On "Modulation Necklace," violinist Movses Pogossian has curated a recording chronicling a vibrant repertoire of contemporary Armenian music. Featuring performances by the Dilijan Chamber Music Series, Lark Musical Society, and the VEM Ensemble of UCLA's Armenian Music Program, this collection celebrates the aesthetic diversity of the post-Soviet era in Armenian music.
|01||Quasi Harena Maris|
Quasi Harena Maris
|Movses Pogossian, violin, Ji Eun Hwang, violin, Morgan O’Shaughnessey, viola, Niall Ferguson, cello, Artur Avanesov, piano||12:19|
|Varty Manouelian, violin, Scott St. John, viola, Antonio Lysy, cello, Artur Avanesov, piano||14:50|
|03||A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire|
A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire
|Varty Manouelian, violin, Charles Tyler, cello, Artur Avanesov, piano||11:17|
Tekeyan TriptychArtashes Kartalyan
|UCLA VEM Ensemble, Danielle Segen, mezzo-soprano, Ji Eun Hwang, violin, Aiko Richter, violin, Morgan O’Shaughnessey, viola, Jason Pegis, cello|
|04||I. Es Siretsi (I Have Loved)|
I. Es Siretsi (I Have Loved)
|05||II. Papaq (A Wish)|
II. Papaq (A Wish)
|06||III. Hashvehardar (A Summary)|
III. Hashvehardar (A Summary)
Suite for Saxophone and PercussionAshot Kartalyan
|Katisse Buckingham, saxophone, Dustin Donahue, percussion|
|08||II. Allegro moderato|
II. Allegro moderato
|09||III. Allegro animato|
III. Allegro animato
|10||IV. Andante moderato|
IV. Andante moderato
Selected works from cycle Feux FolletsArtur Avanesov
|Artur Avanesov, piano|
|12||I. Let It Be Forgotten|
I. Let It Be Forgotten
|13||II. Quand l’aubespine fleurit|
II. Quand l’aubespine fleurit
|14||III. Modulation Necklace|
III. Modulation Necklace
|15||IV. Exercise in Necklace Mode|
IV. Exercise in Necklace Mode
|16||V. Mon cœur reste brûlé|
V. Mon cœur reste brûlé
|18||VII. Kinderstück IV (Ladybug)|
VII. Kinderstück IV (Ladybug)
Violinist Movses Pogossian has assembled this illuminating collection of contemporary music from Armenia, “Modulation Necklace," revealing a vibrant repertoire whose aesthetics are as outward looking as they are grounded in their reverence of a centuries old culture. In his liner notes, Pogossian acknowledges the long shadow that the Soviet Union cast on Armenian composers during its reign — this recording celebrates this generation’s liberation from those constraints. The composer Tigran Mansurian played a pivotal role in connecting the threads of this Armenian new music tradition, both by literally introducing Pogossian to musicians involved in the project, but also in his courage and leadership to explore Western and later older Armenian sources for inspiration during the Soviet era. The performers heard here are drawn from Pogossian’s Dilijan Chamber Music Series, the Lark Musical Society, as well as the flagship group of UCLA’s Armenian Music Program, the VEM Ensemble.
Artur Avanesov’s Quasi harena maris for piano quintet opens the recording with music inspired by a weighty passage from The Book of Job. Avanesov develops somber chorale material shaded with microtones in a variation form that unfolds like accumulating incantations. The texture becomes more angular for a punctuated, rhythmic middle section before Avanesov returns to the opening chorale material, embellished with improvisatory figuration in the piano.
Ashot Zohrabyan’s poignant Novelette begins with a lengthy passage for string trio alone, as plaintive lines weave in between the three instruments. When the piano enters after three and a half minutes, it is nearly at the culmination of a long crescendo in the strings, driving the first section to a cadence over a sustained bass note. Antonio Lysy gives an impassioned performance of the significant cello part for the duration of the piece, leading the ensemble through deeply emotional material before a pleading high register solo by violinist Varty Manouelian brings the piece to a peaceful, resolved close.Read More
In his A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire, Michel Petrossian explores the complicated questions surrounding identity in a globalized world. Also inspired by a Biblical passage (this time the famous text on the burning bush), Petrossian toys with fragments of Armenian folkloric music, particularly a traditional song, “Kars,” which was brought to a wider audience by jazz musician Tigran Hamasyan. Petrossian is alternatively deconstructive and transparent with his treatment of the folkloric material, resulting in a work that revels in shifts of expressive mood and texture, much like someone juggling a complex, multi-dimensional relationship to identity. A recurring, puppet-like theme in closely spaced intervals expresses the nervous transitions from one sense of self to another, while introspective moments capture the alienation of not belonging entirely in any one space.
Texts by Vahan Tekeyan (the “Prince of Armenian poetry”) are the foundation for Artashes Kartalyan’s Tekeyan Triptych, a three song set for mezzo-soprano and string quartet. The first poem, “Es Siretsi” (“I Have Loved”), is a paean to the depth of passionate love. Lush chords provide a pillow for a tender ritornello sung beautifully by Danielle Segen, and alternate with lighter, flowing passages for the five stanzas. The second song, “Papaq” (“A Wish”), is set as a gentle waltz, melodically reminiscent of Armenian traditional material but with a more wide ranging harmonic palette. The final song, “Hashvehardar” (“A Summary”) is a personal, spiritual reckoning, a poem that asks about the ultimate meaning of our lives and actions. The performances by Segen and the VEM Ensemble are polished, lyrical, and committed, infusing these evocative settings with intimacy and expression.
The recording shifts directions with Ashot Kartalyan’s Suite for Saxophone and Percussion. The opening movement is an insistent, ritualistic dance in shifting meters, with the soprano saxophone charming an unseen creature. Adding the dimension of pitched percussion, Kartalyan integrates a marimba into the second movement, a short three voiced fugue that slithers through chromatic lines. The third movement features more regular pulse driven music, settling into a groove with unison, syncopated hits between the instruments, followed by a contrasting section using vibraphone underneath lyrical passages in the saxophone, before a return to the opening material. In the fourth movement, Kartalyan features the pastel colors of sax and vibraphone in a sonic painting worthy of a film noire score. The final movement is a return to the non-pitched percussion of the opening, albeit with more vigor in the articulation of Armenian modal material in the saxophone.
