September 2010  Achtamar and Lake of Van Sonata get rare Turkish performances from world-renowned pianist Şahan Arzruni

During 1946-47 Hovhaness penned two short piano works, Lake of Van Sonata and Achtamar, named for Lake Van and its small island of Akdamar. The lake is in modern-day Turkey but was formerly in Armenia. These two works have been programmed together many a time, but will now be performed near the exact spots commemorated in their titles for a concert taking place September 18th in Van province, on the eve of a liturgical ceremony being held in Akdamar Island's 10th century Church of the Holy Cross. Rather appropriately, the brainchild of this auspicious concert is world-renowned Armenian piano virtuoso Sahan Arzruni, for it was his meticulously nuanced playing on the 1987 Hovhaness disc Visionary Landscapes that established him as the present-day's foremost interpreter of the composer's piano works.

A Juilliard School of Music graduate who went on to pursue doctoral studies, Arzruni is known to millions through many television broadcasts and having played the straight man in comedian Victor Borge's musical shows. Arzruni will perform at Van's Yüzüncü Yil University, where in addition to the two Hovhaness works, he will interpret songs from Turkish composers Ferid Anlar, Yüksel Koptagel and Adnan Saygun, and Armenian composers Komitas Vardapet and Srvantsdyans. Baritone Kevork Tavityan and violinist Sevil Ulucan will join Arzruni for some of the pieces. Additionally a musical film titled Akdamar, produced by Arzruni, will feature.

Alan Hovhaness and Sahan Arzruni

Left: Sahan Arzruni joined by Alan Hovhaness in July 1986, to record Child in the Garden, which featured on Arzruni's widely acclaimed all-Hovhaness disc entitled Visionary Landscapes. Arzruni's "marvelously sensitive performances" were hailed by Fanfare magazine.

Arzruni's recorded legacy of Hovhaness's piano music ranks with that of another Armenian American pianist, Maro Ajemian, who performed and recorded dozens of Hovhaness works in the 1940s and 50s. They also both contributed, along with Hovhaness himself, to a two-disc centennial tribute for Komitas Vardapet. Arzruni later recorded a three-disc anthology of Armenian piano music, which included Hovhaness works. But Arzruni's most celebrated achievement in relation to Hovhaness is his Visionary Landscapes disc which included several of the composer's early Armenian-hued piano works. These insightful performances naturally benefited greatly from Arzruni's pedagogical research and deep understanding of the musical roots of his Armenian heritage, and as such may be considered definitive Hovhaness recordings.

The Van concert will open with Achtamar and conclude with Lake of Van Sonata. Speaking to New York's Zaman, Arzruni described this as a "symbolic statement, if you will". As a musician he does not see himself having any business partaking in the politics of ongoing Armenian/Turkish tensions, but believes that music can help to "take baby steps towards the goal [of reconciliation]". There is a parallel here with the non-partisan stance of Alan Hovhaness himself. Upon accepting a commission of music for a film promoting tourism in Turkey, the composer's calm response to angry protests from an Armenian New York reporter was "I am simply a musician".

Arzruni's championing of Hovhaness will continue into next year. With 2011 being the composer's birth centenary, the virtuoso pianist is already in demand for "a number of engagements to celebrate the occasion".

At the beginning of the filmed radio interview below, Arzruni explains his choices of Hovhaness and other works for the September 18th concert. The interview later touches on the significance of these performances in Van Province (given the tensions between Armenia and Turkey), thus explaining why historically very little Hovhaness has been performed in Turkey.

Relevant Links
Şahan Arzruni

Visionary Landscapes
at iTunes

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