Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, directed by Andres Mustonen, in "With You, Armenia", a concert commemorating the centennial of the Armenian Genocide

Taking place on March 5th 2015 in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre, “With you, Armenia”, a special concert performed by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra IBA under the direction of Andres Mustonen (Estonia), was the first of many concerts worldwide commemorating the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Featuring works by three Armenian composers, followed by Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 “Eroica”, the event took place in collaboration with the Perspectives Music Festival, Yerevan, Armenia. Soloists were Moscow-born Armenian pianist Artur Avanesov and Mustonen himself (violin).

Addressing the UN General Assembly on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israeli President Mr. Reuven Rivlin made mention of the 1915 Armenian Genocide: “In 1915, when members of the Armenian nation were being massacred, here in the Land of Israel no one denied the massacre that had taken place. The residents of Jerusalem, my parents and members of my family, saw the Armenian refugees arriving by the thousands – starving, piteous survivors of calamity. In Jerusalem they found shelter and their descendents continue to live there to this day…”

Following words of introduction and welcome and of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s director General Yair Stern, the Patriarch of Jerusalem Nourhan Manougian and Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian both spoke about genocide in history. Filling the Henry Crown Hall to capacity, members of local and overseas Armenian communities as well as representatives of other churches were present at the event.

The program opened with the Adagio from Aram Khachaturian’s (1903-1978) ballet “Spartacus”. Winning the composer the Lenin Prize in 1954, it was premiered in what is now the Mariinsky Theatre two years later. The Adagio appears at a high point of the plot in Act II, when Spartacus manages to free his wife Phrygia. A piece colored by exoticism and glowing sensuality, Andres Mustonen, conducting without a baton, imbued the Adagio with tender lyricism, highlighting its gorgeous melodiousness. This is fine orchestral fare; it was enhanced by fine small solos on the part of the JSO’s woodwind players and a final plangent violin solo.

Especially poignant were two fragments from traditional Armenian monodic singing arranged by Komitas (1869-1935) for violin and orchestra. A monk and church scholar, Komitas was a singer, flautist and teacher; referred to as the musical voice of Armenia, his major achievements lie in his expertise in Armenian national music, his collecting and writing down of folk songs, his study of church music and the connection he forged between the two genres. He also carried out research on Armenian “khazes” (symbols used in early Armenian notation). Sharing in the fate of his compatriots in the 1915 Armenian Genocide, Komitas’ mental condition deteriorated and he spent his final 20 years in a psychiatric hospital in Paris. At the Jerusalem concert, the two sacred vocal monadic pieces performed by Mustonen (violin) to minimal, filigree-fine bourdon-type orchestral accompaniments were “Horsham” – an anonymous burial, repentant piece – and “Havun-Havun”, written by 10th century Armenian poet, musician, philosopher and theologian Saint Grigor Narekatsi. Mustonen’s treatment of these melodies was intensely personal, superbly shaped and spiritual. His playing brought out the raw, delicate beauty of these pieces and their powerfully vibrant expression. For Armenians, music is memory; these pieces were indeed apt to the event.

The final Armenian work on the program, forming a link between contemporary Armenian music, between east and west, Christian ritual and traditional monody, was Stepan Rostomyan’s (b.1956) Symphony No.4. One of the key figures of the musical scene in Armenia today, he has written chamber music, symphonic works, a mono opera, vocal- and instrumental pieces, film- and theatre music. A former director of the Yerevan State Academic Theatre of Drama and founding member and president of the “Yerevan Perspectives” International Music Festival, Rostomyan established the Electronic Music Department at the Yerevan State Conservatory, where he has served as professor of Composition since 1988. Symphony No.4, a highly spiritual piece steeped in devout Christian belief, has a clear (extra-musical) program, tracing the human being from birth and innocence through to adulthood and then to man’s struggle in a world of sin. Via the richly atonal orchestral language of both individual and agglomerate timbral colors and textures, from the opening eerie, otherworldly moments, building up to the composer’s unmistakable depiction of chaos (both worldly and that of the soul), eventually to the calm and tranquility of a temple and heaven, we were shown through the work’s program in finely articulate direction and playing, enriched by recorded music sounding the singing of angels and, at the end of the piece, a long, meditative recorded bass saxophone solo, first highly amplified and then gradually becoming softer and dissipating. The challenging piano part was undertaken by Artur Avanesov, a composer and renowned performer of contemporary music, who had studied under Rostomyan. This was a rewarding performance. The composer was present at the concert.

Following the intermission the JSO performed L.van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) Symphony No.3 in E-flat major opus 55, “Eroica”. The first sketches for the work date from 1802, with the symphony being completed in 1804. Dedicated to Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz, a great music-lover, it was premiered in private performances at Lobkowitz’s palace in Vienna in 1804, the first public performance taking place at the Theater an der Wien (Vienna) in 1805, with the composer conducting. Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 marked a dramatic advance beyond the symphonies of Haydn and Mozart, moving the art of the symphony into a new stage from which there was no turning back. When criticized for having written the longest symphony ever, Beethoven retorted with “If I write a symphony an hour long, it will be found short enough”. Mustonen’s treatment of the work was fastidious, detailed and articulate, full-blooded and intense. In his unconventional conducting language, each gesture was addressed, as the work moved from tension to release and back again. Especially beautiful were the wind solos. In the fugal section of the second movement, each entry offered a new musical message. Andres Mustonen’s musical language is a kaleidoscope of dynamic interest; this work was a fine vehicle for his approach.

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