In commemoration of the 100th birthday of the famous Armenian composer Aram Khatchaturian, the Armenian Studies Program, the Armenian General Benevolent Union of Fresno, and the Phillip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts, with special support from Dr. David Cox, co-sponsored a concert dedicated to the late composer. World-renowned pianist Sahan Arzruni made his return to Fresno for a night of musical magic. Arzruni delighted the audience with seven of Khatchaturian’s compositions and one encore performance.
Arzruni, born an Armenian in Istanbul, is an internationally recognized authority on Khatchaturian and has been appointed the “full-fledged” representative of Armenia’s Cultural Ministry in the diaspora. He has achieved recognition as a composer, ethnomusicologist, producer, teacher, lecturer, writer, and recording artists. Arzruni has performed at the White House, Carnegie Hall, and with personalities such as comedian Victor Borge and Johnny Carson. For the centennial celebration of the collection of historic instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he was invited to perform on an 1896 Steinway piano.
On Friday, October 3, 2003 in the Concert Hall at Fresno State, Arzruni performed Khatchaturian’s well-known concertos including “Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano”(1932). For this piece Arzruni was accompanied by violinists David Margetts and clarinetist Miles Ishigaki, both Fresno State faculty. Arzruni introduced the piece, explaining that the violin was intended to mimic the sound of the kamancha, an Armenian folk instrument, while the clarinet represented the douduk, and the piano’s purpose was to act as a background drum.
Arzruni performed the “Children’s Albums I and II” (1926-1964) which was comprised of various short pieces, reflecting the folk music of various peoples.
Young violinist Matthew Mazzei joined with Arzruni for duet performances of “Dance for Violin and Piano” (1926), “Nocturne for Violin and Piano” (1948), and “Song-Poem for Violin and Piano” (1929), which really showcased not only the talent of the performers, but also Khatchaturian’s genius. In 1926 Khatchaturian was in his mid- 20’s and already had begun making a name for himself.
Providing commentary between pieces, Arzruni took the opportunity to educate and inform the public about the composer. His humorous anecdotes were enjoyed by the audience. Arzruni’s first encounter with Khatchaturian was in New York, where he was introduced to Khatchaturian by a mutual friend. Khatchaturian arrived at Arzruni’s apartment at 8:30 a.m on a Saturday morning. Khatchaturian demanded the windows be opened since he was feeling hot! Arzruni commented that Saturday mornings in New York were not considered the time to be awakened by loud piano practice.
Immediately, Khatchaturian asked to be shown the piano. When he realized that it was an upright piano, rather than a grand piano, he turned to Arzruni and told him he must not be considered a good pianist because if he were the government would have provided him with a grand piano! (In the Soviet Union, musicians were provided the pianos.)
Overall, the night was both enjoyable and educational. Thanks to Andreas Werz of the Keyboard Concert Series, the ASP, and the AGBU, for organizing the concert. Sahan Arzruni’s visit to Fresno was an appropriate way for the community to share the celebration of the life of Aram Khatchaturian.