BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
Gurdjieff is an Armenian mystic and a scholar of the early 20th century. He believed that humans can transcend to higher levels of consciousness by improving their self-awareness.
I first heard the name of Gurdjieff from Nicholas, my dad’s best childhood friend. Nicholas’s family had fled communist Russia in the 1920s, migrated to France and settled in Issy-les-Moulineaux, a suburb of Paris, where my dad’s family lived during their stay in Paris.
A trivia question I never miss the answer to, is: “Name the Three Musketeers of Alexandre Dumas.” I know the answer by heart, and it is not because I’m a fan of Dumas. It is because as young boys, my father, Nicholas and another friend had named themselves after the three musketeers. My father was Portos, Nicholas was D’Artagnan, and the other friend was Aramis.
Nicholas and my father kept their friendship to the end by writing letters and occasionally visiting each other. Nicholas became a surgeon, got married and moved to Australia.
During World War II, he happened to be stationed as a young surgeon in India, where he explored Hinduism and various mystical orders and practices.
Through his spiritual studies, Nicholas became acquainted with Gurdjieff and his work. Consequently, he became a staunch disciple of Gurdjieff and an authority on his mysticism. Later in life, he published a few books on Gurgieff and his spiritual teachings. That’s how I came to know Gurdjieff as a mystic.
Gurdjieff and his music…
I was surprised when my friend Maggie asked me to join her for a concert featuring Gurdjieff’s music at the Cascade. What? Was Gurdjieff a musician too? I had no idea; I had never heard that he was a musician.
Cascade (called kaas–kaad) is a Soviet era landmark, built in the 1970s in the center of Yerevan. The edifice has a Stalinist massive architectural style. The pyramid-like structure is flanked by a hillside with multiple levels of terraced gardens, a multitude of stairways and water fountains streaming from the walls.
Thanks to the largess of Gerard Cafesjian, who gifted $35 million, the landmark has been renovated and turned into a cultural center which houses a modern art museum and sculpture garden. The concert hall is at the top floor of the Cascade monument overlooking the city.
I had heard that the Cafesdjian center is a venue for concerts but had never attended a concert there. It was like a double treat: hearing Gurdjieff’s music and seeing the hall, which was more like a multileveled cabaret style hall with tables and benches seating about 100.
The most interesting feature of the hall is its half-moon picturesque window that gives you an “airplane” view of the whole city. Just as I had expected, it was a romantic setting.
It was also an enjoyable evening. The view was intoxicating, and the music tinged with Armenian folk influences, expanded softly in the intimate setting of the hall. Gurgieff’s music struck a chord with me, and I could see that it was well received by all. When the concert was over the audience stood and cheered until an encore was played.
I had a chance to talk to Levon Eskenian, the founder and the artistic director of the performing ensemble. He was born in Lebanon in 1978, and at the age of 18 moved to Armenia to continue his musical studies. In 2005, he graduated from Yerevan’s Komitas State conservatory with a master’s degree in piano.
Today, at the age of 34, he is an accomplished composer and a pianist, with numerous awards and achievements under his belt. He has been responsible for organizing classical music festivals in Armenia.
Eskenian’s interest in Eastern and Armenian folk music led him to Gurdjieff’s compositions and he became engrossed in his music. In 2008, he assembled some of the best Armenian classical musicians into a 14-member ensemble to perform Gurdjieff’s compositions using traditional Armenian instruments, such as the duduk, kanon, dhol, tar and Kamancha, to name a few.
The concert proved to be a worthwhile experience and immersed a neophyte like me into a previously unknown artistic world.