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Tigran Hamasyan – Luys i Luso

Waltons World Masters Series

A breathtaking re-imagining of Armenian sacred music from
the 5th to 20th centuries by ‘the hottest pianist in jazz’
(The Guardian) and a superb Armenian chamber choir.

Click on the tabs for information.


Where Saturday, 17 October 2015
Where Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
Presented by
Waltons New School of Music
Honorary Consulate of the Republic of Armenia in Ireland

‘For years I have been wanting to do an album of only Armenian sacred music, but only two or three years ago I finally dared to make my first steps towards arranging sacred hymns, chants and cantos dating all the way back to the 5th century up until the 20th. All the music except for a few pieces is arranged for a mixed choir and piano. The working process of ‘Luys i Luso’ was a truly inspiring and life changing experience for me.’
– Tigran Hamasyan

‘Pianist-prodigy Tigran Hamasyan grew up in California, winning the famous Thelonious Monk Prize and releasing his debut album while still a teenager. Now he’s returned to his birthplace of Armenia, from where he has made this extraordinarily beautiful recording of sacred music. Arranged by Hamasyan, the pieces date from the 5th to the 20th centuries and are sung in an earthily passionate liturgical style. The role of the piano is vital; sometimes introducing the theme, sometimes improvising around it, Hamasyan uses the characteristic, Eastern-hued Armenian modes to summon up an ancient world. It’s very different to Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble’s million-selling Officium, but if you liked that, you’ll love this.’
– Independent on Sunday (5-star review)

‘A mature and great and rich and deep artist.’
– Chick Corea

‘He plays piano like a raga – the next Keith Jarrett.’
– Trilok Gurtu

‘There comes a time, every now and then, when someone comes along and blows your mind and does things with music that you’ve never heard before…. Thank you Tigran!’
– Gilles Peterson

‘music unlike anything else you’ll hear this year’
– The Times

Audience Comments

‘I thoroughly enjoyed the Tigran Hamasyan – Luys i Luso concert in Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. The music was breathtaking, very sombre and also somehow very uplifting. The venue added greatly to the evening .’
– L. Brogran

‘The music and setting were sublime. I drove for an hour and a half to attend the concert and the same again after it. It was well worth the effort. More like this please.’
– C. Corrigan

‘Thank you for a wonderful concert. It was very moving to hear sacred choral works that are part of a centuries-long tradition being reinterpreted and given new life with such respect and appreciation for their original beauty.’
– Y. Fujita

‘Transportingly beautiful, both the choral and the piano parts, in a most appropriate and beautiful surrounding – Christ Church Cathedral.’
– D. Kelly

Tigran Hamasyan

A truly original musician, pianist, composer and singer, Tigran Hamasyan came to Ireland for the first time in 2012, at the age of 24, to perform a solo concert of astonishing range and depth that included strikingly original compositions not only strongly influenced by the Armenian folk tradition but also by American jazz.

‘This was a virtuosic tour de force, the wealth of ideas matched by genuine craft in his songwriting.’
– Laurence Mackin, Irish Times review

Returning to Ireland for a second World Masters concert in 2014, Tigran and his group performed music from his second album, Shadow Theater, and explored new avenues – both sonic and electronic – drawing on sources as diverse as Madlib, Sigur Rós and Steve Reich.

‘I had seen Armenian/American pianist Tigran Hamasyan live in a solo concert some time ago and have enjoyed his various studio combinations, but nothing prepared me for the musical experience of his recent Button Factory trio concert. Bassist Sam Minaie and drummer Arthur Hnatek, along with Tigran’s use of electronic loops and beat-box vocals, place the trio in the forefront of contemporary sounds while still maintaining elements of the jazz piano influence of Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, all rooted by a strong backbone of traditional Armenian folk music. A rare combination – a rare treat – if it comes your way don’t miss it!’
– Carl Corcoran, RTÉ lyric fm

For his third visit, Tigran presented Luys i Luso (‘Light from Light’), featuring the renowned Yerevan State Chamber Choir. This was one of a hundred performances of Luys i Luso in churches around the world, in commemoration of the 1915 Armenian genocide.

The music ranged from sparsely beautiful Armenian chant to compositions by the great Armenian composer Komitas (well known from performances by Jan Garbarek & The Hilliard Ensemble), with Tigran’s sublime improvisations woven into the musical texture. An album of the project was recorded in Yerevan, Armenia for the renowned ECM record label.

About Luys i Luso

Luys i Luso (‘Light from Light’ in Armenian) is a spellbinding exploration of Armenian sacred music, featuring a prodigiously gifted pianist with the superb Yerevan State Chamber Choir. The repertoire ranges from 5th century sharakans¹ by Mesrop Mashtots² to the early 20th century music of Komitas³, all newly arranged for voices and improvising pianist by Hamasyan himself. An album of the project was recorded in Yerevan for the renowned ECM record label.

