Now in its third season, the Dilijan Chamber Music Concert Series occupies a unique niche in the musical life of Los Angeles. Artistic Director, and virtuoso violinist Movses Pogossian, abetted by Executive Director Vatsche Barsoumian, have created a series that, while presenting a wide variety of music from the eighteenth century to the present, has introduced audiences to works by Armenian composers. But the Dilijan series is catholic in their tastes and mission, for such major figures as Komitas and Khachaturian are often juxtaposed with music written by important living Armenian composers. The Dilijan series invariably engages some of the finest musicians available, so that the level of accomplishment is consistently high, and, indeed, has reached new heights during this third season.
The elegance and energy that characterizes the Dilijan concerts was on splendid display on Sunday, March 30 when, presented as usual in the beautiful and acoustically sumptuous Zipper Hall of the Colburn School of Music, a distinguished group of musicians performed music from both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. What might have seemed on paper to be an austere program sprang to life in a most fascinating and enlivening manner. Three works by living Armenian composers were given their first performances in the United States, and these pieces were effectively juxtaposed with music by three noted Hungarian composers, Kurt?g, Ligeti and Bart?k.
The first work on the program was by the twenty-eight-year-old Armenian composer Artur Avanesov, a beguiling work for clarinet and piano from 2004 entited ;leise;. This piece, although subdued in dynamic range, was enchanting; the composer virtually conjured a fantastical tracery of sound from the two instrumen’s. A tribute to Brahms and to German romanticism in general, this work was absolutely contemporary in its delicate pointillism. The performance, by clarinetist Phil O’Connor, who evinced amazing breath control, and pianist Armen Guzelimian, who played with astonishing nuance, was riveting.
The second work on the program, Gy?rgy Kurtag’s elusive Tre Pezzi for violin and piano, was given a touching, thoughtful performance by violinist Moves Pogossian and pianist Vicki Ray. Pogossian aptly located the lyric impulse in these aphoristic pieces, which in the hands of a lesser violinist could have degenerated into an exercise in post-Webernian modernism. Kurt?g’s Tre Pezzi were wisely followed without a break by the Horn Trio “Hommage a Brahms” by Gy?rgy Ligeti, who died in 2006 after enjoying a considerable reputation as a composer, achieving international fame through the (unauthorized) use of his music for Stanley Kubrick’s futuristic film 2001: A Space Oddysey. Titled “Hommage a Brahms,” one can only wonder what that German master would have made of this fiendishly difficult, rhythmically complex and unremittingly dark trio. The interpretation by Pogossian, Ray, and the transcendent horn virtuoso Richard Todd was astonishing for its accuracy, expressivity, endurance and commitment. Each performer brought a stunning expertise (and, doubtless, hours of grueling practice and rehearsal time!) to this trio; they certainly made the best case possible for this uneven and, at times, dour score.
The second half of the concert began with a beautiful performance of the Sonata for Two Violins and Piano by the Armenian composer Eduard Hayrapetian. This work was given an eloquent and insightful interpretation by Pogossian and violinist Endre Granat, long a fixture on the Los Angeles musical scene; they were supported with sensitivity by pianist Guzelimian. After the Hayrapetian, Guzelimian returned alone to present a magisterial performance of Tigran Mansurian’s Little Suite for solo piano, completed in 1965. Mansurian is unquestionably the greatest living Armenian composer, but, beyond this, he is a great composer by any standard–his fame and accomplishment transcend the borders of his native land to reach out to a world of enthralled listeners. This concise suite of piano pieces–which sound as if they were written at different times exploring differing compositional techniques–are attractive in themselves but also valuable in the light that they cast upon the evolution of Mansurian’s style. Guzelimian played these pieces with clarity, rhythmic alacrity, insight and deep affection.
The final work on the program was B?la Bart?k’s trio for clarinet, violin and piano entitled Contrasts. Written for the famous jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman–who paid the composer a pittance for this wonderful score–at the instigation of the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti, Contrasts is one of Bart?k’s finest chamber music pieces, a seamless blend of Modernist techniques and Hungarian folk materials. In other words, Bart?k’s trio is as life-affirming as Ligeti’s is life-denying. The performance was excellent, with Granat, O’Connor and Guzelimian articulating both the liveliness and the lyricism of Bart?k’s glowing music.
Another triumph for the Dilijan Chamber Music Concert Series; listeners can only look forward to their next program, the final one of this season, with keen anticipation.
Byron Adams is Professor of Music, University of California, Riverside