Zartir

The Gurdjieff Ensemble, Levon Eskenian

EN / DE
The third album from Levon Eskenian’s remarkable ensemble is its most adventurous to date. As well as reclaiming the music of esoteric teacher G. I. Gurdjieff for folk instrumentation, Zartir situates Gurdjieff in a tradition of Armenian bards and troubadours including Ashugh Jivani, Baghdasar Tbir and the legendary Sayat-Nova. In parallel, an emphasis on pieces for sacred dance reaches its apex in The Great Prayer, an entrancing collaboration between the Gurdjieff Ensemble and the National Chamber Choir of Armenia, which draws upon ritual music of multiple faiths. Arranger Eskenian says, “I believe The Great Prayer is more than a mere ‘composition’. It is one of the most profound and transformative pieces I have encountered in Gurdjieff’s work.” Zartir was recorded in Yerevan in 2021 and mixed and completed in Munich in November 2022 by Manfred Eicher and Levon Eskenian.
Zartir ist die inzwischen dritte Aufnahme des von Levon Eskenian gegründeten Gurdjieff Ensembles und präsentiert ein einzigartiges Programm. Auf dem Album wird einerseits die Musik des Schriftstellers und Komponisten G. I. Gurdjieff auf volkstümlichen Instrumenten neu interpretiert, andererseits wird Gurdjieff auch in die Tradition der armenischen Barden und Troubadoure wie Ashugh Jivani, Baghdasar Tbir und dem legendären Sayat-Nova eingerahmt. Auch Stücke für sakrale Tänze sind hier dargeboten und sorgen für Höhepunkte wie The Great Prayer – einer bewegenden Zusammenarbeit zwischen dem Gurdjieff Ensemble und dem National Chamber Choir of Armenia, die sich auf rituelle Musik verschiedener Religionen stützt. Der Arrangeur Eskenian sagt: "Ich glaube, The Great Prayer ist mehr als nur eine ‘Komposition’. Es ist eines der tiefgreifendsten und transformativsten Stücke, die mir in Gurdjieffs Werk begegnet sind." Zartir wurde 2021 in Eriwan aufgenommen und im November 2022 in München von Manfred Eicher und Levon Eskenian gemischt und fertiggestellt.
Featured Artists Recorded

December 2021, Radio Recording Studio Yerevan

Original Release Date

24.11.2023

  • 1Pythia
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    03:35
  • 2No. 10
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    03:17
  • 3Sayyid Chant and Dance No. 41
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    03:15
  • 4Introduction and Funeral Ceremony
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    05:19
  • 5Oriental Dance
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    01:56
  • 6Kankaravor Enker (Friend of Talents)
    (Ashugh Jivani)
    04:16
  • 7Dard Mi Ani (Do Not Fret)
    (Sayat-Nova)
    03:54
  • 8Thirty Gestures
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    01:15
  • 9Prayer and Despair
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    04:42
  • 10Sayyid Chant and Dance No. 42
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    03:39
  • 11Ashkharhes Me Panjara e (The World Is a Window)
    (Sayat-Nova)
    04:16
  • 12Trembling Dervish
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    04:24
  • 13Zartir (Wake Up)
    (Baghdasar Dpir)
    04:19
  • 14The Great Prayer
    (Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann)
    07:11
In the realm of contemporary music, the Gurdjieff Ensemble, led by Levon Eskenian, embarks on a journey of rediscovery and reinvention with ‘Zartir,’ its third opus. The album delves into various aspects of the life of Armenian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, offering an opportunity to explore the origins and influences that shaped this enigmatic esoteric teacher, philosopher, and composer. Dedicated to the intricacies of Gurdjieff’s compositions, ‘Zartir’ encapsulates an unparalleled journey through music, paying homage to the illustrious Armenian bards and troubadours and seamlessly fusing spirituality with tradition. […] This cultural fusion of Gurdjieff’s compositions and Armenian folk heritage speaks to the ensemble’s dedication to preserving and celebrating their musical roots. Meticulous arrangements for folk instrumentation by Eskenian uncover hidden nuances in Gurdjieff’s compositions, providing fresh insights into the inspirations behind the Armenian-born visionary. […] Intricate arrangements in ‘Zartir’ pay homage to the work of Gurdjieff’s amanuensis, Thomas de Hartmann, who painstakingly transcribed and scored Gurdjieff’s compositions. However, Eskenian’s innovative interpretations breathe new life into the music, infusing the compositions with radiant colors, returning them to their natural context and ensuring the essence of Gurdjieff’s work shines through with clarity and authenticity. ‘Zartir’ is a powerfully evocative album, paying heartfelt tribute to Gurdjieff’s compositions while immersing the listener in the rich tapestry of Armenian and Middle Eastern musical traditions. Delicate, haunting, and atmospheric instrumental pieces invite the listener to become part of a deep and mysterious soundscape.
Nenad Georgievsky, Vintage Café
 
