Too Late for Fresno, but not for San Francisco

April 26, 2015

Centenaries of wars afford us opportunities to revisit these tragedies and experience human history afresh – and, above all, to remember and learn from these terrors how to make peace. Alas, buried deep in World War I’s history is the Armenian Genocide of 1915, during which over a million Armenians were so cruelly forced to march to their deaths that their descendants are called “living martyrs.”

Fresno’s commemoration of the Genocide culminated in a Fresno Philharmonic concert featuring the Fresno Master Chorale and Fresno State Concert Choir in a new work, Cantata for Living Martyrs, by Serouj Kradjian. Perhaps this newly-premiered work will take its place as a monument next to the great War Requiem by Benjamin Britten. Like the War Requiem, the Cantata gives voice to reflections old and new. The opening movement, “The Dance,” is a grisly depiction of the beginning of the Genocide, a massacre of Armenian women, as told by a German missionary and based on a poem of Armenian poet Siamanto, one of the first victims of the April 24, 1915, massacre. Siamanto’s voice reminds us of another voice cut down by war, Wilfred Owen, whose poetry is used in the War Requiem. Mercifully, Kradjian takes us to the intimate “I Bless You” for his second movement, based on a memoir by Aram Haigaz, as a mother, bereft of four of her five children, blesses her last child as he sets out to escape the terror and start a new life overseas. The third movement, “Denial & Rebirth,” opens with the choir whispering “no genocide” blending in with a growing torrent of percussion. A Joseph Schwantner-like interlude leads to the closing text by Fresno’s own William Saroyan on the creation of new Armenias around the world by the Armenian diaspora. While I treasure the optimistic end of the Cantata, the work ends too easily and seems to disconnect with itself as Kradjian resorts to old-fashioned tonal triumphalism.

The Cantata for Living Martyrs unites with two works by fellow Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian in this Genocide commemoration, the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia from Spartacus and the passionate Violin Concerto, so ably performed by soloist Catherine Manoukian. Also included in the program were short choral works by Yekmalian and Arutiunian (unfortunately, only last names given).

The evening at Fresno was a terrific commemoration. Hats off to Fresno Phil maestro Theodore Kuchar and Fresno State and Fresno Master Chorale director Anna Hamre and to all involved in envisioning and planning this event. Fortunately, if you missed it, this program will also take place today in San Francisco in the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre at 5:00 this evening. It is worth the trip there to be a part of this important commemoration of history.

Kiev in 100 Easy Steps (continued!)

March 31, 2015
Kiev in 100 Easy Steps (continued!)
Let me catch you up on the new Naxos CD of my orchestral works. Everything is now edited, and all the pieces but the Violin Concerto are now finished and ready for the CD. We are down to ten tiny issues in the Concerto and I hope one more week will see the editing finished.
That means it’s time for another installment of Kiev in 100 Easy Steps! So, without further ado, Track 5, please.

  • 5) Become a follower of Jesus Christ. I know; this one should have been first, but that’s precisely why you need to do this. You won’t be plagued with bad memories of what you forgot to do, because, after all, He died to take away anything that separates you from Himself or from other people – a good thought for Holy Week. But, more importantly, you will have a sense that what you do has eternal weight and purpose far beyond what might become of your big projects here on earth.
  • 6) Prepare absolutely the best, clearest, and most readable score you possibly can for each piece. After all, it’s for eternity (see #5, above), and it is a good way to love your conductor, even if he is not to enter the picture for 40 years after you finish that first piece!
  • 7) Prepare absolutely the best, clearest, and most readable parts you possibly can for each piece. This is your way to love all of your musicians. Give them the very best road map that you can, with well-marked, frequent cues and long rests at page turns (if, indeed, you must have page turns). Try to show them the terrain and topography of your piece as much as possible, not just the roads they must drive; after all, that’s what a good road map does.
  • 8) A refrain I constantly utter to my students: Back It Up! Not just your Finale, Sibelius, or other computer files onto three or four hard drives, but also high-quality PDF’s there as well. And not just your computer files, but even your manuscripts! It’s so easy to convert those to PDF’s and helps to make those much more accessible to more people later. It’s a bad joke, but I tell my students and myself to imitate Jesus Christ – save often!

I wish for you all, dear readers, a marvelous celebration of Easter. Please do not be afraid to take the plunge downward into the passion of our Lord; go ahead and attend a Maundy Thursday and a Good Friday service this week, so you will be even more prepared for the fantastic festival of next Sunday!