The project “Armenian Fingerprints – interpreting the piano music of Komitas and Khachaturian in light of Armenian folk music” has been an artistic research project about interpretational possibilities that emerged from the inspiration of Armenian folk music, specifically looking at the two Armenian composers’, Komitas’ and Khachaturian’s music.
The two major turning points of the project are presented in the chapters Listening and Response, and Embodiment. In each chapter of the part Fingerprints, I emphasise the different aspects of interpretation upon which I build my artistic choices. Furthermore, in the parts Interpreting Komitas’ music and Interpreting Khachaturian’s music, I describe my artistic choices in detail, together with each composition that I have worked with throughout the project.
I consider several of meetings with the Armenian professors Mher Navoyan, Alina Pahlevanyan and Villy Sargsyan to be of great importance and these had a major impact on the project’s development. The dialogues with folk musicians from Armenia, and the results of our meetings, are presented in the chapter Folk Instruments. The close collaboration with Vigen Balasanyan opened up new perspectives and turning points, and were of major significance for the project, the results of which are described in detail in the chapters on Folk Songs and Folk Instruments, and also presented in the Komitas album. The collaboration with Adam Grüchot, Stig Nordhagen and Leonardo Sesenna too has been of a great importance, the details of which are described in the chapters on Chamber Music, as well as the results presented in the Khachaturian, Chamber Music album. The collaboration with Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra in the project has been of a crucial importance and has gave me a great opportunity for a live performance of Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto, the recording of which is presented as one of the main artistic results of the project.
The project has been a dialectic process between listening to folk music and investigating interpretational possibilities for the piano. In this reflection, I have described and unfolded some aspects of the processes that emerged during these years of going into depth of Armenian music, and responding to it in my practicing processes, focusing on the use of pianistic elements such as pedalling, touch, timing and expression, in order to obtain a personal pianistic response. I hope these descriptions may be of interest to other pianists who are exploring these compositions. The reflection also opens up some of the vast references in literature and recordings that provide the reader with an introductory portal into an understanding of the culture surrounding Armenian classical music and folk music. I hope that this project may be interesting not only for pianists and musicians who are interested in Armenian music, but also for pianists who search for approaches of interpretation for classical works, as well as others who may have an interest in the performance of folk music inspired by classical music, or Armenian music. I hope that my interpretations will open up new perspectives to the established approaches of interpretation. I humbly believe that the project may contribute to shedding new light on the field of interpretation of Komitas and Khachaturian. I think that the project bears a new approach through my personal, intuitive search and the reflections upon it. Each composition – together with the performances and recordings - bears the hallmarks of individual expression by sound, pianistic touch, artistic choices of details, and the concept as a whole. I am, however, aware and realistic in seeing that my approach may not be perceived as “innovative” or radically different from the established traditions, as it has been a goal of mine to remain within the framework of the classical pianistic tradition. However, some of the performances have a more bold, innovative and daring approach – as in the case of playing Komitas and Khachaturian on piano together with the folk instruments - duduk, or blul.
When I look back to my own practicing recordings from 2015 and up until today, I feel that my playing of Khachaturian’s and Komitas’ music has transformed in many ways. I believe that I understand their musical language in a more fluent and mature manner (if I can say so). The musical material has reached under my skin during the four years of actively playing and performing it during several concerts in Norway and abroad. There is always an ongoing process to find my way of playing in this music, which luckily will only continue, but now it feels more rooted. The music of Komitas and Khachaturian feels rooted in my body - through the extensive practice of it. It feels rooted in my mind - through the intensive learning process in exploring literature and scores, and it feels rooted in my soul - evoking the underlying genetic connection than one cannot avoid, being an Armenian. This is connected to the intuitive aspect of my playing. Regarding the listening and analysis of my own playing, and the interpretations of Khachaturian’s and Komitas’ works, I believe there has been an evident transformation during the project’s period since my performances became clearer and more conceptual regarding the form of the composition, finding the imagined timbres, articulation and pedalling. This transformation is both on a professional level of the interpretation aspect, and also on a personal level.
As exciting, incredibly interesting and intense as the process of artistic research has been, it has also been challenging for me. There were some aspects of resistance that I strongly felt in addition to the artistic challenges connected directly to the performance. I found it challenging to find the tone and atmosphere of language in my written reflections. It has been a goal for me to project to the reader the connection between my imagination and the interpretations of the compositions. The process of writing and describing what I feel, understand or reflect upon regarding music and performance in English (which is my third language), has been a challenge. I felt that some kind of conflict has emerged between me as performer and me as writer: the process of verbalising and attempting to put the musical and performative experience, which is itself different from performance to performance, into words, has been one of the most difficult aspects of the project, giving me resistance and ambiguity.
Another difficulty has been the explanation of my ideas, regarding my vision of interpretations affected by Armenian folk music to my musician-partners in the project. How to make them involved in-depth in the interpretation of the chamber music of Khachaturian in a way that they could start to explore and experiment in their own playing (of clarinet, violin, and cello) towards folk instrument sound imitation and in general regarding Armenian folk music aesthetics has been challenging. Here I am talking about not only the transformation of my playing in light of Armenian folk music but also about the possibility of transformation in other musicians’ playing. What kind of musical opportunities our collaboration might open for their playing and in our playing as a chamber group (duos, trios) is another aspect. One of the most important things that I have learned during this project is to embrace the unknown - the ambiguous, - and to trust the process both in musical and personal terms, and to follow my own intuition. The new ideas, things that seemed and felt at the moment chaotic, and as if they ruined or altered the initial plans of the project (and in fact they did), were ultimately amongst the most valuable changes that took place and turned the project onto a new path, bringing new qualities, new structures, and new approaches into the whole. I believe that these changes were proofs of the inner development, as a result of the constant search, revised approaches, and the new insights gained throughout a nearly four-year journey. I must also mention that the project gave me more confidence to have a constantly questioning, almost suspicious approach to anything that seems “right” and learned through academic education in terms of the established traditions of performance - and to follow my own instincts and insights more – those that started from the tiniest micro details of compositions to more conceptual and broader aspects of them, for I believe that this is the way to try to find one’s own voice in such a large field as interpretation of classical music is.
Naturally, when looking back I see a possibility that the project could have developed in another way, as for example in terms of delving deeper into the path of direct imitation and translation of folk instruments into the piano playing, and an attempt at direct imitation/translation of Komitas’ singing on piano. These are conceptually different topics/paths of research, opening up enormous interesting perspectives in piano playing which, at this point, I do not know for sure if I will continue to pursue or not.
After this project, an interest that emerged in me was to search more in Alan Hovhaness’ piano works, both his solo compositions and the Lousadzak, Coming of Light, Piano Concerto with String Orchestra, in which the composer’s Senza misura - repetitions in the piano part – are reminiscent of pluckings and timbral imitations; the improvisational musical patterns evoke interesting combinations and search for an authentic interpretation. I also have a wish, after this project, to delve deeper into other compositions, especially the piano concertos of Bartok, Ravel and Prokofiev. It will be exciting for me to search deeper with these composers’ piano works after having worked through an artistic research project, the impact and insights of which from now on I believe will intertwine with upcoming new projects.