“Modulation Necklace” concludes with selections from Artur Avanesov’s solo piano collection Feux Follets, which contains approximately seventy works. There is an improvisatory, searching quality to several of these pieces and Avanesov’s performances which underscores their expressive directness. His sources for material and inspiration range widely from Luciano Berio to medieval French song, Baroque harpsichord music to Armenian folk art and music.
Though he is only performing on the opening track, one senses Movses Pogossian’s understated artistry throughout this engaging collection. “Modulation Necklace” reveals a healthy Armenian contemporary musical community that testifies to the long and complicated history of this rich culture at the juncture of Europe and Central Asia.
– D. Lippel
Armenian-born violinist Movses Pogossian made his American debut with the Boston Pops in 1990, about which Richard Dyer of the Boston Globe wrote: “There is freedom in his playing, but also taste and discipline. It was a ery, centered, and highly musical performance.” He was a prizewinner at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Competition, and the youngest ever first-prize winner of the 1985 USSR National Violin Competition, whose previous winners included David Oistrakh and Gidon Kremer. He has performed extensively as a soloist and recitalist in Europe, North America and Asia, and was artist-in-residence of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra during their 2016/17 season. An avid chamber musician, Pogossian has collaborated with such artists as Jeremy Denk, Kim Kashkashian and Alexei Lubimov, and with members of the Tokyo, Kronos and Brentano String Quartets. A committed champion of new music, he has premiered over seventy works, many of them written for him. He has worked closely with composers such as György Kurtág, Tigran Mansurian, John Harbison and Augusta Read Thomas. At Kurtág’s invitation, Pogossian made his Darmstadt Festival debut in 2008, performing Kafka Fragments to critical acclaim. In Los Angeles, Pogossian is the Artistic Director of the Dilijan Chamber Music series, now in its fourteenth season, and frequently performs with the acclaimed series Monday Evening Concerts. He was a recipient of the 2011 Forte Award, given by the new-music organization Jacaranda for his outstanding contributions in this eld. Movses Pogossian’s discography includes several CDs for solo violin, including the recently released recording of the Complete Sonatas and Partitas by J.S. Bach, Blooming Sounds, and In Nomine, as well as György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments, with soprano Tony Arnold.
In his review of Kafka Fragments, Paul Grif ths writes “ . . . remarkable is Pogossian’s contribution, which is always beautiful, across a great range of colors and gestures, and always seems on the edge of speaking—or beyond.” In 2015, Pogossian’s recording of composer Stefan Wolpe’s Complete Works for Violin (Bridge Records) was included in the Top Ten list of the Sunday Times (UK), and in 2018, the Bridge label will release a lmed performance on DVD of chamber music by Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern. The centerpiece of this presentation is one of Schoenberg’s most important works—his String Trio, Op. 45, performed by Pogossian, violist Kim Kashkashian and cellist Rohan de Saram—which was recorded for this DVD in Schoenberg’s Brentwood home, in the very room in which it was composed. Pogossian’s upcoming CD releases include another collaboration with Kim Kashkashian: a compilation of chamber works by Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian. Since earning advanced degrees in music from the Komitas Conservatory in Armenia and the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, Pogossian has held teaching positions at a number of universities in the US, and is currently Professor of Violin Studies at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. Deeply committed to both music education and community involvement, Pogossian proudly participates in the Music for Food Project, which raises awareness of world hunger, allowing performers and listeners alike to experience the powerful role which music can play as a catalyst for change.
The VEM Ensemble is the cornerstone of the newly created Armenian Music Program at UCLA, which, thanks to generous donor support, as well as artistic guidance of the Lark Musical Society, endeavors to raise awareness and celebrate the richness and diversity of Armenian musical tradition. In residence at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and under the artistic leadership of Founder/Director Movses Pogossian, the Ensemble consists of the VEM String Quartet and mezzo-soprano Danielle Segen. The VEM Ensemble has worked with such musicians as David Starobin, Nickolas Kitchen, Kim Kashkashian, Seth Knopp, and Tigran Mansurian. The Ensemble has performed at various venues in Los Angeles including Zipper Hall, Bing Theater, Schoenberg Hall, the Hammer Museum, as well as in New Mexico, Colorado, and at the Incontri in Terra di Siena Festival in Italy. In his review of their performance in Italy, critic Laurence Vittes writes, “The evening’s most memorable music was made by the VEM Quartet…who laid out Eduard Mirzoyan’s String Quartet with a feline, subtle grace that touched hearts with its gentle melodic content and long-lined eloquence.” The VEM Ensemble has recently performed with great acclaim in Yerevan, Armenia.
Those who know what typical Armenian Folk and Classical Music sounds like, a distinctive minor-modal signature that marks it all its own--will no doubt almost involuntarily listen for it in a new anthology of New Music from Armenia, entitled Modulation Necklace (New Focus Recordings FCR244). On that basis the listener may find on first blush that the New Music component of the subtitle tends to move forward into your listening self first. Only then perhaps does the "from Armenia" part of the title thrust itself into your listening span.
Part of that is that the opening work Quasi Harena Maris by Artur Avanesov is tonal but not exactly obviously Armenian in sections of the first listen. With "Novelette" by Ashot Zohrabyan we recognize more of the sort of Armenian syntax we might expect, tempered surely with New Music elements.
And so it goes throughout this interesting collection, onwards to Michel Petrossian's A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire for piano trio with its sprawling in-and-out of time, stop-and-go, post Serialist diffusiveness conjoined with momentary traces of folkish elements.
A highlight is Artashes Kartalyan's Tekeyan Triptych for mezzo-soprano and string quartet. It is haunting, lyrical, rich in invention, at points notably minor-inflected.
