Capturing Light: Documenting Tigran Hamasyan’s Luys i Luso Tour

Tigran Hamasyan during a recent performance on the ruins of Ani
Tigran Hamasyan during a recent performance on the ruins of Ani

Tigran Hamasyan during a recent performance on the ruins of Ani

BY EMILY MKRTICHIAN
For OneArmenia

Sometimes you encounter people who have grandiose, beautiful, and slightly crazy visions of possibilities for creation in the world around them. Recently I was lucky enough to meet one of these human beings – Tigran Hamasyan.

Tigran is a regular Armenian guy – well dressed, bearded, drinks lots of coffee, loves his grandmother. His speech and manner is calm, but he is always moving; humming or tapping out a beat, fielding calls on his cell phone, or pacing and tugging at his beard in thought.

Hamasyan in Haghpat Monastery, Lori Marz. Sayat Nova served in this Monastery in Northern Armenia in the 18th century. (Photo by E. Mkrtichian)

Hamasyan in Haghpat Monastery, Lori Marz. Sayat Nova served in this Monastery in Northern Armenia in the 18th century. (Photo by E. Mkrtichian)

But unlike most regular guys, Tigran is a world-renowned jazz pianist. He started playing when he was 3, starting winning international competitions when he was 11, and won a French Grammy in his early 20’s. At 28, he has already released 6 albums.

An illuminated manuscript of the original Khaz (musical notation) for “Surp Astvatz” (Holy God), a piece included in the Luys i Luso Album. (Photo by E. Mkrtichian)

An illuminated manuscript of the original Khaz (musical notation) for “Surp Astvatz” (Holy God), a piece included in the Luys i Luso Album. (Photo by E. Mkrtichian)

His most recent vision is called Luys i Luso (Light from Light). At least three years in the making, it is a re-imagination of Armenian sacred music; hymns and chants usually performed during liturgy and written by iconic Armenian musicians like Mesrop Mashtots, Naregatsi, and Komitas. Not only has Tigran rearranged the music for piano and voices, adding in his own style of improvisational jazz, but he is also taking it on tour around the globe, performing in 100 churches to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

If that wasn’t incredible enough, here is my favorite part of the journey (mostly because this is the leg that I got to tag along on): Tigran and the Yerevan State Chamber Choir made a pilgrimage through Armenia and Georgia to Eastern Turkey (know to some as Western Armenia), and gave a series of concerts in ancient Armenian churches. The tour included Ani, Kars, Diyarbakir, Kayseri, Musa Ler, and finally ended in Istanbul, with a performance for over 800 people at an International jazz festival.

This is the vision I am talking about – one that is spurred from personal history, that involves the creation of something radical and profound, and whose influence spans the globe. One that made me and my little video camera feel small. It was the job of my partner, Alex, and I to film this tour. To take this pilgrimage and turn it into something that people could watch and experience long after the concerts were performed.

Our hope was to make a film that would show a little bit of everything – the personal journey of the choir, Tigran and his grandmother going back to the home of his great-grandparents (in a small village outside of Kars), the beauty of these historical cities and churches in Turkey, the experience of 24 people performing this amazing music in these old spaces.

Church of Gregory the Illuminator, Kayseri. This church in central Turkey is where St. Gregory the Illuminator grew up and studied. Now hidden away in a city covered by Mosques, it was being used as a Gymnasium until it was renovated a few years ago. (Photo by E. Mkrtichian)

Church of Gregory the Illuminator, Kayseri. This church in central Turkey is where St. Gregory the Illuminator grew up and studied. Now hidden away in a city covered by Mosques, it was being used as a Gymnasium until it was renovated a few years ago. (Photo by E. Mkrtichian)

In short, we had been charged with the task of documentation; the responsibility of making these moments last beyond their time, of sharing this experience with people from around the world.

In short, we had been charged with the task of documentation; the responsibility of making these moments last beyond their time, of sharing this experience with people from around the world.
But as the journey went on, the responsibility began to sit heavy on our shoulders. How would it be possible to translate these experiences we were having into flat, 2-D moving images? To hear the voices of the choir bounce off the stonewalls in Ani and vibrate right through your body, knowing that no one had performed music here for a 1,000 years; to take a ferry ride out to the island of Akhtamar with a grand piano, haul it up the steps and watch Tigran sit down to play above the water and below the mountains; to witness the sound of hundreds of birds circling above our heads in a 10th century monastery, flying faster and faster as the piano solo wailed; to see the looks on the faces of the villagers of Musa Ler, the only remaining Armenian village in all of Turkey, as they watch this group breath new life into their little church through music.

No – I don’t think it is possible to capture all of this.
Maybe you can imagine it, from what I have described here, if you close your eyes and let your imagination play. Maybe it will bring tears to your eyes – but I hope it doesn’t. I hope it makes you believe in grandiose, beautiful, and slightly crazy things. I hope it makes you dream bigger and work harder, break boundaries and kick ass every single day that you can. That is the only way to create these beautiful experiences, even if they are fleeting. The truth is that even if they don’t last, they matter, and it is important to make them happen.

Ani Ruins, Turkey. In June, Hamasyan & the Yerevan State Chamber choir held a concert inside these walls, the first time in 1,000 years. (Photo by E. Mkrtichian)

Ani Ruins, Turkey. In June, Hamasyan & the Yerevan State Chamber choir held a concert inside these walls, the first time in 1,000 years. (Photo by E. Mkrtichian)

And that is why, even in the face of impossibility, we will continue to create. This year, instead of making a film for people to watch, we will create a space for people to come and experience. In Munich, Gyumri, and LA, we will be building site-specific installations that use projections to fill a space with moving images from the tour and sound design to sculpt an experience of these performances.

And we want you to be there. We want you to have this experience and walk out inspired. Because documentation has its limits – but creation doesn’t.

Read more about the project on the project’s website.

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One Comment;

  1. André Rocha said:

    In your quest to make “the perfect” documentation get to people – even though you obviously know it’s impossible in the first place, filming is always a representation of the real – you deprive people from all over the world to see what would be a perfectly good film if it was edited humbly and with love.

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