Vladimir Agopov

Vladimir Agopov: A Finnish Composer with Armenian Roots

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YEREVAN/HELSINKI — Finnish composer Vladimir Agopov (born 1953, Lugansk, Ukraine) graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1977 after studying with major Soviet composers Aram Khachaturian (composition) and Edison Denisov (instrumentation). In 1978 he emigrated to Finland. From 1982 to 2021, he taught at the Sibelius Academy of Music. Since 1982, he has been a member of the Finnish Composers’ Union. In 1985, Agopov’s piece for solo violin, Ergo, won second prize at the Composers’ Competition of the Sibelius International Violin Competition. In 2013, Agopov’s piece, Solveig’s Dreams for Harp Solo, won first prize at the Grieg Composition Competition (Norway), while his vocal cycle set to Blake’s poems won first prize at the “Lied – 2017” Composition Competition. His work, Prayer, for male choir was performed at the “World Music Days 2019” festival. Among Agopov’s most important works are Music for chamber orchestra (prize at the Finnish National Composers’ Competition, 1982), Concerto for Cello and Orchestra Tres viae (1984/1987), Settembre for large orchestra (2004), Concerto for Orchestra Homage to Master (2013), Concerto for Organ and Orchestra Notre Dame (2022), Blackbird Variations for soprano and orchestra (2018), two string quartets (2012), etc., as well as a number of arrangements for various ensembles.

Agopov’s works have been performed at various festivals in Finland (Kuhmo, Naantali, Korsholm) and other countries, such as the International Festival of Arts, New York, the 13th World Harp Congress in Hong Kong, “Moscow Autumn 2019” and others.

Dear Mr. Agopov, I first learnt about you when I was working on an article about Armenian-Finnish historical and cultural relations. You are now considered a Finnish composer, as you have lived and created in Finland for most of your life. How would you characterize the state of symphonic music in Sibelius’ homeland?

We can say that today’s symphonic music scene in Finland is at a very high level. Composers such as Magnus Lindberg and especially the recently deceased female composer Kaija Saariaho are major figures in contemporary music. In addition to them, Finland has a large group of composers whose works are performed by the world’s leading orchestras. In addition, there is a strong Finnish conducting school, whose representatives promote the work of Finnish composers all over the world.

Finland always had a small number of Armenians. Before you, composer Nathan Knyazev (Amirkhanyan) lived and worked in that country for a short time. How did you end up in Finland?

Nathan Knyazev is not mentioned in any Finnish sources known to me and I have not met any evidence of his life in Finland. As to me, I moved to Finland for family reasons, as my wife is Finnish.

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What are your memories of Aram Khachaturian?

Studying for five years in Aram Khachaturian’s class was a great happiness. I still remember many of his remarks and comments on my compositions or those of his other students. Once, after listening to my work, he said: “Volodya, it is well written, but it does not scrape my heart.” Aram Ilyich wanted his every pupil to have his own character, his own style, and that the music in general not to leave listeners indifferent. That is why his pupils differ so much from one another. Enough to recall the names of Mikael Tariverdiev, Alexei Rybnikov or Kirill Volkov.

It is written about you that in your creative work you combine layers of different musical cultures. Does it also include Armenian music?

It seems to me that very different layers can be combined in the works of modern composers, as there is a huge amount of music in the world. The work of Alfred Schnittke is a wonderful example of combining different layers. I myself rarely think about musical layers, rather I try to give each composition an individual appearance. But sometimes some melodies or rhythms in the depths of memory can influence the creative process. For example, in one of my pieces for solo harp, the rhythms of an Armenian dance I heard in my childhood somehow spontaneously appeared.

I believe your ancestors were Hagopians. Where were they from?

Yes, that is right. My grandfather was Hagopian. When he moved to Russia, he became Agopov, and when my father was issued a passport, they wrote down Agopov in Russian, by analogy with the surname Agapov. On my mother’s side I have relatives from Artvin, on my father’s side I do not know exactly.

“Portrait of Vladimir Agopov” by Aramais Avetisyan (Finland, 1936-2009)

Were there Armenian traditions in the family, such as language, music, church, cuisine?

Unfortunately, I do not speak the language. My mother spoke it well, but my father did not speak it, because after his father’s deprivation, he had to hide who he was. Therefore, our family spoke Russian. There was no Armenian church in Lugansk, so I was baptized in the local Orthodox church. But music was different. I remember from my childhood, when relatives gathered, Armenian music was played, though from records. But I have known Armenian cuisine since childhood, my mother and grandmother often cooked Armenian dishes.

Do you maintain contacts with the Armenians of Finland?

Yes, but not as closely as before. There are big disagreements on political issues in the Diaspora, so we rarely get together.

 Have you been to Armenia and do you have connections with Armenian composers?

Unfortunately, I have never been to Armenia, but it is in my plans to visit. I have no ties with Armenian composers, but I do follow the work of some of them. One of the most interesting composers with Armenian roots for me is Yuri Kasparov from Moscow. He also graduated from the Moscow Conservatoire, but later than me, so we did not meet in Moscow.

Friedrich Nietzsche said: “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Do you agree?

It is absolutely true. Much has been written about music. That architecture is frozen music, or that where words end, music begins, etc. But more than that, for me music reflects the times in which the composers who compose it live. As I said in another interview, the characteristic features of contemporary music became apparent at the World Music Days in Tallinn. I attended many concerts there, and the surprising thing was that, with few exceptions, composers from all over the world presented very aggressive, even angry music. I do not know if it was a reflection of the world around us or something else. It was as if there was nothing bright left in our world. But I myself think in terms of goodness.

Thank you for your answers, Mr. Agopov! I wish you good health and that one day your works will also be heard in Armenia!

 

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