Ashot Kartalyan's Suite for Saxophone and Percussion takes an idiomatic turn into the special qualities available in a duet of this sort. The soprano sax-percussion interaction is decidedly "jazzy" and nicely so. It is perhaps a bit dance-like as well.
And at the end Avanesov returns with himself at the solo piano for the seven part Selected works from cycle 'Feux Follets.' It has an Armenian rootedness at times in its declamatory style.
Taken altogether Modulation Necklace retains relevance and interest throughout. I recommend it for anyone interested in Armenian sounds and New Music from Middle Eastern-Eastern European avenues. It is a most stimulating set.
-Grego Applegate Edwards, 1.2.20, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
This CD of modern chamber works by Armenian composers gets off to a very strong start with Artur Avanesov’s Quasi Harena Maris, a work that uses the strings in a microtonal fashion that reminded me strongly of the pioneering works of Julián Carrillo, even though there are moments when a tonal bias is present because the piano part is not modified towards microtonal playing. In addition, the melodic contours of this piece have a much stronger Eastern European sound than Carrillo’s scores. In addition, the music has even more development in it than Carrillo’s, and eventually moves from the quiet, atmospheric opening to some very powerful rhythmic playing at a louder volume that develops the theme brilliantly. The old adage says that you never get a chance to make a first impression, and this piece clearly impressed me very much.
Next up is Ashot Zohranyan’s Novelette, which reforms the timbres of a conventional piano quartet in sometimes new and interesting ways. The music is written in a slow tempo, as was Quasi Harena Maris, but moves in different ways and patterns, with the piano not being beard until the 3:30 mark when the music suddenly becomes much more atonal in character. Eventually, the piano part becomes busier and more prominent, acting as a foil to the soft, between-pitch whines of the strings. Any further description would spoil the surprises in store for you, so I will refrain from doing so.
Michel Petrossian’s A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire is a querulous work, whimsical in the way he moves his materials around. The composer’s liner notes mention some cockamamie scheme whereby, in his mind, “the question of identity…seems a crucial one in our globalized and interconnected world.” No, sorry, Michel, it’s not much of a problem or terribly crucial. I am an American. You are an Armenian. Iranians are Iranian. Germans are German. Just because we can speak to one another and share interests does not confuse or erase our national identities, and that’s a good thing. We are a crazy-quilt of different races and nationalities, not a multi-national crayon where we are all mushed together. But back to the music: its playfulness and imagination in the handling of musical material. I especially liked the way Petrossian kept moving the stress beats around within each bar, which throws off the listener’s attempts to follow a regular rhythmic pattern. Another very imaginative piece.
By contrast, Artashes Kartalyan’s Tekeyan Triptych is a lyrical piece, in a minor key but essentially tonal, in part because it features a singer, mezzo-soprano Danielle Segen, and in part because the texts by Armenian poet Vahan Tekeyan deal with love. But tonal does not always equate with banality, and in this work Kartalyan manages to introduce some very interesting harmonic touches without damaging the essentially tonal sound of the music. It’s extremely clever and thus touches both the mind and the heart. It also helps that Segen has an excellent voice with both a good, clear sound and pretty good diction. In a certain way, this little cycle bears a kinship with Canteloube’s famous Songs of the Auvergne.
Then we come, as John Cleese used to say, to “something completely different,” the Middle Eastern-sounding Suite for Saxophone and Percussion by Ashot Kartalyan, son of the previous composer. This is sheerly enjoyable music, one might almost say an island of cheerfulness and relative simplicity in an otherwise musically complex album. I enjoyed it tremendously. After the belly-dance first movement, the percussionist switches from drums to marimba to perform a fugue with the saxophone, yet the lightness of rhythm is still prevalent. In the third movement, just a hint of jazz rhythm permeates the combination of saxophone, marimba and occasional drums. The fourth is a much more lyrical piece while the fifth and last movement is an upbeat finale with another allusion to belly-dancing. A wonderfully entertaining (and well written) piece!
The album concludes with Avanesov’s piano excerpts from “Feux Follets,” played by the composer. This music is considerably different from Quasi Harena Maris, being lyrical and reflective, almost in the manner of “ambient classical” except with rather more meat on its bones. Some of the pieces, such as “Quand l’aubespine fleurit,” have rapid, double-time figures for the right hand with the feel of Eastern harmony about them.
Thus this disc turns out to be full of interesting music, well written and exceptionally well-executed by all concerned. Very highly recommended!
-Lynn René Bayley, 1.15.20, The Art Music Lounge
Glendale, in California, is what violinist Movses Pogossian calls “an oasis of Armenian culture.” It is the home of the Lark Music Society and the Dilijan Chamber Music Series, which commissioned most of the works on this CD. Glendale is just a little north of Los Angeles, which of course is the location of UCLA, whose newly created Armenian Music Program made this release possible. An important component of this program is the VEM Ensemble, whose musicians participated in many of the performances on this disc. Pogossian is the ensemble’s founder and director.
Most of us can name an Armenian composer or two—Khachaturian quickly comes to mind—but Khachaturian died in 1978, and, on this disc, composers Artur Avanesov and Ashot Kartalyan were born in 1980 and 1985, respectively, so most of this really is new music. And, as is the case with what we call “new music,” there is great stylistic variety on display here, which is one of the things that makes this release particularly attractive.
Avanesov contributes two works. Quasi Harena Maris (“Like the Sand of the Sea,” an allusion to the Book of Job), for string quartet and piano, is gritty and intense. There is abundant microtonality, but because it is used for expressive purposes, and not simply as a gimmick, it is not alienating. In the composer’s description, the quartet “chants” the Biblical text, while the piano acts as grieving protagonist. If you liked the Kronos Quartet’s Black Angels CD (released so long ago in 1990!), you probably will like this. The other work is the piano cycle Feux Follets; seven excerpts are presented here. (It is a “work in progress,” with about 70 separate pieces so far.) These brief, evocative pieces are very attractive. Some allude to Armenian music, others do not. Modulation Necklace, which gives this disc its title, is only 78 seconds long, but it sends the music through a closed circle of modal centers, starting and ending with the note B. These modulations then are used as the basis of what the composer calls the “Necklace Mode,” which is explored in the following piece, which is almost as brief. Avanesov consistently comes up with interesting musical ideas, and develops them in imaginative ways.
