For Finnish Mezzo, Babajanian Is a Start

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By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

YEREVAN — Last August, during my visit to Venice I had the pleasure of meeting Finnish singer Sini Tuomisalu. I had corresponded by email with her for about a year because of her interest in Armenian composers and particularly, Arno Babajanian.

A pretty blond with typical Finnish features and a sweet voice, Tuomisalu is a very dedicated person, devoted to her art. Some months ago I asked her to participate in my new initiative — publishing an Armenian short story in as many languages as possible — and Tuomisalu made the Finnish translation happily. (This book, The Hands, by Armenian author Elda Grin, soon will be published in Yerevan in 35 languages). She also obligingly accepted my new request — to write an article about her interest in Arno Babajanian’s songs, which she did almost the next day and which I present to English-language readers, having the pleasure to introduce to them a new friend of the Armenians. That article follows:

It was 2004 when I moved with my spouse from Finland to St. Petersburg. We lived there for four years.

A funny thing happened once when we were in one of the St. Petersburg second hand market places. I found a cute old purse there. Had no idea about the text that was written on the front side of the purse, nor what was the building on the other side. I just thought the purse looked really nice and bought it!

It must have been sometime in 2006 when we were doing our weekly shopping in a local supermarket that my steps led me to another “touch” of Armenia! Besides buying food, I wanted to select some Russian music to listen to and was seeing through the albums of unknown artists to me. An album of singer Anna German jumped out of the mass of CDs. I thought, as this Anna looked pretty on the cover, she should sing well too! I didn’t make a mistake. In her album she sang I Love you, composed by Arno Babajanian. I immediately fell in love with this song.

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During 2004-2008, when we lived in St. Petersburg, I studied classical singing at St. Petersburg Conservatory, with Prof. Yevgenia Stanislavovna Gorokhovskaya. There is a good library in the conservatory and I hoped to find scores of I Love You there. Unluckily, didn’t find, but instead found an Arno Babajanian songbook, which included many other of his beautiful songs. Wow! He had the magical talent to compose so many moving melodies. I got more of his songs to my repertoire.

In spring 2007, I met a young composer, Nikolay Ivanovsky, in the conservatory in St. Petersburg. He was to make a piano arrangement of I Love You to me. At that time I had already written the Finnish lyrics to this song. Writing lyrics is my “hobby” and I sometimes want to sing romances and songs from my Russian repertoire in Finnish to Finnish audiences. Nikolay’s piano arrangement was on the mark and I was very pleased with it. To be able to perform this song in my concerts, we thought with Nikolay, that it would be a good thing to inform Araik Babajanian, Arno’s son, about the arrangement. We called him in Moscow and sent our demo to him. He was pleased with our work and happy that a Finnish singer has shown interest in his father’s work.

I continued searching for more songs by Arno Babajanian in the libraries in St. Petersburg. In 2008 I had enough songs for an album. I recorded an album “Sini sings Arno Babajanian” in April-May 2008 in St. Petersburg. The album includes 12 of Babajanian’s songs: You, Sea and Me; Lullaby; I Love You; Do not Hurry; Thank You; Parisian Snow; Golden Tango; Year of Love; Meeting; Irradiation; And the Love is Alive and Nocturne.

In late summer 2008, we moved to northern Italy, to Pordenone. Funnily we found there a shop called Matrioshka. We went inside and found out that the shopkeepers were Armenians! At the cash register, the shopkeeper lady noticed my purse with the word “Urartu” written in Armenian on one side and the photo of a building in the main square in Yerevan on the other side. She wondered where I had gotten it. “From a store in St. Petersburg!,” said I.

In March 2009, I traveled to Moscow for the  first time. My biggest interest was to visit the house where Babajanian had lived, from 1956 to 1983. I found the place and thought how interesting it would have been to know this person, who was capable of producing such touching melodies and beautiful songs, one after another. What was he like as a person? His character? What was going through his mind, when he worked with his music?

During the years I have known Babajanian’s music, I have performed his songs in my concerts in St. Petersburg and in Finland. The audience has always been pleased to hear them. In Finland, there is one particular song of Babajanian that is known in our language: Do Not Be in a Hurry. An Estonian singer, Georg Ots, had recorded it in Finnish and many people there remember his performance of this song. Very often I am asked to sing it as an “encore.”

It is 2010. I have enough Babajanian’s songs for a second album. But I also want to perform his songs in Yerevan.

(Finnish mezzosoprano Sini Tuomisalo studied in St. Petersburg Conservatory and Palmgren Conservatory in Finland. From 1998 to 2004 she lived in Espoo where she established her group Blue Bossa. She has recorded two albums with the group. Her main repertoire includes classical and chamber music in 13 different languages. In 2008, she recorded her third album, “Sini Sings Arno Babajanian.” Since 2008 she has lived in Pordenone, Italy. Her web site is: http://sinifinka.wordpress.com/)

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