Komitas

I try to keep an eye out for unusual concerts.  The Armenian National Opera has begun an intermittent series of chamber concerts in a renovated foyer by the stage entrance of the opera house, which seats about 50-60 people.  Tonight’s concert featured the music of one Soghomon Gevorgi Soghomonyan, a composer-priest who after ordination used the name “Komitas” after a seventh-century Armenian Katholikos who had written many Armenian hymns.

Father Komitas was the foremost Armenian composer of the late ninetheenth and early twentieth centuries and was known across Europe.  His musical style – for both liturgical and secular works – combined eastern harmonies with western forms, including some quite advanced twenthieth-century dynamics.  Tonight’s concert featured a selection of chamber works, not all of which by Komitas (however, there was no printed program, and the principal conductor of the Opera, Karen Durgaryan, who both conducted and played the cello tonight, gave long introductions of each piece which I could not understand).  The fliers indicated that the works not by Komitas were from the Middle Ages, but it was hard to tell which those were (I presume some of the a capella choir music, but the harmonies were similar to the modern works certainly by Komitas).  A string quintet, made up of musicians from the opera orchestra, performed the first half of the concert, joined halfway through by additional strings and the Armenian Chorus of Blind People.

In 1915, Komitas lived in Constantinople and was arrested along with hundreds of Constantinople Armenians and deported to central Anatolia to be murdered with 1.5 million other Armenians.  His international renown won his release at the last moment, but not until after he witnessed the indescribable and suffered a complete breakdown.  He may have physically survived, but they had murdered his spirit.  The final twenty years of his life he spent confined to mental institutions.  He never composed again.

For some reason, his music is no longer performed in the West.  Its reintroduction is long overdue.  In the meantime, I got the experience of hearing it live in Yerevan.
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