Ashot Kartalyan contributes a five-movement Suite for Saxophone and Percussion—including drums, marimba, and vibraphone. The writing for drums, which evokes the sound of the Armenian dhol, is exciting, and the saxophone is soulful and sometimes wild. The Suite neatly balances cultural authenticity against the conventions of the modern concert hall.
Artashes Kartalyan (b. 1961) is Ashot’s father. Tekeyan Triptych is the only vocal work on this CD, scored for mezzo-soprano and string quartet. Vahan Tekeyan (1875–1945) was the “Prince of Armenian poetry.” These are poems of love and loss, and Artashes Kartalyan’s sensitive, emotional, and always lyrical writing for the voice amplifies their emotions. Mezzo-soprano Danielle Segen sings them gorgeously. In his introductory note, Pogossian praises her painstaking work to achieve an “astonishingly authentic” level of Armenian pronunciation.
Ashot Zohrabyan was born in 1945. His Novelette, composed in 2010, is scored for violin, viola, cello, and piano. This probably is the most abstract piece on the CD although, according to Avanesov’s booklet note, the prominent interval of a compound major third also is found in Komitas’s song Antouni. Thus, “the modern composer interprets the past.”
The title of Michel Petrossian’s A Fiery Flame, A Flaming Fire (2017) alludes to two different translations of how the Angel of God appeared to Moses in the story of the burning bush. It also is a tip of the hat towards Movses Pogossian, who commissioned the work. This is, in essence, a one-movement piano trio, and in it, “the musicians, like a troupe at a theatre, have to free their imagination in quest of a lost melody as if browsing through the pages of Marcel Proust’s In Search Of Lost Time.” The music is in a constant state of flux, darting here and there, quickly picking up melodic ideas and rhythms, and then just as quickly setting them aside in favor of other ideas and rhythms. Nevertheless, the music holds together, and if one does not always follow where it is going, the effort to do so is not painful.
These performances were recorded in the spring of 2019 at UCLA. The musicianship is of the highest quality, and the potential of these works has been fully realized here. The booklet contains commentaries about the music, and biographies of the composers and the performers, in addition to the text and English translation of the Tekeyan Triptych, so there is no reason to feel lost.
I liked some of the works on this CD more than others, but I did not feel that any of them were a waste of my time. I am glad to hear how alive modern Armenian music is, and I look forward to hearing more of it, particularly from composer Avanesov.
-Raymond Tuttle, 1.16.20, Fanfare
— Raymond Tuttle, 5.02.2020
During the years that Armenia was part of the Soviet Union, Armenian composers’ music was largely shaped by the models set out by the dominant Soviet musical culture. With the breakup of the USSR, Armenian composers were at liberty to open themselves up to new developments in contemporary Western art music as well as to recover aspects of their own national culture, musical and otherwise. Modulation Necklace, a collection of new and recent chamber work by four composers, showcases some of the multiple directions post-Soviet Armenian music has taken. The album was put together by violinist Movses Pogossian under the auspices of the UCLA Armenian Music Program.
Artur Avanesov (b. 1980) opens the album with Quasi Harena Maris (2016), a piano quintet that begins with subdued drifts of microtonal clusters for the strings and develops into a robustly emotional interplay for piano and strings. Avanesov also contributes the final pieces, a selection of seven piano miniatures from Feux follets (2010-2017), a seven-book collection of solo works for piano. Avanesov’s inspirations here are varied, encompassing medieval French song, Armenian folksong and painting, Baroque harpsichord music and more. The overall flavor is modal, as exemplified by Modulation Necklace, which in less than a minute and a half cycles through a series of modes pivoting on B.
Artashes Kartalyan (b. 1961) is a jazz pianist as well as a composer of symphonies, chamber works, and film soundtracks. His contribution is a three-song cycle for string quartet and mezzo-soprano, the text of which is by Armenian poet Vahan Tekeyan. The triptych, beautifully sung by Danielle Segen and expressively played by UCLA VEM Ensemble, conveys the complexities of different but related moods, yearning, loss, and acceptance most noticeably among them. Kartalyan’s son Ashot (b. 1985) is represented by a lively five-part suite for saxophone and percussion from 2015, performed by Katisse Buckingham and Dustin Donahue. The suite draws on Armenian modes and rhythms and is particularly engaging in its polyphonic middle movements, which pair the saxophone with marimba and vibes.
Ashot Zohrabyan (b. 1945) offers Novelette (2010) for piano, violin, viola and cello, a piece whose motif of a major tenth alludes to an earlier landmark work of Armenian art music. Novelette begins with quiet dissonances for the strings and moves to more dramatic territory, driven by an outspoken piano part, before reaching a denouement sotto voce. A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire, a 2017 work for violin, cello and piano by Michel Petrossian (b. 1973), is a quick-moving, shape-shifting work whose three voices are always on the verge of spinning away from each other, but without quite actually doing so.
- Avant Music News, Daniel Barbiero, 1.10.2020
The Armenian diaspora retains strong ties to their ancient homeland. Six pieces from the last 20 years by five Armenian composers invite attention for their lucidity and mastery. Tonalities from Armenian folklore pervade the superbly performed and recorded song settings and tone poems for string and piano ensembles, duo, and piano solo. The album was crafted at the Armenian Music Program of UCLA, with help from the Lark Musical Society and the Dilijan Chamber Music Series, which commissioned four of the works. Tekeyan Triptych (2018), by Artashes Kartalyan (b.1961), sets three poems for mezzo-soprano and string quartet by Vahan Tekeyan (1878-1945), the most important poet of the Armenian diaspora. Novelette (2010), by Ashot Zohrabyan (b.1945), for piano quartet, is a searching dialogue for piano and strings. Michel Petrossian’s (b.1973) A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire (2017), a masterful movement for piano trio, refers to Moses’ biblical burning bush in honour of violinist and director Movses Pogossian, with references to an Armenian folksong. The lively Suite for Saxophone and Percussion (2015) is by Ashot Kartalyan (b.1985), the youngest of the composers. Artur Avanesov (b.1980) composed Quasi Harena Maris (2016), a compelling fantasy for piano quintet inspired by the Book of Job, and Feux Follets, a collection of short pieces. Avanesov is the admirable pianist for the entire program.