Tigran Hamasayan has long been deeply interested in Armenian sacred music, increasingly drawn to its ‘incredibly beautiful melodies… Over the years the idea to do an entire album with Armenian sacred music had been building and growing in my mind. About two and a half years ago I began to work on the first arrangements.’ Ideas about repertoire have evolved along the way. ‘At one point I thought about doing an album devoted to Mesrop Mashtots, the 5th century saint, composer and linguist. But the working process led me to think more broadly about it, and I decided that the album should be of mixed repertoire. So Mashtots is in there, along with Nerses Shnorhali, Grigor Narekatsi, Grigor Pahlavuni, Mkhitar Ayrivanetsi and Komitas.’ These are some of the outstanding figures of Armenian music history.

Hamasyan is fascinated by the idea of Armenian sacred music as living tradition: ‘At its high point, everybody was singing it differently. There are a lot of places in the music open to interpretation. Nerses Shnorhali actually wrote about this in the 12th century. Letters were being exchanged between the Byzantine government and religious patriarchs, talking about the high level of Byzantine and Armenian sacred music, and comparing the different schools. And Shnorhali wrote that singers could sometimes improvise, based on the mode and where they were reaching in the melody. This is phenomenal – it’s evidence that this music had improvisation in it. And for me it’s a direct encouragement for improvisational interpretation.’

The fresh and invigorating arrangements permit a maximum of improvisational freedom for Hamasyan as soloist. ‘I’m playing completely different things every time we perform this music’, but to be ‘free’ inside the material, he adds, one has to understand its special demands and idiosyncrasies.

‘When I thought of the collaboration with choir I was originally looking for singers who didn’t have trained classical voices, and I especially wanted to avoid the operatic conservatory voices. It is really hard to find singers who sing naturally without a vibrato. At the same time I needed disciplined singers who could execute, for instance, quarter-tones and really sing the melodies in the right way – the way the priest might sing them. It was a big challenge, and the arrangements got changed and revised in the process of learning and experiencing this material. Working with the rhythms was complicated for the choir. For instance in ‘Ov Zarmanali’ they are singing chords in 13/16 and I’m improvising on it. Not only do they have to keep the metre going and be very precise, but they have to accompany a soloist, with everything that’s going on in my solos, as well as all the metric modulation. So it’s challenging.’

In preparation for the project, Hamasyan also travelled to Paris to study with singer/scholar Aram Kerovpyan. Born and raised in Istanbul, Kerovpyan had moved at 25 to France where he devoted his life to Armenian sacred music. ‘To me, Aram is closer to the roots than many others,’ says Tigran. ‘His singing is closer to the old Armenian ways. In Armenia, after the Soviet Union and almost a hundred years of atheism, a lot of things have been, I don’t want to say forgotten, but they haven’t developed greatly. The music was in the shadows. Only a few singers were keeping it authentic, especially after people started going to the conservatory where they were influenced by Russian classical music and European music – and this was beginning to happen even in Komitas’s time. I feel that Aram didn’t experience this influence, and has kept alive traditional ways of singing, rather than singing in a classical manner.’

The recording of the ECM album took place in Yerevan’s Argo Studio. Tigran describes it as a ‘Traditional-Armenia-meets-ECM experience’. ‘It was very concentrated work, which I think brought out the best in all of us. Then, on the last day of recording, we had a power cut, and all the lights went out for four hours. So we took a little trip to a nearby 16th century church, and some members of the choir sang there. It was like God was telling us, “If you are recording sacred music you need to get to a church at least once before the recording is over.” It was a strong experience. While there we took a few photos of the façade of the church, which was incredible, with its crazy, detailed ornaments. A few of these pictures made it into the CD booklet.’

2015 was, of course, the centenary of the Armenian genocide. Did this play a role in choosing to do the Luys i Luso project then?

‘Even if it was not the anniversary, this project was going to happen. I’ve been listening to the music since I was 14 and the preparation for this album just happened to begin a couple of years ago. But it is important for us to be taking this music on a pilgrimage from Zvartnots, and the ruins of the of the 7th century temple there, to Istanbul. We’re going to the Cilician kingdom where Shnorhali lived and created so much music and was the patriarch of all Armenians. We’re going to Narekatsi’s birthplace. Unfortunately, the Narekavank monastery no longer exists, but we will play and sing close by. We are returning this music to its roots, in some cases to places that are like ghost towns, and where the monasteries and the forts where kings once lived are now ruins. With the music we would like to bring life back to the places where it was born. I personally feel it is a matter of saying “Thank you” to those great authors, composers and saints who lived at that time, and I am glad that we are still able to perform their music today.’

Live performances presenting the music of Luys i Luso began in March 2015 with a premiere in Yerevan, continuing with concerts in Georgia, Turkey, Lebanon, France, Belgium, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, England, Ireland, Germany, Luxembourg, Russia and the United States. In total, a hundred concerts.

  1. An ancient form of monophonic chant used in the liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
  2. Mesrop Mashtots (362-440) was a renowned early medieval Armenian linguist, theologian, statesman, hymn composer and inventor of the Armenian alphabet.
  3. Soghomon Soghomonian (1869-1935), ordained and commonly known as Komitas, was an Armenian priest, musicologist, composer, singer and choirmaster. Komitas was not only a great composer but is also recognised as one of the pioneers of ethnomusicology.

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