For anyone who has picked up an ud, the name Udi Hrant remains alone, a legend akin to that of Segovia or Heifetz. As an innovator of modern ud technique and interpreter of the eastern modal system, the blind master’s contribution has influenced virtually every living udist. Hrant’s most renowned American student, Richard Hagopian, honors the master on this 100th Anniversary Memorial concert by showcasing the repertoire Hrant was most associated with, Hrant’s original compositions, and solos performed by Richard Hagopian, accompanied by Harold Hagopian on violin, Tamer Pinarbasi on kanun, Ara Dinkjian, bass and Paul Aljian, percussion. The concert is being supported by The Worl Music Institute, Philadelphia International House and the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Committee.For four decades Hagopian has acted as one of the most important performers of Armenian urban and folk music, collecting tunes and dances from his parents’ and grandparents’ generation, and passing this musical heritage on to his children, community, and mainstream audiences through local and national folk music performances. In the 1960s, Hagopian formed the Kef Time Band performing adaptations of Armenian folk songs with innovating Big Band, folk and classical influenced arrangements. Dirty Linen Magazine described them as “wild, muscle-flexing Middle-Eastern “folk-rock” gold…more roots than rock, but no rock music is more energized, driven or passionate.” Hagopian was honored with a Meet the Composer Grant from the New York State Council of the Arts in 1990, and has instructed master classes at both the Manhattan School of Music and California State University at Fresno, where he served as Artist in Residence. In 1991 Hagopian was awarded the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington D.C., the nation’s highest honor awarded in the traditional folk arts. Since that time he has made two major recordings of traditional Armenian music, for Smithsonian Folkways and ARC Records in Europe, which have been regarded as some of the most authentic renditions of Armenian folk music performed in the Diaspora. He has performed at major venues across the US over the last five years, including New York’s Merkin Hall, The Smithsonian Folk Festival and Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C., in the “Folk Masters” series at Wolf Trap in Northern Virginia, The World Music Institute, Lowell Folk Festival, Kenyon College in Ohio, and at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“This concert will be a big honor for me,” says Hagopian “… a tribute to one of my teachers and idols and one of the greatest Armenian musicians whose contribution to the development of ud playing changed the way the instrument would be played for the next 100 years.” Born in 1901 near Istanbul, Hrant was declared blind four days after birth. Despite frequent treatments, his condition did not improve. During the difficult times of 1915, his family fled to Konya where they lived in poverty as his mother tried to support them. Reminiscent of the early American Blues singers of the 1930’s, Hrant mostly sang about love gone bad or the poor conditions of his life. Hrant learned music first by singing in the church, another parallel to many of the great Blues singers.
Hrant served as a catalyst in the development of ud playing introducing numerous innovations which have become cornerstones in modern ud technique. The title “Udi” denotes him as “Master of the Ud.” In Turkey, he is remembered as Hrant Emre, meaning “of the soul.” Today, he is highly regarded both as an instrumentalist and composer. Most of his songs, written in Turkish, have become standards in the modern repertoire. His most famous song, Hastayim Yasiyorum (“I am sick, yet I am living”), has been recorded by nearly every top artist.While Hrant’s songs have remained popular even in modern-day Turkey, it was his performances in the art of taksim, (instrumental improvisation), for which he was most respected. Hrant was also one of the first to attempt to incorporate the ud into the chamber music setting with violin and piano accompaniment. Intended to reach American audiences, he recorded instrumental arrangements of classic songs by Armenian composers such as Kanuni Artaki Candan Terziyan and Bimen Sen (Der Kasparyan) renaming their songs Dancing Maidens & Hrant’s Lament.
“Many Armenian-American musicians have overlooked Hrant’s most famous pieces,” says Harold Hagopian, the son of Richard and concert producer, “because they are sung in Turkish. But if you listen to the words, you can hear Hrant’s message is very connected to Armenian life. And after all, he lived and performed in Istanbul throughout his entire career… it was natural, perhaps even necessary, for his lyrics to be composed in Turkish. Many people don’t know that Hrant sang in the choir at the Armenian church next to his house. Though he composed in a popular, turn of the century Istanbul musical idiom, one can hear a lot of Armenian liturgical and folk musical influences in his music too. ” Hrant did occasionally write Armenian lyrics. Many of Hrant’s Armenian songs will be presented, as well as pieces Hrant often performed, composed by other Istanbul-Armenian musicians such as Kemani Tatyos Ekserjian, Artaki Candan-Terziyan and Bogos Kireciyan.
Concerts will be presented in Philadelphia and New York City on Friday January 19 at the Philadelphia International House, 3701 Chestnut st. (215) 569-9700 and in New York City on Saturday January 20, The Great Hall at Cooper Union 7th st. at Third Avenue presented by the World Music Institute (212) 545-7536.