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Edouard Baghdasaryan Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra
Arno Babajanian Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra by Arno Babajanian
Performed by Monika Chamasyan with the Crozet Community Orchestra directed by Philip Clark
Armenian composer Arno Babajanian’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra deserves to be ranked alongside those of Sibelius, Barber, Bartok and Walton as one of the great twentieth century works for that genre. And yet, for historical and political reasons, this wonderful work is almost unknown in the West. A revival by the Crozet Community Orchestra with violinist Monika Chamasyan is planned for November. 2017. As far as I know, this will be the first performance outside the former Soviet Union, and it is hoped that it will lead to many others.
Babajanian was born in Yerevan in 1921 and died in Moscow in 1983. He showed musical talent very early on and at the age of 7 was enrolled in the State Conservatory of Music. The Concerto was written in 1948/49 when the composer was 28, and given its first performance by Villi Mokazian, for whom it was written. The famous Soviet virtuoso violinist, Leonid Kogan, also performed the work with the great conductor, Yevgeny Mravinsky. Recordings by both violinists may be found online. It is exciting, romantic music, full of big melodies and enormous youthful vigor like the composer himself. With its use of traditional folk music and scales, it is also uniquely Armenian.
After a period of study in Moscow, Babajanian returned to Yerevan for four years where he taught at the Conservatory and produced three or four masterpieces. He then went back to Moscow, where it seems that he spent most of his later life composing the popular songs for which he is now mostly remembered in Russia.
Monika Chamasyan, who was a student of Mokazian, is on a mission to give the Violin Concerto a new life! A recording of the 2nd movement was played at Mokazian’s memorial service in Armenia and made such a profound and lasting impression on her that she vowed that it should be played in America.
However, no one at the Conservatory Library or the National Philharmonic Orchestra knew where the score or parts were. Apparently, on the break up of the Soviet Union, many scores and manuscripts were stolen and lost from the library of the Composers’ Union. So she then called her former harmony teacher at the Conservatory to see if he knew what happened to it, and, fortuitously, he told her that he kept it at his home, having feared that someone would take it and lose it.
When I first met Monika, she showed me the 230-page score of the Concerto that she had obtained from her teacher and asked me if the Crozet Orchestra would like to play it. It had evidently been copied from a much larger composer’s autograph score because a magnifying glass was needed to read the notes. And it was obvious from the scribbled directions that it was the same one that a conductor – probably Mravinsky – had used. I had to tell her that, regretfully, my orchestra was barely a year old, and that we had only 20 or 30 players and it was not in a position to play such a difficult work.
The CCO has grown since then and developed full string, wind and brass sections. We successfully championed two pieces by Babajanian’s compatriot, Edouard Baghdasaryan, the Nocturne and the gorgeous Rhapsody, both for violin and orchestra, and I feel now that we are up to the task.
Ah, but where were the orchestral parts? They had disappeared too, and this time were not to be found. I decided to undertake the enormous challenge of copying them out, a job which has taken me well over two years. I have to say that the time spent was well worth the effort, as I have gotten to know intimately this remarkable music.
Monika Chamasyan was also born in Yerevan. She studied at the Tchaikovsky School of Music and later entered the Yerevan Komitas Conservatory. She then auditioned for the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia and worked there for a year as a member of 1st violin section.
With her pianist sister, Marina, she decided to come to America to study with another of Mokazian’s students, Movses Pogosian, a winner of the international Tchaikovsky competition, who now taught at Bowling Green University. From their arrival in the US with $100 each in their pockets to their journey by Greyhound bus to Bowling Green and Monika’s marriage to fellow student Mark Dorosheff, playing in a trio with her other violin playing sister, Armine, and raising a family in Washington, D.C. is a whole other fascinating journey.