— Austin Clarkson, 4.01.2020
One of the more salient aspects of this release has to do with how comfortably this collection of contemporary music from Armenia sits alongside musical traditions of other countries. While its material is deeply rooted in the cultural soil of its homeland, Modulation Necklace suggests that its composers have been influenced as much by the music of non-Armenian artists as that originating within its own fertile borders. The result is a satisfying and at times illuminating recording whose pieces draw from multiple traditions, Armenian of course mostly. It's a bit telling, however, that the album was recorded at UCLA's Herb Alpert School of Music and that the bios for two of the composers, Artashes Kartalyan and Ashot Kartalyan, indicate they're Los Angeles-based.
Credited as the project's Executive Producer and Artistic Director, violinist Movses Pogossian midwifed Modulation Necklace into being. On the nearly eighty-minute release, six works by five composers are performed: Artur Avanesov's represented by two works, while the Kartalyans, Michel Petrossian, and Ashot Zohrabyan each have a single piece performed. Arrangements extend from solo—Avanesov playing piano on selections from his Feux Follets cycle—to duo, trio, quartet, and quintet groupings. Pogossian himself appears on only one selection, but as the project's prime mover his presence looms large.
Scored for piano quintet, Avanesov's Quasi harena maris (“Like the Land of the Sea”) begins the set on a sombre note, the tone perhaps attributable in part to its source of inspiration: a heavy passage from The Book of Job. Microtonality creeps into the writing before things take a particularly expressive turn, the music fluctuating between emotional extremes until the composer's piano instates measured calm. If the elements seem to take on a somewhat conversational form, it might be because the composer treats the string quartet as a choir “chanting” the Biblical text and the pianist as a “protagonist” whose playing eventually turns improvisational. Regardless, the work's constantly evolving design makes for a gripping twelve minutes. Like the opener, Zohrabyan's Novelette starts with strings alone, plaintive lines woven between the violin, viola, and cello, and also shares with Quasi harena maris a predilection for expressive outpourings. Avanesov again appears on piano, though the larger focus is on strings, Antonio Lysy's cello in particular. He guides the others through the thorniest of thickets until the baton's handed to violinist Varty Manouelian, who caps the fifteen-minute performance with a supplicating, high-register solo.
Rather playful by comparison is Petrossian's A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire, which draws on Armenian folkloric music and the traditional song “Kars.” Conceived also as a meditation on the mercurial, multi-faceted nature of identity (Petrossian himself is Aremenian by birth, Russian by education, and French by culture), the piece shifts between contrasting moods and textures, violin, cello, and piano constantly engaged in rapid transitions for the full eleven minutes. Incorporating texts by Vahan Tekeyan, Artashes Kartalyan's Tekeyan Triptych is an album high point, in part due to the stellar vocalizing of mezzo-soprano Danielle Segen. Accompanied by string quartet, she imbues the gracefully flowing “Es Siretsi (I Have Loved)” with a lyrical tenderness befitting words dealing with passionate love. Complementing it nicely are “Papaq (A Wish)" and “Hashvehardar (A Summary)," the former a gentle waltz and the latter a sober reflection by the poet on his own life with its many peaks and valleys.
The album's final two pieces part company with the others in presenting first a five-part suite for saxophone and percussion and secondly seven solo piano selections composed and performed by Avanesov. Contrasts abound in Ashot Kartalyan's Suite for Saxophone and Percussion, from the combination of sinuous soprano saxophone (Katisse Buckingham) and rambunctious drumming (Dustin Donahue) in the opening movement to the gentle, ballad-styled musings of sax and vibraphone in the fourth. A serpentine intermingling of soprano and marimba colours the second, whereas a regulated pulse drives the third, marimba and woodwind here engaging in something groove-centered before a dreamier central section. In another surprise, the final movement's rollicking feel owes more to jazz than anything remotely classical.
Avanesov's solo piano collection Feux Follets contains approximately seventy works, seven of which appear here. Diverse in mood, tempo, and dynamics, they're concise statements, with only one pushing past the two-minute mark. In appearing alone, the artistry of Avanesov's playing is especially evident, whether it be voicing tenderness or executing rapid runs. Brevity shouldn't be equated with superficiality either: the pieces hold up under scrutiny as material of substance, the composer referencing Luciano Berio in one (“Let It Be Forgotten”) and medieval French song (“Quand l'aubespine fleurit”), Baroque harpsichord music (“Gespenstertanz”), and Armenian folksong (“Mon cœur reste brûlé”) elsewhere.
Modulation Necklace offers a wonderful entry-point for curious listeners eager to familiarize themselves with the work of living Armenian composers, but, as mentioned, said listeners might be surprised to discover how accessible their music is and how comfortable it sounds alongside non-Armenian classical works. Think of it as a most satisfying and wide-ranging primer.
