In The Shadow of Mount Ararat

My knowledge of the Armenian Genocide was very limited until I met Alan Hovhaness and his last piano protege, Shoghere Markarian in the early 1980’s.

_mount-ararat

Mount Ararat

Christmas Eve 1997 with Shoghere

Christmas Eve 1997 with Shoghere

Shoghere and I became close friends until she passed away in 2007. A gifted pianist adored by Hovhaness, she premiered many of his piano works. She was also a teacher, the correspondent for the now defunct weekly, The Armenian Reporter, and a connoisseur of classic literature. Shoghere was obsessed with the Armenian painter Arshile Gorky and his incredible poetic letters to his sister Vartoosh, who like Komitas, (composer that greatly influenced Hovhaness) was scared for his life by the Armenian Genocide.

In the 1990’s she embarked on a mission to present these letters to a wider audience. I received invitations several times from her to perform solo piano works of Alan Hovhaness between her letter readings and to also play music for four hands (also of Hovhaness) with her.  During Shoghere’s readings I also improvised quietly in the background in Hovhaness’s style which was a total joy!  One of most notable performances we did was in 1996 during the Contemporary Armenian Artist Art Exhibition in Boston.

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Contemporary Armenian Artist Art Exhibition in Boston

She also introduced me to singing of wonderful soprano Lusine Zakaryan.

I remember when in late 1999, during one of our casual meetings, she give me a CD titled “Oratorio In Memory of the Victims of the Armenian Genocide 1915” by Khachatur Avetisyan. Two weeks later I broadcast the complete work on my weekly program Classical Discoveries with a repeat presentation in 2010.

As a reporter she was present in 2002 at The Armenian National Committee meeting discussing the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and felt that it was important to the world to remember what happened.

Armenian

The Armenian Reporter May 04, 2002

Of course, my contact with Armenian communities was not limited to Hovhaness and Shoghere. From the time I recorded 2 CD’s of his music, I have performed many recitals organized by Armenian organizations as far as in Chicago.

Armenian music is often featured on Classical Discoveries. I have presented, for example, 2 operas by Armen Tigranian; Anoush and David-Beg, and many compositions by one the great Armenian composers, Avet Terterian, who is sadly little known here in the western hemisphere. To show how times have changed, I remember hearing Terterian’s music for the first time in the afternoon on WNCN, a wonderful commercial station from New York which is now sadly gone.

The strange thing is that I never presented a full program devoted to Armenian music, not counting programs and the special 24 hour Marathon devoted to Hovhaness – the American composer whose love for the music of his father’s homeland earned him a permanent place in the hearts of all Armenians.

As I am preparing my special program I cannot help to think about Shoghere and how happy and very proud of me she would be. I am dedicating this program to her memory and to those who lost their lives during the purge 100 hundred years ago.

Here are some details:

Program will air:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 from 5:30 through 11:00am
WPRB 103.3FM Princeton NJ, or on the Internet at: http://www.wprb.com/

 April 24, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, one of the worst in history where about 1.5 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire perished between 1915 and 1923.
In observance of the 100th anniversary of the genocide, I will present a whole program devoted to music by Armenian composers and by composers of Armenian descent titled “In the Shadow of Mount Ararat.”
One of the main features of the program will be the “Oratorio In Memory of the Victims of the Armenian Genocide 1915” by Khachatur Avetisyan

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Check Classical Discoveries website a few days before the event for more details at:
http://www.classicaldiscoveries.org/

You can join Classical Discoveries Event on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/events/1394051834249938/

You will find playlist after the broadcast at:
http://www.classicaldiscoveries.org/playlists_2015_01.html#0422

Listen to archived program till May 10, 2015 at:
http://www.classicaldiscoveries.org/index_music.html#0422

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Winter’s Breath

A couple of weeks ago, on a beautiful snowy Sunday morning, I stumbled on a wonderful video posted in Facebook.  The author was  Sean O’Boyle, the Australian composer, living in New York. The soundtrack for the video was his own composition titled “Winter’s Breath”.

I wonder if he was thinking about the music while taking this video or the idea of pairing both came later?

Some of you might remember Sean as a composer of the “Concerto for Didgeridoo and Orchestra”, a work that I have presented several times on my program.

The pictures of those snowy scenes in New York combined with music gave me the idea to do a whole program of works devoted to winter, a season that never really came to us this year on the east coast, at least not yet.

