Hayk Melikyan: A Baltic Premiere In Yerevan

Hayk Melikyan

Achod Papasian | Music of Armenia, Yerevan

On December 18th, Hayk Melikyan performed music from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania at the Chamber Music Hall named after Komitas. It was the eighth concert of the 1900+ program, an initiative launched in 2009 by Melikyan with the aim to present the contemporary piano music of different nations to the Armenian audience. The event was dedicated to the closure of the cultural program of the ongoing Lithuanian presidency of the Council of Europe.

The concert opened with an absolutely magical moment: the pianist walked up to the piano on an obscure stage, lighted from behind by only one spotlight. He started to play White Scenery: Winter (Pēteris Vasks, Latvia), a meditative piece setting before our eyes a deserted space, out of time. While he performed, his back was completely still, as if he was holding back his movements. When the last note resonated in the darkness, nobody dared to clap and break the mesmerizing silence.

Back on the fully lit stage, Melikyan then took over with Music for a Summer Evening (by the same composer), a piece alternating between smooth and sporadic moods. After the unreal ambience of the first song, the pianist seemed to come back to life—his gestures were expressive and his back kept bending and moving around his agile fingers. One could feel a very intense communication between him and the score, as if the notes he focused on had fully hypnotized him.

Urmas Sisask’s (Estonia) Chameleon followed afterwards, which was a repetitive arpeggio shaken by swift impulses. The pianist then launched into a series of five imaginative preludes by Mikalojus Čiurlionis (Lithuania), which he performed with great dexterity and seriousness, while juggling with his stacks of scores. One of the highlights of the evening was the interpretation of two pieces by Vytautas Barkauskas (Lithuania) and Arvo Pärt (Estonia). The first composition sounded quite experimental and dissonant, whereas the second one consisted of a minimalistic and uncluttered melody made of sustained notes, losing themselves in the silent space.

After the playful theme of Farewell Sarabanda (Georgs Pelēcis, Latvia), Melikyan launched into a series of short pieces by Balys Dvarionas (Lithuania). Once again, Melikyan took us in a journey across a mix of atmospheres, starting with a slow and melancholic mood, followed by an almost bluesy shuffle rhythm nourished with inventive harmonies. It came to an end with a grandiose and bright piece, during which the pianist demonstrated his whole energy.

After the concert, I got the chance to meet Hayk Melikyan and his manager Alexander Hakobyan, in order to find out more about the 1900+ initiative.

Where did the idea to create the 1900+ initiative come from?
Hayk: It all started in 2000 when I participated in the “Premio Valentino Bucchi” piano competition in Rome. It was a 20th century contemporary music competition, and after that I started to become very interested in contemporary music. Later in 2009, I got the idea to create a program with the mission of performing the contemporary piano music of different countries to the Armenian audience. The series’ first concert took place in October 2009 and was dedicated to Russian music.

After you got the idea of the initiative, how did you manage to fulfill it?
Alexander: In the beginning, the most important thing was the idea. Then, we wanted to create a framework which could give us the opportunity to perform this music to the audience in Yerevan. Because we had targeted the music of different countries, we thought it would be fruitful to embody it on a more institutional level, and therefore we applied to the Ministry of Culture of Armenia, as well as to different diplomatic representations. The majority of the concert series was organized in collaboration with the embassies, but not all of them. For instance, for the Japanese music concert, we had no embassy in Armenia, but Hayk said he could not resist performing the Japanese repertoire. Given that Hayk is quite famous in Armenia, establishing collaborations worked easily and all were ready to support the project. And from year to year, we received more offers from sponsors.

Are the concerts organized in the framework of special events?
Alexander: In general, most of them are linked to a symbolic date. For example, we dedicated the American music concert to John Cage’s 100th anniversary, and the German concert to Stockhausen’s 85th anniversary. The concert dedicated to French music was a fabulous experience. Hayk tried something new: he played a piece by the 18th century baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau, and followed that with an experimental piece by Olivier Messiaen. It created a very interesting contrast! At the end of the concert, at the request of the audience, he played Komitas’ Kakavik – but in the style of Maurice Ravel!

Hayk, what did you learn as a musician from the concert series? What influence did it have on your style and on the way you play?
Hayk: Above all, I think that through this series my repertoire considerably grew during the last five years. After each concert, I added the best quality works to my repertoire, and I am currently continuing to play them, over and over again. It is not like the concert is over and that I just forget about them.
Alexander: I think it had an influence not so much on his style but rather on his way of thinking. The process of immersing in these new cultures and studying these foreign musical schools has changed his understanding of the world.

What kind of preparatory work do you undertake to prepare for the concert series?
Hayk: It depends on the concert. For instance, I already knew French contemporary music quite well, as I had studied it, as well as French literature, at the Conservatory. Ravel, Debussy, or Messiaen have always been part of my repertoire. However, for instance, the music of the Baltic States was completely new to me—apart from Arvo Pärt’s works which I had played previously. Therefore, I had to study the writing style and the mentality of these three countries together. When I was preparing the Japanese music concert, I discovered that the French School—and especially Oliver Messiaen, had a great influence on most of the Japanese composers. Nevertheless, they still have preserved a distinctive Japanese finesse in their compositions.

What are the future projects of 1900+? Do you plan on organizing a second Call for Composers?
Alexander: The first Call for Composers was actually a very long process. We launched it in 2011, chose the best works among all of the creations sent from Armenia and abroad and eventually published their scores. It was a premiere for most of the chosen composers, as it is not common to publish scores in Armenia. Hayk then recorded the pieces for a special disc and also performed them at different concerts—notably during the Polish music concert. Currently, we are taking a break from this program, but we will keep it in our minds for the future.
Hayk: We plan on recording more discs for the “Embassy CD Series”, as we called it. So far, we have only managed to record two discs, which are the Swiss and Polish contemporary piano music. The next recording will probably be the music of the Baltic States, and will include works that I did not perform during the last concert. We will also keep on organizing concert series, as the embassies really appreciate the program. The next concert will be dedicated to Italian music and will take place April 4th, 2014. For the future 1900+ concert series, I am considering performing Greek, Spanish and/or English piano music.