Goris Jazz Concert Celebrates Legacy of Konstantin Orbelyan at 90th Anniversary of Birth


By Sona Hamalian

YEREVAN — On the evening of Sunday, July 8, an extraordinary concert was held in the main square of Goris, Armenia, in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the birth of legendary composer, musician, and conductor Konstantin Orbelyan. Initiated by Lilit Makunts, the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Armenia, the concert was performed by the Armenian State Jazz Band under the baton of Orbelyan’s namesake nephew, Constantine Orbelian, who is a world-renowned conductor and pianist, and the General and Artistic Director of the Yerevan Opera House.

“Goris was chosen as the site of our concert for several reasons,” Orbelian said. “Apart from its distinction as one of Armenia’s most breathtakingly beautiful cities, Goris is the 2018 CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] Cultural Capital, as declared by the CIS Ministerial Council last year. Moreover, Goris has a very special personal meaning to me, as my father was born in Tatev. There’s even a street in the city, ‘Orbelyanner,’ named after my family.”

Aficionados of jazz and vintage esdratayin (Armenian pop) music from across Armenia as well as Russia and other CIS countries had traveled to Goris to attend the concert.  The concert and the three-day cultural events in Goris were hosted by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and members of his government.

The concert’s program encompassed many of Konstantin Orbelyan’s famous songs, along with songs by Babajanyan, Khachatryan, and Michael Buble, and big-band favorites from Glenn Miller. The songs were performed by soloists Georgy Bunyatyan, Anahit Shahbazyan, Gevorg Margaryan, and Sona Rubenyan to the accompaniment of the Armenian State Jazz Band, with acclaimed instrumentalists including Avag Margaryan (blul and zurna). One of Armenia’s most renowned ensembles, the Armenian State Jazz Band is led by Artistic Director and saxophonist Armen Hyusnunts, who had arranged some of the songs performed at the concert.

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Commenting on Konstantin Orbelyan’s compositions, Constantine Orbelian said, “I think one of the most impressive aspects of Konstantin Orbelyan’s legacy is that he didn’t merely bestow jazz and pop with Armenian coloration, but rather transformed these genres into genuinely Armenian articulations of emotion and imagination. In other words, my uncle was able, seemingly effortlessly, to transpose specifically and recognizably Armenian artistic expressions of love, longing, and spiritual ardor into pop and jazz. I think the creation and dissemination of such music, in addition to his vast repertoire of classical music, has been of immeasurable cultural and esthetic importance to the Armenian people, both during the Soviet decades and today, when we continue to draw strength and inspiration from the fountains of classical Armenian pop and jazz.”

Born in 1928, Konstantin Orbelyan was a talented composer of classical music (symphony, ballet, chamber ensemble), jazz, and popular songs, and the recipient of numerous prestigious awards. He was recognized as a Composer and People’s Artist of the USSR and Armenia, and his awards included the Medal of Honor of Russia, the Medal of Honor of Armenia, and the St. Mesrop Mashtots Medal (Armenia and Artsakh).

Orbelyan had been acknowledged as a pianist and improviser since he was in his teens. At age 15, he was invited to perform with the Armenian State Pop Orchestra. Years later, he became the orchestra’s conductor. Under his able direction for 36 years, the orchestra rose to become one of the most accomplished of its kind.

Graduating in composition and piano from Edward Mirzoyan’s class of composition at Yerevan’s Komitas Conservatory in 1963, Orbelyan achieved early recognition for his String Quartet, winning the coveted first prize at the International Competition in Moscow, where the chairman of the competition’s panel of judges was the composer Dmitri Shostakovich. As a result, Orbelyan’s rising talent and success were noted with great appreciation by the doyen of Armenian music of the time, Aram Khachaturyan. Next followed the premiere of Orbelyan’s First Symphony at Moscow’s famous Tchaikovsky Hall. For this symphony, he was awarded the title “Laureate of the All-Union Competition.” His subsequent Celebration Overture achieved the same acclaim. His ballet symphony Immortality was composed in 1975 and performed by the Yerevan Opera and Ballet Theater. This work, too, won First Prize in an All-Union Competition devoted to music for the stage.

One of Orbelyan’s more recent compositions in the classical idiom, an orchestral miniature with solo piano, was written in memory of George Gershwin, and was first performed by the Moscow Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Orbelyan’s nephew, Constantine Orbelian.

Ever versatile in the scope of his repertoire, Konstantin Orbelyan wrote musical scores for a number of films; music for the theater; pop songs; jazz; and scores for stage musicals. Several of these compositions have won top prizes.

For many years, Orbelyan was planning to write an oratorio dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. He passed away on April 24, 2014.

“During my visits to Armenia in the past, I always enjoyed attending my uncle’s rehearsals and concerts, and remember his huge success not only in his native Armenia, but all over Russia and the Soviet Union, as well as some 40 countries around the world,” his nephew said.

“Honoring the artistic legacy of my beloved uncle with our concert in Goris has been one of my most thrilling experiences since the start of my tenure with the Yerevan Opera House,” the Maestro continued. “This has been one fabulous concert, for which I would like to convey my profound gratitude to Minister of Culture Lilit Makunts, whose initiative and support have been absolutely instrumental; all of the brilliant and dedicated musicians of the Armenian State Jazz Band and its artistic director, Armen Hyusnunts; and, last but certainly not least, our energetic, passionate audience, whose presence made the event all the more worthwhile!”

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