I’m excited for our first CD release story for November! Con Anima is a labor of love honoring the 80th birthday of quintessential Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian. Here to tell the story is none other than the mastermind behind the CD and head of UCLA’s Armenian Music Program, award-winning violinist, Movses Pogossian.
Before I introduce our guest, I wanted to give a little back story of my involvement with Armenian music. As a serious amateur pianist, my introduction to Armenian music was as a teen under the tutelage of Juilliard professor Esther Lee Caplan. She introduced me to Aram Khachaturian‘s Tocatta and Alan Hovhannes‘ Mountain Dance No. 2. I enjoy playing them to this day for my piano students as well as myself. This interview has piqued my interest to learn more Armenian repertoire for both listening and performing and hope it will intrigue you as well.
Without further ado, I’m pleased to introduce our guest, Movses Pogossian.
LRW: As an art teacher, CD cover art gets noticed right away. May I ask who designed and photographed your CD cover art? What was the thought process behind the simple and elegant design? Did the record label hire the designer or did you get to choose?
MP: The honest answer is: I had nothing to do with it! I of course love the amazing cover of this CD (design by Sasha Kleis, cover photo by Jean-Christoph Bechet). Without exception, the ECM covers are world-renowned and sort of iconic for their minimalistic and incredibly effective designs – so it is a great honor to join that exclusive club.
LRW: Indeed! ECM and their designer and photographer did a fantastic job. A CD dedicated to one composer is uncommon. What is the story of how and why you chose Tigran Mansurian and only this composer? Why were these particular works selected? Why now? Details, please.
Agnus Dei (2006); Sonata da Chiesa (2015)
Con Anima (2006-7); String Trio (2008)
String Quartet No. 3 (1993); Die Tänzerin (2014)
MP: Actually, one of the distinctive qualities of the ECM label is that they often feature the format of highlighting one composer. To date, a total of seven (!) CDs have been produced by ECM dedicated to Mansurian’s music, highlighting such amazing artists as Kim Kashkashian, Leonidas Kavakos, Patricia Kapatchinskaya, and bringing a deserved worldwide recognition to his unique music.
The reason these six works ended up on the CD is simple: none of them were recorded previously and, very fortunately, I had the lucky opportunity to work directly with Tigran on all of them (as well as witness the creation of some of them, for example the haunting Sonata da Chiesa for viola and piano). Of course, it goes without saying that Tigran is universally considered to be the greatest living Armenian composer and was my idol for many years, even though we became friends in the last two decades.
LRW: [BTW – Here’s what composer Tigran Mansurian has to say about Professor Pogossian:
“Movses Pogossian’s background in the performing arts is rooted in his exemplary musical education in Yerevan, and later in Moscow. He is a brilliant violinist and exerts an enormous creative energy. Pogossian has also worked enthusiastically to assist in the commissioning of new works by contemporary composers.”]
How exciting not only to perform your idol’s compositions but to witness their creation and best of all, befriending the composer. That kind of connection is truly magical! There are many labels out there. Why ECM Records? Did they approach you for the project? Is it part of a series of albums dedicated to Mansurian or a standalone recording?
MP: What is unusual about this particular project is that, unlike the overwhelming majority of the ECM projects which are recorded and produced in Germany by its legendary founder Manfred Eicher who is famous for his incredible vision as well as high standards for the sound quality, this recording was made in UCLA, at our state of the art Mo Ostin Recording Studio at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music which is directed by Luis Henao.
I was very fortunate to work with a terrific recording engineer Benjamin Maas, with whom we share a few previous memorable projects including the complete Bach Sonatas and Partitas on a wonderful New York-based New Focus Recordings label. Ben studied very diligently the specifics of the unique “ECM sound”, and did such an incredible job that when our recording was ready and shared with ECM, they accepted it as the base, and then applied the important finishing touch ups. This of course made all of us very happy.
LRW: Wow! What a great opportunity to record at UCLA, working with a master recording engineer with such mastery in execution. Go Bruins! Your CD features stellar musicians including yourself. How did you select these musicians for this project? Are they involved in your Dilijan Chamber Music Series?
MP: The great violist Kim Kashkashian and I have brainstormed the project together, with the idea of celebrating our dear friend Tigran Mansurian’s recent 80th birthday. Once we had settled on the repertoire (which also includes a few pieces dedicated to us and also to my wife Varty), we then proceeded to the pleasant task of inviting our musical (and real life) friends to join in. Without exception, we have known and performed with them previously on many occasions, and therefore the decisions were extremely easy to make. And, yes, another unifying fact is that all the performers on the CD are also artists of the Dilijan Chamber Music Series, of which I am the Artistic Director and which has celebrated its 15th season last year.
LRW: [Psst…for my readers who may not know, the Dilijan Chamber Music Series showcases traditional western classical chamber music along with pearls from the treasury of Armenian chamber works. Their internationally distinguished instrumentalists perform in world premieres of chamber music commissioned by contemporary Armenian composers. How cool is that?!]
Con Anima is more than a CD. It is a grand collaboration of great musical minds and spirits. A beautiful birthday present to your idol, and an honor to have had him dedicate pieces to you and Kim. Congratulations to the Dilijan Chamber Music Series on their 15th season last year! May it continue to celebrate many more. Speaking of seasons, with concert halls closed this year, would you happen to be planning a live stream event of some of these remarkable works? Maybe a YouTube video or a series? If so, where may my students, readers and I find them?
MP: That is an excellent question, which both excites and saddens me, reminding me of the unfortunate situation that we are currently in… Many of our Mansurian performances can be found on the Dilijan Series’ extensive and rather popular Youtube Channel – with over a thousand subscribers and some really memorable performances documented from our Zipper Hall concerts. In addition, I was very lucky to be able to produce a few online concerts during the pandemic with my family (we are a clarinet quintet, actually!), and it included music from Mozart and Brahms to classics of Armenian music as well as a few new pieces written especially for us. They can be found on my family’s Youtube channel.
LRW: Agreed. I’m encouraged to learn memorable performances have been documented on YouTube. I am now subscribed! What a wonderful gift to have a musical family that performs together. I just subscribed to your family’s YouTube channel as well. My students and readers will certainly enjoy listening to these fantastic performances. Once concert halls open again, do you plan to perform these works live? If so, how may my students, readers and I be kept informed? Is there a mailing list we may subscribe to?
PM: Of course it would be so wonderful to go back to live performing! To stay informed, I suggest bookmarking the websites of the Dilijan Series and of the UCLA Armenian Music Program, and also dropping me an email at email@example.com to be added to my personal list. Although I do not have a website or an Instagram page, I am on Facebook and will be happy to accept friends and receive Facebook messages accordingly.
LRW: Thank you for the gracious intel. Duly noted. Once last question – is the new Con Anima CD on Spotify?
Thank you. I look forward to listening!
Movses, it was a pleasure and a privilege interviewing you on your upcoming CD. Your warmth and dedication made it a pleasure. I look forward to sharing your CD and more about Tigran Mansurian with my students, friends and family. Best wishes with Con Anima!
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