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