New Tigran Hamasyan Work for Choir and Improvising Piano in Dublin
On his third concert visit to Ireland this Saturday 17 October, acclaimed twenty-eight-year-old Armenian jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan will perform not with his group but with a state chamber choir from the capital of Armenia, and in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.
This special project, titled Luys i Luso (‘Light from Light’) – recently captured in an ECM recording – consists of arrangements of Armenian sacred music by Hamasyan for choir and improvising piano.
Armenia has a rich liturgical musical tradition, and though Hamasyan has been living in California since he was 16, he has long been interested in doing an album dedicated to this music.
At its high point, everybody was singing it differently. There are a lot of places in the music open to interpretation. Nerses Shnorhali [12th century leader of the Armenian Church] actually wrote about this …. that singers could sometimes improvise, based on the mode and where they were reaching in the melody. This is phenomenal – it’s evidence that this music had improvisation in it. And for me it’s a direct encouragement for improvisational interpretation.
For the Luys i Luso project and tour, which began in March 2015, Hamasyan and the Yerevan State Chamber Choir are performing 100 concerts in churches throughout Europe and the United States. Their concert in Dublin is presented by Walton’s World Masters.
This year is also the hundredth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire during World War I, which gives added pathos to the music. It is estimated that between 800,000 and 1.5 million people were slaughtered in the genocide.
Hamasyan began working on the arrangements over two years ago and was looking for a particular vocal sound to go with his piano accompaniments.
When I thought of the collaboration with choir I was originally looking for singers who didn’t have trained classical voices, and I especially wanted to avoid the operatic conservatory voices…. At the same time I needed disciplined singers who could execute, for instance, quarter-tones and really sing the melodies in the right way… Working with the rhythms was complicated for the choir. For instance in Ov Zarmanali they are singing chords in 13/16 and I’m improvising on it. Not only do they have to keep the metre going and be very precise, but they have to accompany a soloist, with everything that’s going on in my solos, as well as all the metric modulation. So it’s challenging.
Luys i Luso, released on ECM records in September, has released several positive reviews already. Kate Molleson of The Guardian wrote, ‘At its heart is the beautifully rough-grained sound of Armenia’s leading choir conducted by Harutyun Topikyan, with its gentle, unwavering sopranos and spine-tingling low bass drones unfolding in intense slow builds and thick chordal textures.’ Cormac Larkin of The Irish Times said that Luys i Luso ‘will reward close attention, touching the ancient roots of western music and revealing a pianist of growing international stature’.
Tickets for Luys i Luso at Christ Church Cathedral this Saturday are available here.
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