— Ron Schepper, 3.10.2020
An attractive and fascinating recital of works by Armenian composers that showcases the wide variety of styles in what is evidently a vital and inventive contemporary music scene in Armenian culture. The only thing all the works have in common is that the folk traditions of the country, and its unmistakable modal language are central to the compositional impulse, but even these are expressed very differently. Ashot Kartalyan's Suite is very attractive, making no secret of its modal melodies, and the outer movements' dialogue between the sinuous saxophone and the dancing drums evoke a lively folk ritual of some kind. Artashes Kartalyan's exquisite songs to beautiful texts by Vahan Tekeyan (1875-1945) (similar ecstatic imagery to Rūmī from six centuries and 800 miles distant) use composed folk-style melodies, indistinguishable from the real thing. Avanesov's Quasi Harena Maris was inspired by a passage from the Old Testament Book of Job, and consists of variations on a sombre chorale, sometimes presented with microtonal inflections, with an eloquent concertante piano part and a powerful dramatic progression, lamenting, protesting, now introspective, now vehement in its distress. His Feux follets, from an enormous cycle in progress, range from impressionistic to Romantic to modern, all inflected by Armenian folk modes.
— n/a, 3.02.2020
Violinist Movses Pogossian and his friend and colleague Vatsche Barsoumian have devoted themselves to promoting Armenian classical music: the former through his performances and directorship of the VEM Ensemble, the latter by founding “the Lark Musical Society … and its offspring, the Dilijan Chamber Music Series, which commissioned most of the works” for Modulation Necklace (Pogossian), a multi-faceted introduction to five contemporary Armenian composers. Although Pogossian writes that “all of the pieces are so distinctly unique that rationalizing a storyline for this recording is a thankless task,” I find they are united by their love for their musical heritage, the flavor of which they’ve successfully integrated into their stylistically diverse works. Artur Avanesov’s Quasi Harena Maris combines string quartet and piano in a microtonal chorale that is by turns elegiac, haunting, and dramatic. Its prevailingly somber character reflects the grief-laden essence of its inspiring quotation from the Book of Job, while the extended melismatic piano passage—an homage, perhaps, to the marvelously expressive Armenian wind instrument, the duduk—that unfurls through the piece’s middle section to the end somewhat softens the sorrow. While the dictionary defines “novelette” as “a short novel, typically one that is light and romantic or sentimental in character,” Ashot Zohrabyan’s Novelette is a threnody whose impact is heightened by intervallic clashes and abrasive string attacks. A song-like cello solo, “ethereal” upper-register violin passages, tinkling piano interjections, and alternating tempos emphasize contrasting narrative elements. I’m never going to be a fan of the fragmented, disjunct instrumental conversations that Michel Petrossian has chosen for his A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire, but I will admit that the interspersed folk-like snatches of melody, together with the sensitive applications of instrumental color—for example the single low piano notes that occasionally anchor the discourse—go some way to mollifying my indifference to the style.
Artashes Kastalyan’s Tekeyan Triptych for mezzo-soprano and string quartet sets three poems by Vahan Tekeyan, “widely regarded as ‘the Prince of Armenian poetry” (Barsoumian). While individual in mood, character, and structure following the implications of the poet’s words, musically they share numerous melodic, motivic, or harmonic “signatures” that bind them together. The first, long-lined, lyrically absorbing, alternates between placidity and movement, with the strings supporting and propelling the voice in equal measure. But for the presence of words—in his introduction, Pogossian praises Barsoumian’s “painstaking” work with Danielle Segen that enabled her “to arrive at an astonishingly authentic level of Armenian pronunciation”—I would describe it in part as a melodiously soaring vocalize. The second setting combines an appealing waltz rhythm with a beautiful melody that Barsoumian assures us is “very much in the tradition of Armenian folk music” even as it enlarges upon “the typical monodic traditions germane to the Armenian Melos.” The last of the three songs conveys an air of resignation, startlingly resolved and illuminated by the singer’s concluding high note that dispels the ambient melancholy through a sudden shift to a radiant major-key tonality. Anyone wishing a wider acquaintance with this moving and engaging work would do well to read Barsoumian’s analysis of the intimate correspondence between the music’s detailed structure and the poet’s feelings.
From the outset, Ashot Kartalyan’s Suite for Saxophone and Percussion seizes a listener’s attention and doesn’t let go. The opening duet for drums and saxophone is a virtuoso display of interactive cooperation. Although lacking in precise pitch, the distinctive timbres of the percussion battery provide a phantom outline closely intertwined melodically as well as rhythmically with the saxophone’s flying figures, and the infectious rhythms, perhaps drawn from traditional Armenian practice, continually surprise with their intricate variety. The middle movements add either one marimba as the sax’s partner or a marimba/vibraphone duo. Both marimba, with its gentle, woody timbre, and the vibraphone’s hovering “clouds” of sound, generate an atmospheric cushion for the more penetrating soprano saxophone even as they participate in the intricate polyphony. For the fourth, penultimate movement, Kartalyan has written a beautifully constructed dialogue for vibraphone and saxophone, an elegant “sarabande” providing a moment of repose before the drums return for the lively “gigue” that concludes the Suite. (Invoking these Baroque dance forms is intended to be loosely descriptive as to tempo, mood, and relative position within the work; I’m not suggesting strict formal adherence to the respective styles.)
For me, the title Feux Follets can’t help but recall Liszt’s similarly named Transcendental Étude, a virtuoso evocation of the will-o-the-wisp. At first glance, Artur Avanesov’s parenthetical translation, Frenzied Flames, seems at odds with the prevailingly peaceful quality of these vignettes, a selection from his ongoing series of, at last count, 70 miniatures, but I suppose a gentle frenzy—there’s a provocative oxymoron—of coldly luminous firefly “flames” winking on and off at twilight might fit the bill. Evanescent as their subject and played with extraordinary delicacy by their composer, these sometimes rippling, sometimes meditative moments that incorporate quasi-improvisations and “chains” of inter-related modes—the “Modulation Necklace” from which the CD takes its name—contain far more musical references than a surface acquaintance would suggest. While I thought I heard ornaments characteristic of the French Baroque clavecinists in “Gespenstertanz” (Ghost Dance)—reading the author’s notes after the fact confirmed my impression—I would never have spotted “Let It Be Forgotten”’s Luciano Berio Wasserklavier quotation, nor would I have known that “Quand l’aubespine fleurit” “is based on the modified quotation from a medieval French song” (Avanesov). For stylistic comparisons with more familiar composers, I would suggest Mompou for the similarly masterful way in which rarefied emotional resonance is achieved through minimal means. This is a charming series, disarming in its apparent simplicity but in reality demanding a highly accomplished technique to achieve Avanesov’s level of communicative control.