While Gurdjieff’s identity, beliefs and music are elusive, what The Gurdjieff Ensemble have created here is an atmospheric collection of mystical songs, contemplative pieces – the keening duduks of ’Introduction and Funeral March’ are beautiful  – and spiritual dances like the Mevlevi-inspired ’Trembling Dervish’. ‘Zartir’culminates in ‘The GreatPrayer’, a solemn finale with choir, supposedly based on a ritual from the Silk road city of Kashgar.
Simon Broughton, Songlines
 
‘Zartir’ bedeutet übersetzt so viel wie ‘Wach auf’. Und es steht exemplarisch für die Musik Musik auf dieser Platte. Mit reichlich Ambitionen, Botschaften und Tatendrang geht das elfköpfige Ensemble zur Sache, unterstützt vom National Chambers Chor of Armenia. Dass Eskenian diesmal den Schwerpunkt auf Text und Gesang legt, gibt den Stücken einen anderen Twist. Gurdjieff wird so in die Tradition der armenischen Barden und Troubadoure wie Ashugh Jivani, Baghdasar Tbir und dem legendären Sayat-Nova eingerahmt. Doch es gibt auf ‘Zartir’ auch Stücke, die für den sakralen Tanz geschrieben wurden. Vor allem ‘The Great Player’ sticht hervor. […] Es ist auch sein feinsinniges Gespür für das Arrangement, das den Aufnahmen ihren starken Zauber verleiht. Eskenian beherrscht die Opulenz ebenso wie die kleinen Gesten und bleibt stets nah am Gemeinten. ‘Zartir’ ist ein ganz großer Wurf. Ein bemerkenswerter Beitrag zum Erhalt und zur Weiterentwicklung des Lebenswerks eines musikalischen Visionärs und Einzelgängers. Das Album steckt voller ansteckender Lebendigkeit und aufrührerischer Kraft, die wach macht. Und gleichzeitig voller Anmut, Eleganz und Sanftmut.
Sebastian Meißner, Sounds and Books
 
Der aus dem Libanon stammende Dirigent und Arrangeur Levon Eskenian und sein preisgekröntes Gurdjieff Ensemble führen uns mit der nächsten neuen CD in die Welt der armenischen Barden und Troubadoure. Und in den Kosmos des um 1877 in Armenien geborenen Esoterikers, Philosophen und Komponisten Georges Gurdjieff. Dessen ergreifenden, schlichten Klaviertranskriptionen hat Levon Eskenian behutsam für traditionelle Instrumente aus Armenien und der Kaukasus-Region arrangiert. Für Lauten, Zithern, die Kamantcheh-Stachelgeige, aber vor allem für die Duduk, jenes Oboen-ähnliche, meist aus Aprikosenholz gefertigte armenische Nationalinstrument, in dessen wehmütig-warmem Klang die Seele des heimatlos gewordenen armenischen Volkes widerhallt und seine Identität findet. […] Einen weiten Bogen spannt dieses hinreißende Album ‘Zartir’ von ECM mit Levon Eskenian und dem zwölfköpfigen Gurdjieff Ensemble. Sakral, weltlich, poetisch, innig, trauerbeladen oder tröstlich.
Susanne Schmerda, Bayerischer Rundfunk
 
