To honor the 120th anniversary of Aram Khachaturian’s birth on June 6, 2023, the Eastern Diocese’s Zohrab Center held a screening of a film on the composer’s life and works. Master pianist Şahan Arzruni, who produced the film, introduced the film and offered some personal recollections of meeting Khachaturian in the 1970s.

Arzruni Remembers the Iconic Armenian Composer Aram Khachaturian, His Music and Life, in a Tribute Evening at the Eastern Diocese


By Stephan S. Nigohosian

NEW YORK — The dynamic music of venerated Soviet-Armenian composer and conductor Aram Khachaturian was explored at a special screening of “Khachaturian: An Archival Film,” on June 6 at the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America.

Best known for such groundbreaking works in the ballets “Spartacus” and “Gayane,” as well as the Masquerade Suite, Khachaturian’s infusion of Armenian-inspired musical tones and arrangements reflected the heritage he so dearly cherished.

The event, sponsored by the Diocese’s Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, marked the iconic composer’s 120th birthday. It featured introductory remarks and a question-and-answer session by pianist and composer Şahan Arzruni, whose has made it his lifelong work to promote Armenian composers and preserve their musical legacies.

Arzruni’s credentials include a master’s degree from the Juilliard School. His extensive experience and knowledge of music theory, history, and composition enabled him to highlight and convey Khachaturian’s brilliance in terms that the audience could understand and appreciate.

Şahan Arzruni, Diocesan Primate Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan, and Zohrab Center director Dr. Jesse Arlen, during the Khachaturian 120th Anniversary tribute on June 6, at the Diocesan Center in New York.

Attendees were treated to Arzruni’s personal insight into Khachaturian’s method, which he saw firsthand while collaborating with Khachaturian during one of the composer’s visits to New York City in 1972. One such session involved Arzruni inviting Khachaturian to his apartment to hear him perform his interpretation of the composer’s two albums of children’s music — which had never been recorded.

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“I thought it would be a nice opportunity to play those pieces for him in person, so my recordings would be as authentic as possible,” Arzruni recalled. He remembered performing the pieces for Khachaturian, while the maestro gracefully danced as the music washed over him.

“To illustrate the mood that the compositions should elicit, Khachaturian stood up and began ethereally dancing around the room with incredible movement of his wrists while I performed,” Arzruni said. “It was at that moment that I realized that my interpretation of his music had earned his approval.”

Arzruni also played a role in the making of “Khachaturian: An Archival Film” in 2003, to honor the centennial of the composer’s birth. Having acquired reams of archival film footage of the composer from Alorik Davityan, director of film archives in Yerevan, he faced the task of deciding how best to tell the story.

“I knew nothing about filmmaking, but I had a structure in mind of how I envisioned the film’s arc would unfold,” he said. “I worked closely with an editor here in New York, and we chose the footage we felt was the right length for a documentary, while illustrating Khachaturian’s work and genius.”

Aram Khachaturian

Promoting the Luminaries of Armenian Music

In addition to Khachaturian, Arzruni has championed the music of Komitas: the great Armenian composer, arranger, singer, choirmaster and priest.

“Whereas Khachaturian was the ambassador of contemporary Armenian music, Komitas was its founder,” he said. His intimate knowledge of Komitas’ life and work is due, in part, to a post-graduate doctoral thesis he worked on, which involved translating Komitas’ extensive written legacy of articles published in scholarly and popular journals in the late 19th-early 20th centuries.

Another subject of Arzruni’s efforts is American-Armenian composer Alan Hovhaness, regarded as one of the most prolific 20th-century American composers. “Alan and I became very good friends, and we played and recorded some of his compositions together,” he recalled.

Prior to his death in 2000, Hovhaness gave to Arzruni many of his manuscripts that had never been printed or performed professionally, with the request that he try to record them. Arzruni ultimately recorded eight of the works: a fitting tribute to his friend and colleague.

Currently, he is working on recording piano compositions that will continue to highlight the valuable contributions of Armenian composers. One greatly anticipated project will be devoted to the works of Armenian women composers.

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