As I am going through piles of CD’s of music depicting musically ice, snow, and the cold, I am imagining wonderful winter scenery and hope that some of you will be able to join and share with me this special voyage to the Winter Wonderland, just days before March and the real spring season begins.

Yes, winter is coming to Classical Discoveries this Wednesday from 5:30am till 1:00pm. Get out your warm gloves, scarfs, boots and get ready to be chilled and frozen on  WPRB 103.3FM or on-line at http://www.wprb.com/listen.php

If you miss the broadcast you will be able to listen on your computer for 2 weeks after the mp3 files are posted on my Classical Discoveries website.

The weather is so different from last year, when I remember driving to WPRB for my 24 Hour Hovhaness Marathon in a blizzard. A two-minute drive turned into a 40-minute struggle. I live close and could have actually walked to the station, but since I needed supplies for 24-hours of survival, I needed to go by car.

My evening’s special guest could not get a taxi for a 2-mile drive from his hotel to the studio.  That is how bad it was. After that, we had snow almost every Monday or Tuesday. I was actually very happy when spring arrived.

This season, after the late October snow we had only a few days of light snow, and can already see spring flowers popping up in my garden. I bet that many people with extreme weather this year would like to exchange places with us here in the Northeast.

March, as always, will be devoted to women composers, so this is my last chance to celebrate winter.  In addition, on Feb.29, to celebrate Alan Hovhaness’s 101st birthday, I will broadcast a live concert of his chamber music taped on January 8, 2012 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. If you are on Facebook, you can join the Event at: https://www.facebook.com/events/238468462904193/.  I will also present some selections from a just released CD of his choral works as performed by Gloriae Dei Cantores.

Enjoy the last few weeks of winter, or at least listen this Wednesday on WPRB.

Contemporary music, piano and me

Since my sophomore year at Trenton State College (now College of New Jersey) I have had a fatal attraction to contemporary music against my parents’ wishes.  I often wonder if that was my way to escape to a place, where I could be myself without their interference, since they totally disapproved contemporary music.

During that year I heard for the first time a live performance of Olivier Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur with organist Albert Ludecke, who had a profound influence on developing my musical taste during college days.

No, I never played the organ, but thanks to him I became very interested in 20th Century French organ repertoire and composers such as Marcel Dupré, Charles Tournemire, Jehan Alain, Maurice Duruflé and many others.  That led to my research into the repertoire by those composers and into the discovery of a variety of their piano works.

I will never forget my excitement when I found and purchased a copy of the Préludes” of Olivier Messiaen, four of which I included on my college senior recital. As I recall, these pieces received the biggest applause at my recital.

Olivier Messiaen is almost a regular fixture on many recitals now, but years ago his music was not.

This led later to more discoveries of piano repertoire like the wonderful set of 12 “Préludespoèmes” by Charles Tournemire – something between the music of Debussy and Messiaen.  The interesting thing about this music was that some of it was written on 4 or more staves!

Through the years, I performed a number of these as well as the original piano version of Marcel Dupré popular organ workCortège and Litanie, Op. 19, No. 2” and of course, much Messiaen.

My master’s thesis at the Manhattan School of Music was of course, devoted to the music of one of the 20th century French organists and titled “A Seventy-Fifth Birthday Tribute to Maurice Durufle.” I still have 2 letters I treasure, written to me by the composer.

My fascination with obscure contemporary music continued when I discovered the music of Alan Hovhaness. This eventually led to the meeting and my friendship with the composer as well as to doctoral dissertation on a number of piano sonatas, and later 2 recordings of his piano music. I am planning in the near future to go more deeply into the subject of Hovhaness and my feeling about the very disappointing centennial year tributes.

From the time I turned my world upside down by researching piano music by French composers, I have that strange feeling, similar to hunger, that forces me to look for obscure music, almost to the point of obsession (at least my wife thinks so). When I see an exciting première recording coming out I almost get the shakes from all the excitement.

I do not know if I would be who I am without good music education and inspiring teachers. My interest in music has expanded in many different directions, and I do know that some of my interests have changed over the years. I might not care much now about music I loved before and vice versa.  Sometimes I must listen to a new work a few times before I like it, and I almost never reject anything permanently.  I am also evolving and a few years later I might change my opinion.

We should always try to remember that some of the musical warhorses of today were given poor reviews when they were first presented.

