, Nobuko Imai, Kim Kashkashian and Mstislav Rostropovich. The Camerata Salzburg recently appointed Kavakos their Principal Guest Artist (a post they created especially for him) and he has toured extensively with this ensemble, on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Jan Garbarek, once described by American composer George Russell as the most uniquely talented European jazz musician since Django Reinhardt, has long since left category definitions behind and created an idiom of his own, inspired by many musical traditions. An ECM recording artist from the very beginning of the company’s history, he has appeared on more than 50 albums for the label. For the New Series he has recorded with the Hilliard Ensemble (“Officium” and “Mnemosyne”), with whom he has also toured the world and Giya Kancheli (“Night Prayers” from the album “Caris Mere”).

The Hilliard Ensemble is one of the most outstanding vocal chamber groups in the world today, and its reputation in the fields of both early and new music is unsurpassed. The group has been associated with ECM since 1987, when they contributed to Arvo Pärt's "Arbos". Other recordings for the New Series include music of Victoria and Palestrina ("In Paradisum"), Gesualdo ("Tenebrae"), Lassus, Walter Frye, Thomas Tallis ("The Lamentations of Jeremiah"), "Codex Specialnik" (Josquin Desprez, Petrus de Grudencz, Johannes Touront, John Plummer etc.), "A Hilliard Songbook“ (Barry Guy, Morton Feldman, Ivan Moody, James MacMillan, Veljo Tormis, Arvo Pärt, Joanne Metcalf etc.), as well as Pärt's "Passio", "Miserere" and "Litany". Their 1993 collaboration with improvising saxophonist Jan Garbarek, "Officium", proved to be enormously successful; the Garbarek/Hilliard combination issued a second record, "Mnemosyne" in 1999, and continues to tour widely.

Their collaborations with Christoph Poppen on the Bach project “Morimur” and the Bach/Webern disc “Ricercar” (the latter also featuring the Münchener Kammerorchester) also found a wide and responsive public.

“Monodia” also marks a further installment in ECM’s continuing collaboration with the Münchener Kammerorchester and Christoph Poppen, which began with the 1999 recording of the album "Funèbre" with works by K.A. Hartmann, and continued with recordings of Sofia Gubaidulina’s music. Other projects are in preparation for release in the near future.

The Münchener Kammerorchester was founded in 1950, and has long had a reputation for adventurous programming. Since Christoph Poppen took over the role of artistic director and chief conductor in 1995, it has added ever more contemporary music to its repertoire. The orchestra gives more than seventy concerts worldwide each year. The orchestra has won many prizes including the Musikpreis der Stadt München, and is a three-time winner of the Förderpreis der Ernst von Siemens-Musikstiftung. Its recording of Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s music for ECM received the Cannes Classical Award in January 2002.

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