NEW YORK—Part of a series of official memorial concerts around the world in association with the Yerevan Perspectives International Music Festival, “With You, Armenia” juxtaposes Armenian composers with works by Chopin and includes a world premiere of specially-composed choral work by Krzysztof Penderecki.
For those generations, especially in the West, who grew up learning about the great massacres of the first half of the Twentieth Century, with the words “never forget” as a presumed axiom of civiliation, there is something almost as shocking about the fact that the Armenian Genocide of 100 years ago is still not universally accepted, as the fact of it having happened at all. In only the last weeks, as the centenary date itself neared and the Pope acknowledged the genocide, as did the leaders of France, Russia, Germany and Austria, Turkey’s leadership has voiced strong objections. Yet in music, perhaps, away from the corridors and considerations of geo-political maneuverings, in melodies that touch our soul and remind us of truths, the horrific events of the Genocide can sound a warning bell for our own future. And if we listen to the music, if we recognize our own transgressions and tragedies within it, Armenia and the world can move to a more harmonious future.
Such is the fervent hope of the leading pianist Evgeny Kissin, who leads a special “With You, Armenia” concert at Carnegie Hall on May 26, as it is of the concert’s organizers, the Yerevan Perspectives International Music Festival.
“People often treat each other badly,” says Kissin. “But seldom does it happen on the scale of what took place in Turkey 100 years ago: the killing of 1,500,000 people (a half of all Armenians in the world) for belonging to their nation.
“Thirty-four years later, before invading Poland, Adolf Hitler, telling his commanders-in-chief that he had sent to the East his ‘Death’s Head units’ ‘with the order to kill without pity or mercy all men, women and children of Polish race or language,’ added, ‘Who still talks nowadays about the extermination of the Armenians?’ And everybody knows what Hitler’s butchers then did to six million Jews (a third of the Jewish people) in the few years that followed.
“That’s why genocides must never be forgotten. That’s why I am taking part in the concert in commemoration of the Armenian Genocide centennial at Carnegie Hall in New York: not only to honour the memory of one and a half million innocent martyrs and to mourn together with my Armenian brothers and sisters, but also to make sure that more people will remember the tragedy of the Armenian nation and the hideous crime against it.”
As Kissin notes, the genocide paved the way for Hitler’s savage campaign in Poland – and, shortly afterwards, the Holocaust – and this concert marks that connection with a blend of Armenian and Polish music. The concert’s first half, which features the Hover Chamber Choir of Armenia, will include pieces by Armenian composers such as Komitas, Sharafyan and Tigran Mansurian. Its centerpiece will be a specially-composed work of remembrance offered by the great Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, here receiving its world premiere. Penderecki will be in attendance to see the premiere, sung by what he himself has called “the best chamber choir in the world”, conducted by its artistic director, Sona Hovahnnisyan.
The second half will see the stage given over to Evgeny Kissin. His performance of Chopin works will be followed by an Armenian encore, the mournful traditional song, Kroung.
This concert is part of a year-long series of concerts around the world marking the centenary of the Armenian Genocide, all presented by the Yerevan Perspectives International Music Festival, founded and led by the prominent Armenian composer Stepan Rostomyan. Among the many artists appearing in various of these concerts are Evgeny Kissin, Pinchas Zukerman, Mischa Maisky, Valery Gergiev and Maxim Vengerov.
“We want this event to be two things,” says Rostomyan, “First, a true memorial for a great tragedy that, despite happening all of 100 years ago, still is not acknowledged by every country. But this is also about looking forward. Culture – and Armenia is a very culturally rich country – is about finding our common humanity, understanding and more importantly feeling how we are all the same. So we hope that these concerts will encourage everyone to come to terms with this dark chapter in our universal history, and look into the future together, with Armenia joining hands with all of our fellow human beings.”
“With You, Armenia” will take place in the Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, at 8pm on May 26 2015. Bookings for the concert can be made through carnegiehall.org, or by calling 212-247-7800.