Es sind akustische Botschaften ferner Regionen und Religionen. Als eine Verbindung zwischen geistlicher und weltlicher Musik vermitteln diese Aufnahmen zugleich unterschiedliche Stimmungen, die von zart lyrisch, über meditativ, überwältigend, bis mahnend intensiv gefangen nehmen. Das Gurdjieff Ensemble unter der Leitung von Levon Eskanian unternimmt auf ‘Zartir’ versöhnliche Wanderungen durch Zeiten und Gezeiten, durch Territorien und Befindlichkeiten, durch Hoffnungen und Überzeugungen, durch Originäres und Adaptives. Es ist der Klang der Seele einer für uns fernen und doch ungemein faszinierenden Welt.
Jörg Konrad, Kultkomplott
 
L’Ensemble Gurdjieff a emprunté son nom à l’ésotérique Georges Gurdjieff, philosophe et compositeur emblématique de la musique arménienne (…). Un siècle plus tard, l’album ‘Zartir’ exauce sa prière dans la ferveur et le mystère.  Portés par des voix profondes, par les volutes émouvantes, ces hymnes, rituels funéraires et autres danses sacrées retrouvent leur authenticité.
Anne Berthod, Telerama
 
This is the third recording for ECM of Levon Eskenian’s Gurdjieff Ensemble, and with its rearrangements of Georges I. Gurdjieff’s compositions and transcriptions for traditional folk instruments Eskenian takes the music back to its roots. More than that, the works are not merely there to preserve the music of the past, or bring the ancient into the current century but are strong musical statements in their own right. […] The arrangements are inspiring and uplifting as the Ensemble seem to breathe as one. The music, as with many ancient and traditional folk forms, seems to inhabit a space outside of the mainstream and is there for those who seek it. When listening closely there is a sense of not just visiting the past but also being in the present and gazing into the future as these sounds and melodies have not only had a life that is long but one that continues to bring comfort with a familiarity that is comforting. Much of the music is divided into splinter groups featuring a selective instrumentation for each particular piece. When the ensemble expands its numbers, and the sound swells the music becomes increasingly emotional and emotive. […] Concluding with the majestic ‘The Great Prayer’ it is if the album had been leading to this magnificent climax. Featuring the National Chamber Choir of Armenia alongside The Gurdjieff Ensemble is a melding of the traditional instruments and voices that appear timeless. […] a most calming and satisfying close to this excellent album.
Nick Lea, Jazz Views
 
Le ricche trascrizioni per strumenti tradizionali di Eskenian, nel mantenere le intenzioni di ‘comunicazione ed elevazione spirituale’ del maestro, sanno aggiungere un afflato di profondità e di radicamento negli albori dell’umanità, di intensità e di interiorità. Sanno perciò essere immediatamente recepite come ‘nostre’, nonostante la lontananza e la non consuetudine della strumentazione, che vede come protagonisti anche gli oboi duduk, il flauto blul, il grande mandolino oud, le cetre kanon e kamancha, la chitarra tar, le percussioni tombak e dap.
Raffaello Carabini, Spettakolo
 
Le musiche selezionate dal Gurdjieff Ensemble sono poesie, inni, orazioni, meditazioni filosofiche che viaggiano nel Tempo senza fissa dimora, dimostrando un carattere universale in cui raccoglimento, devozione religiosa e amore per la vita si fondono in una corroborante trasfusione per lo Spirito. Eskenian, dal canto suo, definisce queste musiche trasformative, individuandone le caratteristiche fondamentali che dovrebbero teoricamente essere presente in ogni forma d’arte. Abituati come siamo al consumo, oggigiorno praticato quasi con atteggiamento predatorio, istrionizzati da autori prolissi che impongono tutt’al più il gusto del carino, anziché del bello, potremmo faticare ad allinearci alle idee presenti in questo album, caratterizzate da una spontanea tendenza alla religiosità. Questo termine, però, non va inteso come culto nei riguardi di una divinità ma come attrazione verso l’Assoluto o comunque, se proprio non siamo interessati alla metafisica, come tendenza a diventare essere umani migliori.
Riccardo Talamazzi, Offtopic Magazine
“Georges Gurdjieff composed and dictated volumes of piano music. Levon Eskenian’s Gurdjieff Ensemble reclaims these pieces from the salons of Paris and takes them back to their roots in the Caucasus. They reveal their origins and themselves.”
    • David Honigmann, Financial Times
 
With his inspired arrangements for folk instrumentation, Levon Eskenian has brought about a re-evaluation of the music of G.I. Gurdjieff (ca. 1877- 1949) and given us many new insights into the sources that inspired the Armenian-born esoteric teacher, philosopher and composer.
 
