Well-known musicologist, composer, pedagogue and recording engineer Ohannes Salibian died on September 20 at Lahey Clinic, Burlington, Massachusetts. He was 68.
Ohannes Salibian studied, taught, and practiced music for more than forty years, first in his native Beirut, then in Soviet Armenia, then in Lebanon again, and finally in the US (Iowa, Los Angeles, and Boston).
Salibian’s long association with music goes back to his childhood in the Beirut suburb of Bourj Hammoud, when he scraped enough money to buy himself a second hand accordion. During his adolescence, he played at school functions and took classes privately. In 1960, he enrolled at the Komitas State Conservatory in Yerevan. He graduated in 1967 with an M.A. in Composition and Music Theory. He studied under Lazar Sarian, and took private lessons in conducting from Ohan Dourian.
After a brief stint in France, he settled in Beirut. Between 1967 and 1975, he taught at all the major musical institutions of Beirut, had private students, organized concerts, and founded the Icon Wind Ensemble, a jazz orchestra of young, talented performers. The Icon gave a number of very well-attended concerts in and around Beirut. During this period also, several of Salibian’s compositions were performed by local musicians.
The civil war of Lebanon forced Salibian to leave Lebanon for the US. First, he settled in Iowa City, Iowa, where he enrolled in the PhD program in Composition at the University of Iowa, where he composed some of his most innovative works in electronic music. These include the highly acclaimed “Seventeen Months.” In this work for electronic tape, Salibian used live recordings of the fighting in Lebanon to compose a deeply affecting elegy for the victims of the civil war. At Iowa, Salibian also taught composition and orchestration to graduate students and worked as a recording engineer. Salibian graduated with a PhD in Composition in 1980.
In 1979, Salibian was invited to head the newly created Program in Armenian Music at the University of Southern California. At USC, he was involved in curriculum development, administration and fundraising. The project of establishing a degree program in Armenian music was terminated for lack of funds in 1984. During his years in Los Angeles, Salibian also organized musical concerts and served as recording consultant. Some of his compositions were performed in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In 1987, Salibian moved to Boston where he worked for many years as a recording engineer, editor and acoustical consultant. He founded the groundbreaking Meg Recordings in 1988. Meg Recordings produced high quality recordings of classical Armenian music, and received critical and popular acclaim. Among Meg’s releases are Komitas’ Divine Liturgy, Mannig Grigorian’s ethnographic songs of the Van region, the Chilingirian quartet’s renditions of the Komitas-Aslamazian string quartets. At the time of his death, Salibian was working on a re-mastered edition of the songs of Armenak Shahmouradian, a CD of sound-text compositions of Vahe Oshagan’s poetry, and a release of the songs of Glakho Zakharov.
Salibian had a particular interest in sound-text compositions. His “Babi Yar,” based on an English-Russian reading of Yevtushenko’s poem, was composed at the University of California Santa Cruz Electronic Music Studios where he was composer in residence in 1984. At the time of his death, he was composing a sound-text tape of a poem by Mahmoud Darwish.
In addition to his electronic music, Salibian has written symphonic, chamber and solo instrument music. His works have been performed in Lebanon, the US and Armenia. He has movie scores and children’s songs. He has taught piano, theory and composition. He has lectured widely on a broad spectrum of musical topics. His recordings of Armenian music are known for their high standards and skillful editing.
Salibian has had a long, illustrious career as an educator, in his Lebanon, Armenia, Iowa City, Los Angeles, and Boston. He has been affiliated with the National Conservatory of Lebanon, the University of Iowa School of Music, the University of Southern California, and the ARS Summer Studies Program. He has also worked with individual musicians and instrumentalists, in master-class setting and tutorials.
Memorial services were at St. Stephen’s Armenian Church in Watertown on September 24, and interment was at the Newton Cemetery in Newton, Massachusetts. Memorial donations can be made to St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School and Armenia Fund.
Ohannes Salibian is survived by his wife Taline Voskeritchian; his daughter Tamar Salibian; two brothers and two sisters; nephews, nieces, cousins and a large circle of relatives, friends, fellow musicians, and colleagues throughout the world.