Tuesday, December 1, 2009

violist's heritage through music

In this past Sunday’s Boston Globe Arts Section, I enjoyed reading a fascinating article. The title of the article, “An emotional link to a nation’s past: Armenian composer’s powerful music brings trio of collaborators together,” says a lot in itself on the content of the article. In my new identity as a violist and violinist, I am always on the lookout for articles about either instrument, but finding one about viola is still more rare than those on violin. Also, the topic of music linked to one’s heritage also tends to grab my interest, and this article certainly fulfills this need.

The article discusses the recital this Tuesday, 12/1 at Jordan Hall, with Kim Kashkashian, one of the most famous violists existing today, Tigran Mansurian, who will play piano and sing, and percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky. Mansurian and Kashkashian have collaborated for more than two decades, and the collaboration continues with this recital, as it features pieces composed and arranged by Mansurian. Both of Armenian descent, their program pays homage to their heritage in including songs by famous Armenian composer, Komitas Vartabed. Kashkashian’s first exposure to Komita’s music inspired her so much to eventually create a recording with Mansurian’s music, as well. There is a rawness to the sound of Mansurian’s vocals that, as Kaskashian describes, “really let through the incredible depth of emotion and knowledge of the people, of the land, of the circumstances of the nation – its blood.”

Kashkashian relates the power of Komitas and Mansurian share in their music: “bring the ancient past into a form that modern Armenians – and Westerners – could understand and embrace.” The program they present this Tuesday will feature ancient religious chants arranged by Mansurian for viola and percussion, two groups of Komitas’s songs, four of Mansurian’s songs, and a duet for viola and percussion. The writer of the article also addresses Kashkashian’s “uncommonly expressive tone – shadowy yet lyrical – from the most introverted of string instruments.” I thought this was a fascinating description of viola, but I think it is often how listener’s think of the instrument. It is sandwiched between the upper voice violins and the bass voice cellos. Kashkashian’s description of her own tone and playing is inspiring: “The thing that any musician is trying to do is to take the expressive tool offered them and say something that is, on the one hand, as true to the composer as possible, and on the other, that expresses the deepest, innermost regions of their own hearts.” With this, I truly hope I will be lucky enough to attend this concert.

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