Loris Tjeknavorian: ‘Armenian music was similar to the Iranian one from the outset but the Armenians made their music closer to the modern European one’

Date of publication : June 24, 2016 14:02 pm
© armmuseum
© armmuseum

Maestro Loris Tjeknavorian has led a truly cosmopolitan career, both as a conductor and composer. Having lived in Iran, the United States (Michigan and Minnesota), Britain, Austria, Armenia, and having led orchestras in those countries, as well as in Japan and the former Soviet Union, he has absorbed a range of ethnic and cultural influences. This colorful background shows up in his music: his church compositions show Armenian and Eastern Orthodox influences, while his stage and orchestral works divulge Iranian, Persian, and Armenian flavors. Tjeknavorian has made more than 60 recordings as a conductor and has composed over 70 compositions. His works have been given premieres in London, Tehran, New York, Johannesburg, and other major cultural centers. He has recorded for several labels, including RCA, ASV, Philips, and EMI. The following is an exclusive interview with Maestro Tjeknavorian on Persian-Armenian culture, in particular the music.
What is the history of Music in Armenia?
“One of the nations living in the “land of Iran” was the Armenians. Before the era of Shah Abbas and Fath-Ali Shah, the Armenians were part of the great Iranian culture. Armenian music in that time was based on Dastgah but about a hundred years ago in Armenia, the Armenian composers removed the quarter tone and made the music European. This specially happened when Armenia became a member of the Soviet Union because at that time those who wanted to learn music used to go to Moscow and Leningrad and studied there and also before that to Berlin, Vienna, Paris and Rome. However, after joining the Soviet Union, all types of music including orchestral, Opera, etc. were influenced by the classic Russian culture and became polyphonous. At that time, by having composers such as Komitas Vardapet, the Armenian music transformed and became closer to the Western music. They began with major and minor steps because it let them create a polyphonous music.”
So, the emergence of differences between Persian and Armenian music dates back to about century ago?
“The difference between the Armenian and Persian music was at that time. Armenian music was similar to the Iranian one from the outset but the Armenians removed quarter tone and made their music closer to the modern European one. Nevertheless, traditional music remained in Iran and did not change its technique and continued to serve the poetry. I think part of the difference lies in this matter but if you ask a musicologist, one would describe these differences to you in a much more scientific way.”
Given the widespread audience, how do you evaluate the current status of Music in Iran and Armenia?
“The Iranian people do not listen to the music at all. They listen to the lyrics rather than the music. This is a country of poetry. The greatest poets of the world lived in Iran. People listen to the poetry and lyrics. Music, attitude and everything else is at the service of the poetry. Armenians did not have great poets like Hafez and Saadi in their own languages like the European countries. Hence, they became more interested in music. On the other hand, Persians were keener on poetry and literature. That’s why the classical and orchestral music developed in Armenia better than Iran.”
What is your recommendation for cultural expansion between the two nations via the musical activities?
“There is no animosity between Iran and Armenia and they belong to one culture. There should only be more mutual familiarity and understanding. The musical groups should come to Iran from Armenia and vice versa so that people get to know each other. Direct and close encounters always breed understanding and recognition. The close encounter leads to understanding and consequently we can learn from each other. God has not given everything to one person and we need to be together.”
How much have been successful in this path so far?
“We were not successful in many aspects. One was that the Soviet Union had closed borders and we were thus unable to have a relationship. Communication was only political. Cultural contacts were only between the governments and people did not communicate directly with each other. This relationship has recently been formed between Iran and the countries that used to be part of the Great Iran and had the same tradition. This communication requires planning and budgeting since inviting a group to Iran and sending one to Armenia requires money that must be provisioned by the government. This happened relatively well during Khatami's administration. I myself brought three or four orchestra groups from Armenia to Iran and conducted them. At the time this facility was provided but unfortunately no Iranian group has been to Armenia. Although our symphonic orchestra has not been on a required level to go to Armenia but the circumstances could be provided for our National Orchestra group to go there. Also, these communications should be continuous. If they are done only once or twice a year, they won’t have a significant effect on our relationship.”

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