Diversity fused into a unique sound

Times Staff Writer

Tigran Mansurian’s time may not have quite arrived, but it’s getting very close. The Colburn School’s Zipper Hall was full Monday for the chamber music component of “A Mansurian Triptych,” three concerts sponsored by the Lark Musical Society. Friday night had been devoted to choral works. Tonight at the Alex Theatre in Glendale two big concertos are scheduled, including one for violin that premiered in Sweden this year.

Zipper was full because the concerts were programmed to coincide with the anniversary of the Armenian genocide of 1915 and because Mansurian is, for Armenians -- of whom there are many in Southern California -- a legendary musical figure. The rare presence of the composer onstage to accompany violist Kim Kashkashian in arrangements of “Four Hayrens” -- short pieces of profound beauty from 1967, originally written for voice and piano -- was the kind of thing you take your children to so they can tell their grandchildren about it.

In fact, it probably doesn’t make much sense to try to separate Mansurian’s works from what they represent to a people who have had more than their share of cultural and political struggles in modern history. Yet though his music is Armenian to the core, it also shares many of the spiritual concerns of other Eastern European composers of his post-Shostakovich generation, including the Estonian Arvo Part, the Pole Henryk Gorecki, the Georgian Giya Kancheli, the Russian Alfred Schnittke, the Ukrainian Valentin Silvestrov and the Tartar Sofia Gubaidulina.


Like them, Mansurian, who was born in 1939, is a former musical dissident who as a young man adopted forbidden Western Modernist techniques but later reconciled them with more traditional music of deep religious conviction.

The six chamber works Monday covered nearly 40 years, yet the kinship between “Four Hayrens” and the Agnus Dei for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, written last year, was evident. In both, Mansurian displayed melodic restraint. Lyricism is ever present as is a gentleness of spirit. Expression comes in small, intense moments, in tiny tremblings of tone.

In the Agnus Dei, which lasted 15 mesmerizing minutes, the clarinet (exquisitely played by Gary Bovyer) reached such a degree of quiet tenderness that the ending felt more like a mystical breeze lightly touching the skin than sound waves striking the ear.

The String Quartet No. 3 begins in a harsher, almost Bartokian fashion, but it too ends somewhere beyond, with an Adagio full of strange outbursts and ethereal violin solos. The gripping, expert performance was by violinists Movses Pogossian and Searmi Park, violist Alma Fernandez and cellist Armen Ksajikian. If they haven’t thought of forming a quartet, they should.

Madrigal II from 1976 is an attempt to wed Armenian music and Monteverdi for soprano, flute, cello and piano. Soloist Shoushik Barsoumian’s nervousness was part hers, part the music’s, though both score and soprano eventually quieted down.

“Lamento” for solo violin, written in 2002, begins wrathfully but also gradually calms to a state of sad resignation. The violin writing is virtuosic, and Pogossian, one of the tribute’s organizers, played it very well.

After “Four Hayrens,” in which Mansurian proved downright haunting in the intensity of his piano playing, Kashkashian joined Lynn Vartan in Duet for viola and percussion, written for the violist in 1998. The work, given its West Coast premiere last week at the University of Judaism, is, like its title, abstract, a study in the raw expression of sound.

Here, it was Kashkashian who cast a spell with every tone she played. Vartan supported her with a rainbow of shimmering effects on marimba and gongs. The score seemed both very old and very modern, very sophisticated and very elemental, all at the same moment.