Aram Satyan after a recent performance of one of his compositions

Armenian Composers’ Union President Takes Measure of Group on 90th Anniversary

81
0

WATERTOWN — Composer Aram Satyan is reaching the end of the second term of his presidency of the Composers Union of Armenia. First elected in October 2013, and reelected in 2017 for a five-year term, he discussed some of his major achievements and the current state of the union.

Aram Satyan at the Aram Satunts Music School of Khndzoresk Village in 2022. Satunts was Aram Satyan’s father and was himself a noted composer. The display in the background provides information and photos of various members of the Satyan family who were all involved in music. Aram Satyan’s uncle Ashot Satyan, for example, was the author, among other things, of the famous song “Yes im anush Hayastani.”

This was prefaced with a discussion of the use of the loanword composer in Armenian, kompozitor, used in the name of the union. Satyan explained that there was no appropriate word in Armenian covering all its meanings. There are words like yergahan (songwriter) which are too narrow in meaning — “We cannot call Beethoven a songwriter, for example!” he exclaimed, and others like steghtzagortsogh (creator) that are too broad because they apply to many fields. Instead, he said, “The word composer is used throughout the world, and I think it is not possible to translate it. If the whole world uses this word, why should we not use it too? Many nations use words taken from other languages and thus enrich their own language. With the word kompozitor we thus enrich our language.”

The union was founded in 1932 to promote the compositions and scholarly musicological works of its members and the international knowledge of Armenian music and musicology.

Aram Satyan at the start of the series of concerts dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the Composers Union of Armenia

Supporting the Membership

The membership of the union, professional musicians and musicologists, has remained stable in recent years at approximately 140 members, of whom 25-30 percent live outside of Armenia. There are five active branches or sections, which specialize in different types of music: folk, jazz and pop, classical chamber and symphonic, choral, and children’s. Each branch has its own leader and committees which select compositions.

The largest branch is the one devoted to classical music. The children or young people’s branch has printed three collections of children’s songs, which then are performed by choirs and groups on television and radio. “We do this so that in a short period of time children will be exposed to and begin to like Armenian music,” Satyan said.
There is also the Young Composers Forum of the Composers Union, reorganized in 2018. It recently has presented two concerts of its members’ compositions, including a performance of chamber music compositions by young composers in the Aram Khachaturian Museum in Yerevan.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

The Composers Union in the Soviet era was able to help many members. Today, it gives some financial assistance to 6 young composers who need support, as well as to 12 composers over 80 years old. He said, “It is both to show the senior members that they have not been forgotten and to inspire them, as well as to help the young composers so that they can at least take care of themselves.” The amount, 20,000 drams (approximately $50) is not that much, he said, but this is all that the union can afford at present through its own means.

To put things in perspective, he pointed out that at one point the union could not even pay the salaries of the 15 people on staff at its two buildings. They are guards, cleaners, and administrative workers. Now it can pay them regularly, he said, and he hoped that it would also be in a position to increases the assistance it provided to members in the future.

The union does everything possible to defend the copyright of composers to their works. He said that there is an Armenian state agency, the Intellectual Property Office (a division of the Ministry of Economy), which works to assure the rights of authors in the creative realm. It is connected to various international US and European organizations in the same sphere.

Aram Satyan hands over musical publications for the House of Culture at Nerkin Karmir Aghpyur Village in the Bert area of Tavush Province at the Armenian border

In Armenia, Satyan said, “There may be incidents when people unknowingly use a melody without payment in exchange. We first apply to the Intellectual Property Office, which sends letters, and then if necessary, applies to court according to the relevant clauses of the law.”

In Satyan’s period as president, the union created for the first time its own website, http://composers.am/, as well as a Facebook page, in order to spread the news of the accomplishments of its members and its own activities.

Performance Halls and Properties

The union has its headquarters in Yerevan on Derenik Demirchyan Street, where there is a recording studio and a hall which can hold an audience of 150. Painted directly on the wall of the hall is Martiros Saryan’s well known mural called “Hayastan,” which dates from 1958. Satyan explained that this year the union renovated the hall, but the entire building lacks heating. Negotiations are taking place to explore costs for the latter.

Martiros Saryan painting “Hayastan” displayed in the main hall of the Composers Union in Yerevan

The union also has a resort in Dilijan founded in 1963 called the Edvard Mirzoyan Composers House of Creativity, which extends over 11 hectares and includes guest cottages. All sorts of famous musicians, composers and writers have visited this historic resort, including Aram Khachaturyan, Benjamin Britten, Krzysztof Meyer, Giya Kancheli, Philip Glonti, Mstislav Rostropovich, Galina Vishnevskaya, Rodion Shchedrin, Anna Zegers and Hans Buchholz.

Satyan said that since its opening, very few changes took place there for nearly 60 years, but today, practically the whole place is being renovated to provide a comfortable place for composers as well as guests from abroad. He said that now there is also a restaurant with affordable prices, and music festivals can be held there with pride. The majority of the renovations have been completed already, and in three to four months the remainder will be done.