If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll be persuaded to discover for yourself that there’s much more to Armenian classical music than Khatchaturian, no disrespect intended. Take the plunge: This disc of highly attractive music in superb, excellently recorded performances won’t disappoint.
— Robert Schulslaper, 5.02.2020
Describing itself as “a collage of unashamedly contrasting compositions,” this disc presents six pieces by Armenian composers. While the booklet notes rightly acknowledge the importance of the music of Tigran Mansurian in this sphere, the pieces concentrate on the latest generation of composers to emerge from this territory. All composers represented here are currently alive, the oldest born in 1945 (Ashor Zohrabyan), the youngest in 1985 (Ashot Kartalyan).
The tour begins with Artur Avanesov’s Quasi Harena Maris (Like the Sand of the Sea, 2016), inspired by the Book of Job from the Christian Bible, specifically the line “O that my grief were thoroughly weighted, and my calamity laid in the balances together. For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea, therefore my words are swallowed up.” A microtonal chorale on strings is the background basis, while the piano is a more active protagonist. A rhythmic pattern from an Albanian pop song is subsumed into the central section. When the opening chorale returns at the end, surely marked lamentoso or something similar, the piano has a quasi-improvisatory line that only seems to increase the sense of mourning. The close recording only intensifies the sense of claustrophobia. In this last section, the pianist (who also happens to be the composer) sings eloquently in deliciously modal melismas. Avanesov (born 1980) has a strong grasp of the power of gesture melded to the space of ritual.
Scored for piano, violin, viola, and cello, Ashot Zohrabyan’s Novelette (2009) melds two means of expression, a Neoclassical clarity and atonal, Pointillistic passages. The excellent booklet note by Artur Avanesov suggests the piece is influenced by Komitas’s Antouni. Armenian art song is experienced through the prism of Modernism. The piece is complex and demanding of its performers (a superb, gripping cello cadenza-like passage from Antonio Lysy, for example), but perhaps it is the moments of piano beauty from Avanesov that linger (flicker is probably a better word) in the memory.
Written in 2017, Michel Petrossian’s A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire for piano trio meditates on identity in the modern world, partly because of the composer’s own multi-faceted origins (Armenian by birth, Russian by education, French by culture) and partly because of an Armenian song (Kars) in a brilliant jazz arrangement by Tigran Hamasyan (from the album Mockroot). There is a background program to the piece (the musicians, in search of a lost melody, free their imagination by perusing Proust’s In Search of Lost Time). The title is particularly interesting as it presents two versions of a translation for the burning bush in the Old Testament, a “fiery flame” (Codex Alexandrinus) and “flaming fire” (Codex Vaticanus). As the composer himself points out, these are two aspects of one reality; ladled on top of this is the reference to Moses in the Bible and also to Movses Pogossian, who commissioned the work. The piece is powerful in its breadth, the Pointillistic flickerings of the opening being particularly inventive. The work is independent of its program in a very real sense, in that while there is a narrative, the music remains closely controlled and structured. This is a fabulous performance; the ensemble is astonishingly tight. At times, the influence of Hamasyan’s piano playing is discernible in Petrossian’s writing, but it is as if it surfaces as a natural consequence of the shifting surface. Petrossian’s harmonic world view allows for consonance, too, brilliantly integrated into his tapestry—an elusive memory of what is being searched for, perhaps? The performance perfectly sustains concentration across its 11-minute span; Avanesov’s contributions are once more intensely powerful. (He is a fine pianist, represented too few times on the Fanfare Archive for his stature.)
The Tekeyan Triptych by Artashes Kartalyan (b. 1961) features the full, expressive voice of mezzo Danielle Segen. Suffused with longing, these are settings of the poetry of Vahan Tekeyan (1875–1945), structured as two love songs plus a meditation on what is left behind. The first song, “I Have Loved,” regrets that, while the protagonist has loved, “no one … knew / The extent of my love.” The sound of the bed of strings as the music softens, and over which the mezzo sings, is beautifully captured in this recording; every detail is there, but there is a lovely sense of atmosphere as well. Armenian folk music informs the melodic shapes of the second song, “A Wish,” while the cello’s repeated rhythmic shape seems to imply a sort of Armenian habanera. Segen is the perfect storyteller, responsive to the warp and weft of the music. There is a real sense of a Rückblick over the poet’s life to the final “A Summary” (it is translated as such on the back cover, while the text in the booklet gives “Ledger”). What is left, asks the poet? “Only that, which I’ve given to others away” is the response, “a furtive endearment, secret blessings.” And whatever was given, came back, multiplied, as fortification for the soul. Nothing is left but for the poet to “intoxicate” himself “with aged wine.” The music becomes fragmented, the shards of melody passed in space between the strings, while the winding, melismatic nature of the singer’s line at that point implies a searching tied to discombobulation. The ending is radiant, consonant, impeccably beautiful.
It’s quite a change, then, to move to primal drumming for the opening movement of Los Angeles-based Ashot Kartalyan’s Suite for Saxophone and Percussion (2015). The first movement seems to nod towards modern jazz, while the second presents an appealing three-voiced fugue for sax and marimba, a very different sound and feel. The third movement is actually marked Allegro animato, although it does feel rather laid-back here (employing sax and mallet instruments). There is an infinite beauty to the vibraphone and sax fourth movement, as the vibraphone’s quiet carillon provides the background to the sax’s fluid musings; Katisse Buckingham is particularly eloquent here. Ending, as the suite began, with a bang, the finale’s restless percussion and furiously forward-moving sax makes for an energizing conclusion.
