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Three Holiday Gift Ideas from the Armenian Diaspora of Europe

By Dorothy Garabedian

It’s that time of year again, when we start thinking about unique gifts for special people. From the European diaspora here are three suggestions that are sure to be appreciated by their recipients.

 

Book: ‘Tour de Armenia’

Cover of Raffi Youredjian's 'Tour de Armenia'

Cover of Raffi Youredjian’s ‘Tour de Armenia’

Out of London comes a very entertaining book by London-based writer, photographer, world traveler, and Armenian Weekly contributor Raffi Youredjian, entitled Tour de Armenia. In it he chronicles his many-sided adventures cycling 1,000 kilometers through mountainous Armenia on his bike, which he christened Sayat Nova after the legendary traveling troubadour.

The book is a thoroughly inviting read. You’ll chuckle out loud over the many delicate situations he encounters, which he sensitively portrays, such as how rural society functions in Armenia and how a proper young man needs to behave. You are drawn into his narrative from the first page when he describes a funny conversation with his grandmother about marriage. There isn’t an Armenian of any age, anywhere, who won’t relate to it, and I won’t spoil it for you. I will only say that this is where his idea for an expedition takes root.

Raffi Youredjian is an engaging travel writer who takes his readers right along with him, pedaling up and down those harrowing mountain roads and into the towns and everyday lives of the local people. You even find yourself getting attached to his faithful bike, Sayat Nova. Along the way, you are making discoveries and learning things: some new, some not—nothing didactic—but enough of a little history there, a little background here, to understand the situation at hand and perhaps even kindle an interest to learn more.

This was not Youredjian’s first trip to Armenia. He loves the country “in all its beauty and all its flaws.” The true reason for writing the book, he said, was to try to encourage the young generation to find a new voice in its identity by creating a modern view in moving forward as a people.

Youredjian is an adventurous traveler and has covered all the earth’s continents. He is a member of the Royal Geographical Society and works for the Discovery Channel Headquarters in London, where he was born to a Jerusalem-Armenian father and a Cypriot-Armenian mother. The family moved to Los Angeles where he grew up, then moved back to London. Later he studied filmmaking at Falmouth College of Arts in Cornwall.

Youredjian has been on a book-promotion tour to various communities in Europe, sponsored by the Young Professionals of AGBU. Instead of reading portions of the book, he gives a humorous yet poignant talk about the bike-safari while showing his photographic images on a large screen. In some pictures he poses his bike, alone, in various scenic settings throughout the trip. When he says good-bye to his faithful bike, you become a little sad, too.

This is a book that all ages will enjoy and can be purchased through Amazon and Kindle.

The book’s website is www.tourdearmenia.com.

 

CDs: ‘Heritage’ & ‘Raindrops’

Out of Frankfurt comes two exceptional CDs on Armenian themes. The Frankfurt Armenian community may be small in number but makes up for it with the large concentration of outstanding performing artists from classical to rock, opera, musical theatre, jazz, and folk.

For sublime listening pleasure a new CD release, “Heritage,” is an exciting discovery for music lovers. Heritage is the perfect name for this CD; it is the consummation of the work of three generations of a musical family.

The story begins with Manvel Beglaryan (1922-2002). In 1915, his parents fled on foot from Van to escape the Armenian Genocide and ended up in Tiflis (Tbilisi), Georgia, where Manvel was born. From early childhood he showed a gift for music. Eventually Beglaryan went to Armenia to study and became famous as a violinist/composer/conductor. For 20 years he was artistic director and chief conductor of the Armenian State Radio and Television Folk Instruments Orchestra. In addition to conducting, he also composed and arranged music for the orchestra. Before that he was music director of the Armenian State Song and Dance Ensemble. As a member of the Union of Composers and Musicologists of Armenia, he collaborated with leading composers from Russia and Armenia, and was the recipient of numerous international awards and medals for his outstanding achievements.

During his life Manvel Beglaryan composed and recorded more than 1,000 musical works with the national radio. However, a significant part of his works, written throughout those decades, was never completed. Whether he worked on these only for himself, or his intense work schedule left no time for creative energy, no one really knows. In any case they ended up stuffed in drawers at his home, where they languished for decades.

It wasn’t until the 1990’s that Manvel’s son, Mher, discovers the stash of unfinished compositions.

He urged his father to complete them so they may be published and recorded. It took several years, but Manvel did complete the project just two years before his death in 2002. Mher cataloged and cared for the manuscripts.

After several years of careful editing by Mher (also a musician) with his 22-year-old daughter, Astghik, an accomplished pianist, the manuscripts for the complete piano works and a CD have been published by Randall Meyers under Solaris Records. Meyers, a composer/musician/writer/publisher, as well as director and producer of theatrical works for film and theatre, was very excited about this discovery and bringing the project to fruition. Finally, Astghik Beglaryan performs her grandfather’s complete piano works on her debut CD fittingly named “Heritage.”

