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January 23 , 2014

Tigran Mansurian at 75

January 27th is the 75th birthday of Tigran Mansurian, one of contemporary music’s most original composers and an important presence on ECM New Series, the label which has helped to bring wider attention to his work.

Born in Beirut in 1939, Mansurian moved with his family back to their ancestral Armenia in 1947, and studied at the Yerevan Conservatory of which he would eventually become the director. In the 1960s he was attracted by the ideas of the Western new music avant-garde but became increasingly convinced of the importance of the spirit of place and of composing in an authentically Armenian voice. “Our position on the map of music and culture,” he has written, “is exactly on the spot where East and West meet.” It is this special vantage point that fires his creative imagination.

Tigran Mansurian remains fascinated by the relationship of Armenia’s sacred music to its folk songs, so powerfully brought together in the work of Komitas, an enduring influence. In 2000, Mansurian recorded his own arrangements of Komitas on Hayren, a disc that also included premiere recordings of his music for viola and percussion, played by Kim Kashkashian and Robyn Schulkowsky. This was followed by Monodia, the wide-ranging composer portrait album, recorded 2001-2002, with cast including Kim Kashkashian, Leonidas Kavakos, Jan Garbarek, the Hilliard Ensemble and the Munich Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Christoph Poppen.

In 2004 Mansurian worked closely with the Rosamunde Quartet in the recording of his first and second string quartets from the early 1980s as well as a new piece, Testament, dedicated to ECM producer Manfred Eicher.

Ars Poetica, Mansurian’s choral work setting the lyric poetry of Yegishe Charents and celebrating the sound of the Armenian language itself, was issued by ECM in 2006. Premiere recordings of his “Three Arias”, for viola and string quartet, were included in Kim Kashkashian’s Neharót album of 2010.

Mansurian’s friendship with cellist Anja Lechner is one of the subjects of El Encuentro, the documentary film made by Norbert Wiedmer and Enrique Ros, issued as a DVD by ECM Cinema. Anja Lechner comes to the fore also in the newest ECM Mansurian recording, scheduled for release in March 2014. The cellist joins Patricia Kopatchinskaja and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta in a performance of the “Double Concerto” for violin, violoncello and string orchestra. Lechner also plays Mansurian’s “Quasi Parlanado”, while Kopatchinskaja is the soloist in “Romance” and “Four Serious Songs”.

Tigran Mansurian is currently in Los Angeles where his birthday is being celebrated with a concert series. Writing about the event in the Los Angeles Times, Mark Szwed wrote, “Transcendence is the nature of Mansurian’s most mature music. And through stunning recordings on ECM it has made him a cult figure like such other spiritually inclined Eastern European composers as the Estonian Arvo Pärt. Mansurian’s hard-won spirituality is all the more illuminating for having grown out of an aggressive musical rebellion against Soviet musical populism. Through it all, Mansurian’s inspiration has been the plight of the Armenian people in the 20th century and their sustaining culture. He is a formal composer who never wastes a note. His sound world is mystical. He knows wherein lies an instrument’s most hauntingly beautiful sounds, particularly when it comes to strings, the voice and percussion. Once heard, a Mansurian piece is not forgotten.”