CLEVELAND, Ohio—The Cleveland Classical Guitar Society presented a special award to the Baldwin Wallace University Professor Emeritus Loris Ohannes Chobanian on Sept. 16, in recognition of his lifelong service to promoting and advancing the cause of the Classical Guitar. The festivities started with an excellent classical guitar concert. Presenting the award was Eric Mann, President of the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society.
There was a time in the history of the Classical Guitar that the instrument was not taken seriously and was ignored by Universities and Colleges. The guitar in general was considered more appropriate for accompanying singers in social functions. Historically there had been pockets of communities around individual Master Guitarist Composers such as Fernando Sor, Francisco Tarrega and Andres Segovia who elevated the instrument to a high artistic standing.
It was in the late 1950s that Chobanian became aware of this reality. In 1961, he traveled four hundred miles from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Montgomery, Alabama to attend a concert by Andres Segovia. He met Segovia after the concert and brought up the subject of the rejection of the Classical Guitar by Colleges and Universities. Segovia acknowledged the problem and said it was unfortunate that in some circles the instrument is not taken seriously. Then Segovia abruptly asked him, “So what are you going to do about it?” Chobanian’s response was “I am just a student!”
He soon started teaching the Classical Guitar at Louisiana State University through the extension division and performed the classical guitar on Thursday afternoons, on WBRZ TV – Channel 2. Later at Michigan State University he continued performing the Classical Guitar on TV and taught privately.
In 1970, it was at Baldwin Wallace University that he established the Classical Guitar as part of the BW Conservatory Curriculum. It was also about that time that Thomas Heck and Chobanian discussed the possibility of the Guitar being represented at the American String Teacher’s Association. As a result, Chobanian became the first Chairman of the ASTA Guitar Division. In 1973 they organized the first ASTA Guitar Convention that brought together, for the first time, U.S. and Canadian College guitar teachers. The Convention met both in downtown Cleveland Renaissance Center and on the campus of Baldwin Wallace University where the President of Baldwin Wallace, A. B. Bonds spoke to the delegates and urged them to keep elevating the artistic qualities of their instrument and to be accepted by universities. There was also discussion about the Guitar’s Repertoire and the need to encourage composers to write new compositions for the Guitar. The delegates were presented with a long list of subjects and were asked to choose ten to be discussed.
The Convention eventually led to the establishment of the Guitar Foundation of America and became the model that has been replicated by the annual GFA Conventions. The next GFA Convention met at Santa Barbara, Calif. Unfortunately Chobanian could not attend because of the flu. Soon after Universities and Colleges began establishing the Classical Guitar in their Curricula. Nowadays an amazing number of brilliant guitarists are graduating from Universities.
Loris Ohannes Chobanian, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Composition and Guitar as well as Composer-in-Residence at Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music, was born to Armenian parents in the Middle East. He was introduced to serious music at an early age. His father Ohannes Chobanian, an oil engineer was responsible for the establishment of Electricity in the City of Mosul. He was also an amateur musician and was a versatile performer on the piano, the flute and the violin. He composed an operetta “O, Loris!” which the 5 year old Loris sang in the city of Kirkuk. The elder Chobanian conducted the orchestra. For his performance young Loris received a special commendation from the Mayer of the City of Kirkuk.
In the 1950s Chobanian studied the classical guitar with Jacque Tchakerian of Paris. He soon started performing the Classical Guitar regularly on Baghdad Television and organized and conducted the Baghdad Television Variety Orchestra. Also in Baghdad he started teaching the Classical Guitar and by 1959 had a large class of students. He was also teaching the Guitar at the Baghdad National Arts Institute. In 1958 he was appointed Secretary to the Director General of Distribution of Oil in Iraq— a position that he held for the next three years.
In 1960 he traveled to the U.S. to further his education majoring in Composition. He began to perform the Classical Guitar on TV in Louisiana and in Michigan. Chobanian was instrumental in establishing the Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory Guitar and Composition programs as well as the Focus Contemporary Music Festival. He also established the position of the Baldwin Wallace Composer-In-Residence. Winner of the Cleveland Arts Prize he has taught at the Oberlin Conservatory and the University of Akron. His compositions many of which are for the Guitar are performed worldwide. In 1977 the Cleveland Ballet Company presented the World Premiere of Chobanian’s Christmas Ballet THE GIFT. An expert conductor, he often conducts his own compositions as guest composer with university, high school and professional orchestras. Chobanian conducted the Skidmore College Orchestra premiering one of his most recent compositions “Variations on an Israeli Theme” for Two Guitars and Orchestra with guitar soloists Bryan Reichert and Christopher Ellicott. The two excellent guitarists have joined Chobanian to form The Ararat Guitar Trio which has plans to present concerts and perform in High Schools in underprivileged communities.
On May 6, 2018, he will conduct the premiere of “Memoried” for Guitar and Strings with the Parma Symphony. The featured soloist will be a brilliant guitarist Bryan Reichert. The guitar solo part in MEMORIES is introduced in a relatively high tessitura in order to establish and project a separate and distinct voice. The composition is set in a richly Romantic language and capitalizes on the use of a combination of Iberian and Armenian folk musical idioms. The composition also contributes to the expansion of the guitar’s technical possibilities while the tonal center experiences constant change.
One of Chobanian’s most recent compositions is “Yerevan Variations” for Solo Guitar. The composition is conceived in an abstract manner, away from the instrument, and then adjusted to reconcile and highlight the guitar’s possibilities. “Yerevan Variations” explores a wide variety of the guitar’s potential including the guitar’s extreme ranges. Sudden changes of character become an established feature that include sudden changes of tonal centers. Ornamented passages are reminiscent of Komitas’ musical language and the introductory material reappear creating a feeling of recapitulation.