Regardless of what I am teaching, I always remember my teachers, what they did for me, and what I liked about them.  I might be the first to open the door of knowledge and encourage young students to discover the world of new music, the world I am so passionate about.

My students must learn repertoire from all periods, but I rarely see excitement when I hand them a new piece of Mozart or Schubert.  I know that eventually they may possibility learn to love this music, but for now I let them love the music of today such as that by Jennifer Castellano, René Eespere, Ludovico Einaudi, Philip Glass, Jaan Rääts, Yoichi Togawa, and the works of other living composers.

One of my young students confessed to me that after learning a piano work by Einaudi, he downloaded 20 different tracks of his music to his IPod. Not Lady Gaga but Einaudi? I was very excited to see this.

I enjoy seeing young faces when they shake the hand of a young composer (someone they can relate to) who wrote a work they just played.  I do remember how my student reacted after finding out the year a composer wrote a work she was playing. “Wow, I was 8 years old when this work was written.”

This is why new repertoire must be introduced to young students if we want them to step into 21st Century.

Whether I present, my Classical Discoveries program, a lecture or a piano recital, people are always asking me why we do not hear more music of our time. I know that only through exposure  you can change a person’s general opinion, but I also know that this is a rather complicated issue. Sometimes I do not know what to say to people without hurting their feelings.

The hardest thing for me is to understand why some people are so inflexible and closed-minded and are not willing to open their mind and ears, and accept the fact that there is much more to music than Mozart and Schubert. The answer may simply be is that people are comfortable only with the familiar.

These are typical comments I hear when strangers find out what I am doing:

  •      A.   I hate new music!
  •      Q.    When was the last time you heard music you hated?
  •      AO! In the seventies or eighties and now I never go to any new music concerts.
  •      Q.  That was many years ago. If you never heard any recently how do you know if you will still hate it?
  •      A.   No one can be better than Beethoven, Mozart or Tchaikovsky.
  •      Q.   Do you ever listen to recordings of new music?
  •      A.   No, I would not give this crap a chance, and all new music is crap!!!
  •      Q.    If you try just a little, you may change your opinion and like it.
  •      A .  No way.

It sounds like talking to the wall, but what is interesting, is that some of those non-believers have actually changed their mind. There was a commercial many years ago which included the phrase “Try it, you’ll like it.”  Maybe this should be the phrase to try to encourage listeners to give new music a chance?

A few weeks ago I presented a workshop “21st Century Piano Literature’ for the “Piano Teachers Forum” in Central New Jersey.  I performed and discussed new works from all over the world for all levels of piano students.

This is briefly what I wrote in my introduction to the list of recommended works for piano students:

I have been disturbed by the general lack of interest in the music of our time, for not only the piano, but for other instruments and ensembles as well.  Over the years, after speaking to some of my colleagues, I realized that it was not a lack of interest, but rather a lack of exposure. I have acquired many interesting recordings from all over the world for my radio program and have also received from composers some of their piano works for my personal use, due to my interest in contemporary piano literature. I am very happy to share some of that music with you.  In earlier centuries new music was greatly supported and I hope that this trend will eventually return.  I know that my students are very excited about playing music composed during their lifetime.

Based on the reaction during and after the presentation, as well as e-mails I received, the participating teachers were very excited about this workshop. Hopefully, some of the attending teachers will share this excitement about new music with their students. It is important for musicians and teachers to support the music of living composers.

I will be presenting 2 more workshops featuring 21st Century Piano Repertoire in the beginning of February. This time they will be with this year’s commissioned composer for “New Jersey Music Teachers Association (NJMTA), Jennifer Castellano. Jennifer will perform her own compositions and discuss her challenges as a visually and hearing-impaired musician. Jennifer (the second half of the Rosen – Castellano Duo) and I will be recording a CD of contemporary works for piano four-hands during the summer and will be presenting a few of these works during the upcoming workshops. The workshops will also include my performances of new piano repertoire as well, that I also intend to record soon.

If you are in the neighborhood of Princeton or Willow Grove and wish to attend as a guest either of those workshops please contact me at: marvinarosen@gmail.com

Music and copyright by Jennifer Castellano

Music and copyright by Jennifer Castellano

René Eespere:

Ludus Tactus (2008)

Yuko Yoshioka, Piano

Music: Yoichi Togawa
“Kaze no ha”for Piano
Piano: Yoshiko Takase

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