In ‘With You, Armenia,’ Kissin and Others Honor the Slaughtered

Anthony Tommasini
This month Carnegie Hall had to set up five rows of stage seats to meet the demand for the Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin’s much-anticipated solo recital. So it was unusual to see empty seats in the hall for his appearance on Tuesday night. But this was an unusual and intensely meaningful occasion.
Mr. Kissin took part in “With You, Armenia: A Concert to Commemorate the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.” Sponsored by the Yerevan Perspectives International Music Festival, the event was part of an international tour featuring the impressive Hover State Chamber Choir, founded by Sona Hovhannisyan, who conducted the impressive 25-voice ensemble in the rewarding first half of the program. There were arrangements of Armenian folk songs and liturgical works, several contemporary selections, a Britten carol and the world premiere of a choral setting of Psalm 3 by the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki composed in remembrance of the genocide.
After intermission, Mr. Kissin played four substantive Chopin works, including the Fantasy in F minor and Scherzo No. 2.
The tour commemorates the deportations and massacres of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire starting in 1915. By the end some 1.5 million Armenians were killed. Despite a consensus among historians that the killings amounted to genocide, Turkish leaders reject that characterization and call them a tragic unplanned result of war.
The chorus began with folk songs arranged by the Armenian priest and composer known as Komitas (1869-1935), a choir director and pioneer of Armenian national music who spent time in a prison camp during the genocide.(*) Several singers held chiming metal pieces that provided delicate tones and rhythmic figures during these selections. “Lusnake los i, Babo” (“The Moon Is Bright, Grandpa”), the first offering, was a lovely song with wistful lyrical turns and melting harmonies supported by earthy, steady bass drones.
“Hoy, Im Nazani Yare” (“Hoy, My Graceful Sweetheart”), another Komitas arrangement, was fleet and jaunty with shouted rhythmic accents, though tinged with sadness. Mr. Penderecki’s Psalm 3 (“O Lord, how many are my foes!”) had a musical language stepped in the modal idiom of Armenian folk music yet charged with piercing contemporary chords.
The trademark wonders of Mr. Kissin’s playing — a singing tone, myriad shadings, uncanny brilliance — were all present in his Chopin performances. During subdued passages of the Fantasy and the dreamy Nocturne in F sharp minor (Op. 48, No. 2), Mr. Kissin seemed so intent on achieving sublimity that the music went a little limp. The brooding Polonaise in C minor was so slow and deliberate that its dance element was mostly lost. The pianist was at his best in his Russian virtuoso mode, tearing through the scherzo in a white-hot performance.
The ovation was tumultuous, even more so after Mr. Kissin, for an encore, played a mournful Armenian song.(**) He ended the evening with a heroic account of Chopin’s famous Polonaise in A flat, and this time the music danced defiantly.

"The New York Times," May 28, 2015

(*) It was not a prison camp, since Changr was not Auschwitz. The people arrested after the roundup of April 24, included Komitas, who was in exile for less than two months, were initially held in an army barrack, and afterwards they were allowed to rent rooms in the town without permit to leave the place ("Armeniaca").
(**) "Kroonk," a popular song arranged by Komitas ("Armeniaca").

(**) The popu

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