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Mаry Mamyan

Komitas Conservatory Instructor: Young Composers are Basically Forced to Leave Armenia

Hetq talks to Artur Avanesov, a pianist and instructor at Yerevan’s Komitas State Conservatory, regarding teh challenges faced by young composers in Armenia.

We have young composers who mainly perform overseas rather than here in Armenia. Is this a result of the general tendency to leave the country or are there other reasons?

I fully agree that we have very good composers. Of course, most live abroad. The question is whether or not we call them ‘our’ composers?

Yes, the link is maintained and their music is periodically performed here. Let’s specify what expectations we have from such composers. For me, it’s enough that they are professionals and that their music is interesting.

The fact that the music of composers living abroad is rarely performed here in Armenia is normal because the playing fields in Armenia and overseas aren’t comparable. I am glad that this music is performed to a greater degree outside Armenia. If their music were to be performed more in Armenia than overseas, that would start one to worry.

And there is another question in this regard. If we are talking about the recognition level of a composer, we must reconcile ourselves with the fact that the recognition level of a contemporary compose will be limited anyway.

The nature of contemporary music is such that it rules out wide popularity in most cases as a rule. Even Tigran Mansourian, whom everyone knows in Armenia, wouldn’t have been recognized by as many people if not for his film soundtracks. I assure you that his academic works, which make up the bulk of his pieces, wouldn’t have garnered such popularity by themselves.

The same holds true for other composers. In any case, I wouldn’t expect any composer, Armenian or otherwise, to garner the same level of international recognition as, for example, pop stars.

If we are talking about contemporary composers, most people randomly asked on the street would give the name of Tigran Mansourian and a few others. We do not know many other names. Is there a new generation of composers appearing on the scene?

At least here in Armenia we ask this question. I cannot imagine someone in Germany, for example, asking passersby in the street to name some composers.

From a musical cultural perspective, Germany is perhaps the leading country. I don’t think the issue of a new generation of composers is ever raised. Only a few names would be cited. It would be rare indeed for anyone to mention the names of composers after Stockhausen.

But our problems are different from those in Germany. It’s hard to compare the two countries.

Which is our problem?

To start, Armenian is a small country and a segment of the population is always leaving. We have a problem reminding ourselves that we exist. Thus, we want to see proof that we have talent and a reputation.

True. But I believe this is a vicious circle. People are leaving Armenia because the country has problems. In turn, the fact that people are leaving is another problem in itself.

I see how people are fleeing like birds. And it’s not because greater success is waiting for them outside, but because at least they can receive a better education there.

Let’s come clean. The Komitas Conservatory doesn’t afford such an education. Working at the conservatory I can attest to this and explain why.

Let’s say a young composer graduates the conservatory and has a degree of knowledge and a will to get ahead. What must someone like this do? Join the youth section of the union of composers? (He laughs). I recently found out that a person stays in the youth section until the age of 36.

Maybe this age is derived from the number of years that Mozart lived. If so, such rational is the height of cynicism.

It becomes immediately apparent that young composers are shown their place. They are told to sit, say quiet, and to heed their elders. They would have also told Mozart and Schubert the same.

The question for me is whether our leaders want people to get up and leave Armenia or not. My conclusion is that they want people to leave. But I do not know why.

In that case, what is the function of the conservatory?

The function is to provide an education in some manner.

But you’ve noted that the conservatory doesn’t provide an adequate education.

The conservatory cannot because the methods used are lacking. The conservatory administration has never gathered instructors in one place to see what we are teaching and what the final aim of that instruction is.

There is no unified program. For example, we have three instructors teaching contemporary music. The administration has never asked any of us to explain what exactly we are teaching or what we regard as contemporary music.

As a result, we are teaching three different understandings of contemporary music that occasionally overlap. The class on the history of music is divided into three parts which have no relation to the others.

Can this situation be changed?

It is possible. But the inference is that someone at the top doesn’t want it to change.

So, this situation must continue as is? I’m sure that there are students who really want to learn and that the conservatory in Yerevan is their only option.

There are some great kids at the school. But there are no criteria for evaluating them. Students get high marks because of who they are. The rationale is, ‘That’s my student. I want him to receive a grade a 20.” And he does.

Grading is a true embarrassment. There’s no way of sorting between the good and bad.

Perhaps things can change by appointing young instructors.

But where are they. The next youngest instructor in my department is over sixty year old.

So, there is no new cadre of composers?

In Armenia it’s impossible. The argument is made that there are so many employees it’s difficult to decide who to dismiss in order to hire someone new.

Perhaps they are waiting for all of us to die of old age.

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