The Mirzoyan resort has a large hall with excellent acoustics for performances in Dilijan, which can hold up to 600 people. The renovation of this hall, Satyan said, is a much greater expense compared to that of Yerevan. It will cost around 400 million dram, which is the equivalent of close to $1 million. The union cannot do this alone so it is attempting now to find people who can assist in this restoration project.

Aram Satyan at Shinuhayr Village of the Tatev Municipality of Syunik Province this year, which is at the border of Armenia

90th Anniversary Celebrations

The 90th anniversary of the founding of the Composers Union has been celebrated this year in a number of ways.

An extensive series of music festivals was held in various parts of Armenia at which around 50 compositions, symphonic, chamber music, choral and songs were presented, of which 25 were premieres, Satyan said.

A poster advertising one of the concerts dedicated to the celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Composers Union of Armenia, with the support of the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport

The union organized 12 concerts with songwriters in border areas of Armenia and Artsakh, first going to Zangezur and then Artsakh this May, and then in August to the Tavush area. Satyan said that what is important is that the Composers Union stands in solidarity with its homeland and has assumed a certain cultural responsibility accordingly. During each visit, the musicians met with local school children and adults, and donated 10 different handbooks of the compositions of Armenian composers, which were largely published with the aid of the Composers Union.

In Aghavno, Artsakh, the concert was the last one to be given in this town. Satyan said during the visit, the musicians learned about why the residents did not want to leave. Patriotic songs were performed as well as newly composed songs about Aghavno itself, and this, he said, played a big role in bolstering the local population.

During these trips, in addition to musical scores and manuals, instruments were donated. For example, a grand piano was donated to the musical school of Khndzoresk Village.

Satyan exclaimed: “Our people living on the borders must understand that we are at their side. Armenia itself is a borderland, and Yerevan is a borderland too. Each person must understand that only by standing together can we overcome all difficulties.”

A special exhibition was inaugurated on October 7 in what for Armenia was an unusual space – a subway station, as part of the Art in the Metro series. The Yeritasardakan [Youth] Metro is particularly used by youth, as indicated by its very name, and this October it is festooned with an exhibition of posters presenting the history of the union and the achievements of its composers. Archival materials were provided by the Armenian National Archives, and Yerevan’s state subway and the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport contributed in its preparation. Satyan said that the venue inspired great interest in the public.

 

Beyond domestic productions, Satyan said that over the past seven or eight years, a number of the works of composers in the union were performed in Canada, United States, France, Greece, Russia, and Beirut, Lebanon. In other words, the union was able as much as possible to make Armenian music known and heard abroad.

Satyan said, “During all this time, I was able to bring the Composers Union to the level that we can fund competitions with the money that we earn, and do our music festivals.” The Armenian state has aided individual programs, he said, and this has continued through the various changes in regime.

For example, he said next year the union will organize a big jazz festival to be called “Pan Armenian Jam,” with the participation of Armenians living in some 60 different countries who are active in this field. The union is doing this on its own but asks the state to add its logo and show that it too is happy with what is being done. Satyan said that during collaboration with the jazz college in Armenia and the youth symphonic orchestra, “they perceive what is necessary for us, and we at the same time give them the product of the work of the composers. This collaboration also appears during working with the state. There are various proposals and grants, and the state on its part attempts to help, but we remain independent.”

Satyan’s Plans

Satyan said that he continues to work on his own compositions as much as possible while in office. He has written an opera based on Ernst Theodor Hoffmann’s works called “Little Zaches,” which he hopes will be published one day, and also has finished a symphonic poem, “Macbeth.” He has composed a trilogy including the latter piece as well as a waltz in memory of Maurice Ravel, and another piece inspired by “Hamlet.” However, Satyan, who is the author of the rock opera “Lilit,” various concertos and symphonies, works for chamber orchestra, hundreds of pop songs and music for film and theater, said that the majority of his time remains devoted to the work of the Composers Union.

The next election for president of the union will take place on October 30. Satyan said that if he is elected, he plans to finish the projects he has started as much as possible, and then leave administrative work in order to turn back to his creative world. Among his plans for the union are to complete the expensive renovation of the Dilijan resort hall, fix the Dilijan roads, and raise funds for the heating system for the union headquarters in Yerevan. He also wishes to create what he calls a “musical matenadaran,” by putting the musical library of the union in order. This means both the physical preservation of scores and books as well as renovations of the library itself. Digitalization is part of this project of making Armenian music accessible, along with continued efforts at having the works of Armenian composers performed and heard.

Satyan emphasized that “what is most important is that our music can go before an international public, so that all understand that after Komitas and Khachaturyan a new generation has been born which represents Armenian music. We are all one team in international musical development. No one must think that Armenian music has fallen behind or does not accomplish anything. We want more people to listen to pure Armenian music. Today our members create values which can become lasting not only for Armenia but the entire world.”

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: