Pianist Tahmizian Performs at Monadnock Music

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By Daphne Abeel
Special to the Mirror-Spectator

PETERBOROUGH, N.H. — Monandnock Music’s final concert of the 2009 summer season, Saturday, August 15 and Sunday, August 16 (at Peterborough Town Hall and Jaffrey Meetinghouse respectively) featured the multi-faceted talents of Armenian-Bulgarian pianist Emma Tahmizian.


Tahmizian played in all five of the programmed pieces, each one imposing different demands on the performer. The Friday night program included two works by Robert Schumann, while the Sunday program presented works by living composer, Sebastian Currier and 20th-century composer Ralph Vaughn Williams, concluding with Schumann’s Piano Quintet. The emphasis on Schumann is, perhaps, not surprising as Tahmizian has exhibited a special affinity for this German composer since her student days in Plovdik and Sophia, Bulgaria. Schumann’s song cycle Frauenliebe und Leben highlighted the collaboration between pianist Tahmizian and tenor, Philippe Castagner wherein the piano accompaniment plays a restrained and supporting role, while the singer is front and center. Said Tahmizian, “This was the first time Philippe and I had worked together, and the first time either of us had performed this piece. We worked extremely hard. I connected very much with the way Philippe uses his voice, the way he uses his voice with the words. He knows his strengths.”

Despite the performers relatively recent acquaintance, the result of their preparation was a seamless partnership.
The second piece, Schumann’s Carnaval: Scenes Mignonnes Sur Quatre Notes unleashed Tahmizian’s pianistic virtuosity. The 20 different sketches demand both power and a delicate touch — they suggest different moods and are of varying difficulty — all were masterfully delineated under Tahmizian’s fingers. Pure virtuosity alone does not an exceptional musician make. Tahmizian possesses technical command but it is her ability to develop and project tone, her meticulous attention to dynamics and phrasing that distinguish her playing.

Monadnock Music, founded in 1966 by conductor and composer, James Bolle, has, as part of its tradition, a homely, democratic approach, exemplified by the fact that the musicians themselves, including artistic co-director Jonathan Bagg, often do the stage work between performances — pushing the piano into position, adjusting lighting, setting up music stands and chairs, turning pages for each other and setting cables for the microphone. Even Tahmizian gave the Steinway concert grand a little shove at intermission. The informality is augmented in part by the players’ casual dress. The plaid shirts of violinists Curtis Macomber and Gerry Itzkoff almost suggested they might go out and cut a cord of wood after their performance.

Sunday’s program presented different challenges. The first piece by Sebastian Currier, Clockwork, is a meditation on the meaning of time. The composer, who was present, explained that the duet for piano and violin deals with two approaches to time, “the lifelesstime of the clock tick and other aspects of the way we subjectively experience time, looking forward [and] memory.” He noted that Tahmizian had performed at its premiere 20 years ago. “The piece lasts about 18 minutes,” he concluded. Throughout the piece, the ticking of the “lifeless” clock time can be heard in both the piano (Tahmizian) and violin (Curtis Macomber) parts and requires a sensitive collaboration between the two instruments.

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The Vaughn Williams piece, based on A.E. Housman’s poem “On Wenlock Edge” from The Shropshire Lad, featured the nuanced and dramatic singing of Castagner and included Monadnock Music regulars, Macomber and Gerry Itzkoff, violin, Joanathan Bagg, viola, Rafael Popper-Ketzzer, cello and Tahmizian on piano.

The program concluded with the Schumann Piano Quintet, which was given a rousing performance that seemed to excite the performers as much as it did the audience.

As this was the last concert of the summer, artistic co-director, Laura Gilbert thanked the audience for its support and reminded everyone that on-going support is both welcome and necessary. She also announced a new endowed chair for the flute.

Tahmizian, who was born in Plovdiv, began her early piano studies there. Her teacher introduced her early on to Schumann’s Album for the Young, which she included in her first recital. Said Tahmizian, in an interview, “As a young student, I went to Armenian school and also to music school, where we did auditions. The training was rigorous. My teacher did not push me but she gave me letters by the composers that helped me to understand them. As for Schumann, there is no composer like him, he was so ready to admire other composers, like Chopin, for example. There are so many things about him that keep me in awe. He took the young Brahms under his wing.”

Tahmizian says she does not know a great deal about her Armenian background, and has traveled to Armenia only once as a teenager, as one of a group of gifted graduates from an Armenian school. “My mother and father were born in Bulgaria and I know my grandmother emigrated there from Istanbul. My father’s side of the family came from Western Armenia.” She added, “The memory of Yerevan and Echmiadzin will never fade and thank God there is an Armenia.”

Currently, Tahmizian has turned her attention to Bach’s Goldberg Variations and to “the very demanding Hammerklavier. It is not unusual for me to rehearse from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.” She will perform these works “in the near future.”

The fruits of Tahmizian’s dedication and her artistic sensibility ably expressed Monadnock Music’s mission — “excellence and accessibility — the best in music made available to everyone….”

For information on Monadnock Music’s upcoming programs contact www.monadockmusic.org.