The works include Six Preludes lush and impressionistic in style with barely perceptible strains of Armenian melodic refrains flowing sinuously through the music; Four Fugues, baroque in style but also slightly contemporary at times, again with traces of Armenian influence; and finally five Variations (on a Popular Folk Theme) ranging from swift and lively to tender and delicate.

Astghik transports her listeners to far-flung places with her fluid, evocative playing. Sometimes you’re swept up to a puffy cloud where you float dreamily, or she may send you skipping through a flowery meadow or walking lazily in a perfumed garden. She uses her meticulous rhythmical technique to create—in certain places—an unusual mystical feeling when playing Aram Khachaturian’s “Toccaca.” With Arno Babajanian’s “Six Pictures for Piano,” she grabs your hand and takes you on a jaunt straight into a deep, shadowy forest that gets really spooky and full of suspense. But she never lets you wander off alone and gets you out before the big bad wolf gets you. She closes her CD with an exquisite, ethereal playing of Komitas’ “Karun a” (It’s Spring).

Astghik Beglaryan was born and raised in Frankfurt am Main after her parents emigrated to Germany following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Her early musical education was at the Frankfurt Music School with Vladimir Khachatryan. She now studies piano (artistic education) at Hannover University School of Music and Media with Polish-born pianist, Prof. Ewa Kupiec. From 2010-12, she studied with the late Prof. Karl-Heinz Kämmerling.

“So the circle closes with one name encompassing it all, Beglaryan—resonating through the halls of Heritage. The heritage of a family reflecting the heritage of a nation [through] three generations: Manvel, Mher, Astghik Beglaryan, united in time, by nation, through music,” according to composer Randall Meyers.

The CD is available through Amazon or www.randallmeyers.com.

 

***

Pianist and composer Sona Talian is dripping with talent, and it is only natural. From her mother’s side she comes from a long dynasty of Armenian troubadours called ashough or goussan. At least six generations. Today, Sona continues that tradition composing music, songs, and verse.

Her most precious possession is an old handwritten notebook of songs written by her great grandfather, Mgrdich Talian, known as Ashough Djamali. Her grandfather and great uncle, both opera singers, spearheaded the founding of the Armenian State Opera and the Baronian Satyrical Theatre. Sona literally grew up on stage; her mother was a ballerina. At home she was surrounded by music. By the age of four she created a public sensation in Armenia. After hearing Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat,” she played the theme in public, by ear and with both hands. At six she began her formal music training on piano—the same year she produced her first composition for piano. In 1990, she came to Germany where she furthered her studies graduating with distinction from the Frankfurt Academy of Music and Performing Arts. Frankfurt has been her home since.

Sona Talian has a solid foundation in the classics but her musical tastes have no boundaries. According to her, there are only two kinds of music: good and bad. She draws her inspiration from many sources and her debut CD “Raindrops”—also her signature piece—reflects this, but the three main elements that form the warp and weft of her musical tapestries are the weaving of classical, jazz, and Armenian folksongs together. How do you define it? That’s a good question. For the time being she calls it “jazzical.” What is certain, however, is that the listener is fascinated by her mastery in creating compelling dynamics through surprising twists and turns in theme, tempo, and colorations. She hasn’t left text out either. Each piece has a little written poetic statement (a true ashough). For the lyrical “Chopinesque Valse Oubliée” (Forgotten Waltz), she writes, “…it came into being a long, long (or not so long?) time ago.” With “Eternal,” she strikes nostalgic chords, “…film music for a romantic film, that is yet to be made and lived.”

What’s in the future? More works for piano and also for string quartet. Lately she’s been collaborating with her old friend in Armenia, the popular ballad singer, Forsh. She wrote the music and lyrics to “Who Knows?” which she and Forsh recorded on video together, and which made a big hit. Then came “Two Spirits” (from a poem by Vahan Teryan) for Forsh and singer Ema Yuzbashian.

As the story has been handed down, one of Sona’s great-great grandmother’s named Talita, the wife of Ashough Qjamili, was also a musician and a very charismatic woman. Their home—actually it was known as Talo’s house (her nickname)—was a magnet where other ashoughs and musical types gathered for spontaneous jam sessions. Sona must have inherited that gene, too. Her home now is also a gathering place for an eclectic and international group of artists, friends, and out-of-town visitors for spontaneous musical and poetry soirées. One never knows what to expect. What you can expect, however, is to hear beautiful music from Sona’s “Raindrops” CD.

“Like rain drops we live short – Like rain drops we live long – Falling into the sea – We are all one – Swaying in the water – Breaking into the rocks – Reaching up – Falling down – Eternal is this movement – From drop to sea – From sea to drop – Eternal is this cycle – And like a drop – Our life is finite – And like the sea – Our life is infinite.”

The CD is available on Amazon. For more information, visit www.sonatalian.com.

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