Press Release – How a lone voice in a remote monastery gave birth to some of Armenia’s most intriguing new music
When US-born Armenian-American composer John Hodian heard the sound of Armenian soprano Hasmik Baghdasaryan rehearsing at an ancient temple of worship, he wanted to steal it and make it his own. Their collaboration led to some of Armenia’s most intriguing new music.
American-Armenian composer John Hodian had just started exploring many of the ancient monasteries and sacred spaces in the country of his ancestors. He was alone at Garni temple, a temple dating back to pagan times, an hour outside of Armenia’s capital Yerevan when he suddenly heard something he describes as “the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.” It turned out to be soprano Hasmik Baghdasaryan, Armenia’s leading performer of medieval spiritual music, who was rehearsing at the temple.
“The sound of that voice in that temple was mesmerizing, and it remained in my mind for days after,” says John Hodian. “As a composer, I wanted to steal it and make it my own. Stravinsky always says: Bad composers borrow, good composers steal. I was determined to write something that would use this sound in a new way.”
Though he knew what the music would sound like, Hodian spent several years looking for just the right text to set to music until he finally came across a short fragment of a poem by a little-known Armenian medieval priest named Mkrtich Naghash. The text described in terrifying detail the plight of people forced to live in exile. “Those words leapt off the page and into my soul. I knew I had found my text.” He had to trace down the texts. The original manuscripts were lost, but there are versions by later copyists. With the help of several Armenian scholars and a group of monks living on a small island off the coast of Italy (Mekhitarists of San Lazzaro degli Armeni), Hodian was able to unearth all the remaining 16 poems.
In setting these texts to music, Hodian followed his intuition. “The music is the natural product of someone who was raised listening to Armenian music in the home, studied European classical music in his youth, particularly medieval polyphonic vocal music, and certain contemporary minimalist composers. Plus, I was constantly surrounded by contemporary popular music in all its forms.” Subconsciously combining all these influences, the music he created has been described as “the Sound of Ancient Armenia reinvented for the 21st century” by Armenia’s most renowned composer Tigran Mansurian.
To perform these works, Hodian gathered some of Armenia’s best indigenous musicians on oud, duduk, and dhol, along with three highly noted Armenian female singers starting with his original inspiration, Hasmik Baghdasaryan. The group launched its first European tour in 2014 and has been touring internationally ever since. In March 2023, The Naghash Ensemble will present their North American debut.
Their debut tour of North America will include the following performances:
3/02/23 • UCLA, Schoenberg Hall • Los Angeles, CA
3/03/23 • Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts • Mountain View, CA
3/04/23 • Lone Tree Arts Center • Lone Tree, CO
3/05/23 • The Lincoln Center • Fort Collins, CO
3/09/23 • University of Michigan • Ann Arbor, MI
3/10/23 • St. John Armenian Church • Southfield, MI
3/11/23 • Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall • New York, NY
3/13/23 • Salle Bourgie • Montreal, Canada
3/15/23 • Kennedy Center, Millennium Stage • Washington, DC
3/17/23 • Chatter • Albuquerque, NM
3/18/23 • San Miguel Chapel • Santa Fe, NM
A preview of the ensemble performing one of their new pieces live in Ghent, Belgium, can be found here: https://youtu.be/6flRUS1mH2o
For more information about The Naghash Ensemble, please visit: www.naghashensemble.com
High-resolution photos can be found here: http://naghashensemble.com/press-photos
Sound files and video files upon request: email@example.com