Finally, there comes a selection of seven pieces from Artur Avanesov’s Feux follets. This work is an ongoing collection in seven books (so far) of around 70 pieces. The movements can muse on the transitory (“Let it be forgotten” inspired by Sara Teasdale), a medieval French folk song (“Quand l’aubespine fleurit”), or a compositional technique. It is actually this latter that forms the third movement, and also provides the title for the disc as a whole: Modulation Necklace, a string of modal connections in Armenian folk music that is a closed circle. The effect is mesmeric, ceding to the very bare textures of “Mon coeur reste brulé.” What is actually truly lovely, and inspired, is the penultimate movement, “Gespenstertanz,” a ghost dance that is offered in pristine imitation of the ornate harpsichord miniatures of the Baroque (although not explicitly stated, it seems to be referring to the French Baroque). Finally, the delicate “Kinderstück IV: Ladybug” is inspired by Armenian visual artist Ani Hovak. And so the disc ends, hovering in the air, awaiting a sequel.
This is a fascinating snapshot of the multifaceted current new music scene emanating from Armenia. Recommended.
— Colin Clarke, 5.02.2020
The most familiar Armenian composer to Western classical audiences is Khachaturian; to a lesser extent Arutiunian and Babajanian, as well. These composers largely worked in the boundaries of what was deemed acceptable by the Soviet state; it wasn't until Tigran Mansurian that the scope of Armenian classical music was broadened. He incorporated influences from the Western avant-garde and deepened connections to Armenia's culture and history in his music. His music is not on this album, though his presence is deeply felt in the plurality of styles of these composers, many of whom have benefited from his friendship and guidance. A sense of longing runs thru many of these works—for love, for home, for clarity of identity. The latter is especially true for Michel Petrossian's piano trio A Fiery Flame, A Flaming Fire—a folk melody is passed around, deconstructed, and recreated as in a colorful tapestry, much as he sees his own cultural heritage. Ashot Zohrabyan's Novelette for piano quartet is more abstract, often with thorny and angular writing, but still intensely emotional. Artashes Kartalyan's Tekeyan Triptych sets love poems by one of Armenia's greatest poets for mezzo-soprano and string quartet. It is achingly beautiful. Translations are supplied, but not the original text. His son Ashot offers something entirely different in the form of his saxophone and percussion suite. The percussion adds energy and atmosphere to the modal inflections of the saxophone. It convincingly approaches the sound of the duduk, Armenia's native reed instrument. Artur Avanesov's contributions to the album are substantial. He has a delightful "bouquet" of impressionist piano miniatures from his ever-growing collection Frenzied Flames. More significant is his stunning piano quintet Quasi Harena Maris (Like the Sand of the Sea). It opens with a striking microtonal chorale that undergoes a series of imaginative variations. Once again, the feeling of longing returns—longing, perhaps, for a simpler, kinder time. Each of these composers was new to me and I found each of them highly skilled, expressive, and compelling I urge you to listen to this special album.
— Nathan Faro, 5.25.2020
It’s astonishing how influential Armenian music has been, considering how small the country is, not to mention the pre-World War I holocaust there which resulted in the murder of as much as 85% of the population and most of its intelligentsia. While Armenian culture has thrived throughout the global diaspora, in the past hundred years the country managed to withstand a stifling Soviet occupation and emerged with wellspring of new music. Violinist Movses Pogossian‘s new album Modulation Necklace – streaming at Bandcamp – celebrates a series of intense, powerful, edgy works by 21st century composers from throughout the global Armenian community.
Artur Avanesov’s somber, stately, acidically crescendoing Quasi Harena Maris begins as a microtonal string quartet played by Pogossian and Ji Eun Hwang, violist Morgan O’Shaughnessey and cellist Niall Ferguson. The composer enters, on piano, with a brooding minimalism as the strings recede to wisps and washes. His fierce block chords shift between dark neoromanticism and unsettled close harmonies, the strings echoing the dichotomy between anthemic intensity and relentless, blustery unease. The sparse, clustering suspense on the way out is chilling. On one hand, there are echoes of the great Danish composer Per Norgard; on the other, this is like nothing you’ve ever heard. What a showstopper to open this album.
The quartet of Avanesov, violinist Varty Manouelian, violist Scott St. John and cellist Antonio Lysy play Ashot Zhrabyan’s Novelette. The ache of the string introduction is more visceral here, Avanesov pouncing in as they reach a horrified peak. Hazy atmospherics alternate with bracing swells, together and individually, the pianist punctuating the storm as it passes through and then returns with a marching vengeance. A stabbing, suspiciously petulant insistence peaks out, then the stern strings take over and end with an unexpectedly quiet triumph.
Avanesov, Manouelian and Tyler deliver Michel Petrossian‘s A Fiery Flame, a Flaming Fire with equal parts individual playfulness and a tight cohesiveness, yet one which remains unsettled until a starkly decisive conclusion. It’s an exploration of identity in an increasingly syncretic world. Have we lost a heritage, or are we creating a brand new, more universal one? The answer seems to be yes to both questions.
The UCLA VEM Ensemble: Hwang and O’Shaughnessey with violinist Aiko Richter, cellist Jason Pegis and mezzo-soprano Danielle Segen tackle Artashes Kartalyan’s Tekeyan Triptych, a setting of poems on longing and posterity by Vahan Tekeyan, a major 20th century figure. In the liner notes, Segen gets high marks from the ensemble for her Armenian pronunciation; the dynamically shifting music echoes late Debussy, with echoes that range from the baroque to Armenian traditional melodies, most anthemically in the second number.
Saxophonist Katisse Buckingham and percussionist Dustin Donahue’s take of Ashot Kartalyan‘s five-part Suite for Saxophone and Percussion shifts from kinetic high/low contrasts, to jaunty bits of vibraphone jazz, a hint of furtive suspense, a beautifully bittersweet ballad and a booming, dancing coda. Avanesov ends the album with seven miniatures from his Feux Follets collection, which range from warm neoromanticism, to lingering minimalism and biting Near Eastern modes. If this is typical of what’s coming out of the Armenian world now, we need to hear more of it!
— delarue, 7.08.2020