Zartir, the third album from Eskenian’s award-winning Gurdjieff Ensemble, is its most adventurous to date, and it opens several new channels of discovery. In several pieces with a focus on the voice, it situates Gurdjieff in a tradition of Armenian ashughs, bards and troubadours including Ashugh Jivani, Baghdasar Tbir and the legendary Sayat-Nova. Gurdjieff’s father, an ashugh who performed under the name Adash, was part of this tradition, and his wide-ranging repertoire would have exposed his son, at an early age, to music and verse from many places. The texts of these songs also resonate with Gurdjieff’s central messages, especially title piece “Zartir” by Baghdasar Tbir (1683-1768). “Zartir” means “Wake up!”, and its lyrics seem to anticipate Gurdjieff’s contention that Mankind is asleep and needs to be roused from its torpor.
 
Elsewhere, Eskenian emphasizes pieces written for sacred dance, reaching a high point with The Great Prayer, an entrancing collaboration between the Gurdjieff Ensemble and the National Chamber Choir of Armenia, which draws upon ritual music of multiple faiths. Arranger Eskenian says, “I believe The Great Prayer is more than a mere ‘composition’. It is one of the most profound and transformative pieces I have encountered in Gurdjieff’s work.”
 
References for Eskenian’s work on Zartir have included the piano transcriptions and symphonic scorings of Gurdjieff’s gifted amanuensis, the Ukraine-born composer Thomas de Hartmann. As with the ensemble’s 2011 debut album, however (Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff), Eskenian’s arrangements for folk instruments radically transform the material, and
give the listener the experience of hearing Gurdjieff’s music in full, radiant colour, flowering in its natural context.
 
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Levon Eskenian was born in Lebanon in 1978. In 1996 he moved to Armenia where he currently lives. In 2005 he graduated from the Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory where he obtained a Master’s degree studying the piano with Professor Robert Shugarov. In 2007 he took his Postgraduate degree in the class of Professor Willy Sargsyan. He has also studied composition, organ and improvisation classes at the Conservatory and harpsichord in Austria and Italy with the English organist and harpsichordist Christopher Stembridge.
 
One of the most active figures in Armenia’s musical life, a director of various ensembles and artistic institutions, Eskenian has performed both as a soloist and chamber musician with a programme ranging from early baroque to contemporary music in Europe, Middle East, Asia, South America, and Australia. He has organized numerous concerts, lectures, masterclasses and festivals in Armenia. He is the founder of the Akna Cultural Society , established to study and promote repertoire ranging from ancient music and early baroque to contemporary music.
 
In 2008, Eskenian founded the Gurdjieff Ensemble bringing together masters of Armenian and Middle Eastern instruments to play his arrangements of the G.I. Gurdjieff/Thomas de Hartmann piano music. The debut album on ECM records, Music of G.I. Gurdjieff was widely acclaimed and won prizes, including the Edison Award as Album of the Year in 2012.
 
A second album, devoted to the music of Komitas, widened the scope of the Gurdjieff Ensemble’s project and also met with a very positive press response. “By turns haunting, playful and rapturous, this music is endlessly fascinating”, the American Record Guide noted. “Be warned, you can lose yourself in this album and never want to come back.”
 
Zartir was recorded in Yerevan in 2021 by Tigran Kuzikyan and mixed and completed in Munich in November 2022 by producer Manfred Eicher and engineer Michael Hinreiner. The album’s striking cover image is from Sergei Parajanov’s allegorical art film The Colour of Pomegrates, based upon the life of Sayat-Nova.
 
CD booklet includes translations of the song texts by Levon Eskenian, and liner notes by Steve Lake.
 
For further biographical information, background and tour dates: www.gurdjieffensemble.com
 
YEAR DATE VENUE LOCATION
2024 July 16 Arno Babajanyan Concert Hall Yerevan, Armenia
2024 September 19 Sounds of the Dolomites Festival Trentino, Italy
2024 November 09 Euphonie International Music Festival Warsaw, Poland
2024 December 05 Opera de Rouen Rouen, France
2024 December 08 Pierre Boulez Saal Berlin, Germany
2025 April 23 De Bijloke Gent, Belgium
2025 April 25 De Oosterpoort Groningen, Netherlands