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Interview with Loris Tjeknavorian: A Country That's Got It All Is Still Poor without Art


Loris Tjeknavorian is one of the most prominent composers and conductors, one of the most celebrated cultural figures in Iran and Armenia.

Loris Tjeknavorian

Born on 13 October, 1937 in Borujerd, Loris Tjeknovarian is also one of the leading conductors of his generation. He has led international orchestras throughout the world: in Austria, UK, US, Canada, Hungary, Copenhagen, Iran, Finland, Russia, Armenia, Thailand, Hong Kong, South Africa and Denmark.

As a composer, he has written many operas, symphonies, choral works, chamber music, ballet music, piano and vocal works, concerti for piano, violin, guitar and cello - not to mention soundtracks for many documentary and feature films.

His compositions have been performed by major orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Halle Orchestra, Philharmonic Orchestra Helsinki, American Symphony Orchestra in New York, Tehran Symphony Orchestra, Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra, Mexico Symphony Orchestra, London Percussion Virtuosi, Strasbourg Percussion Ensemble, and English Chamber Orchestra. He has made some 100 recordings with RCA, Philips, EMI, ASV, and others.

After all these years, the master found time to give us some insight on a range of topics, from studying classical music in Europe to living and working in different places, and more importantly, how to make it big in the industry - and a world-class and popular:

It's New Year. How was your last year?

It was good; although I'm now too old to lead an orchestra to celebrate that. I don't know how long I'll be around. Leading an orchestra is like a bird that escapes the cage and never comes back. But for those who write and compose music, the reward could last forever. It's the reason why I prefer to write and compose. I wrote The Great Darius Symphony which took several years to finish. I premiered my latest classical work in San Francisco to a great reception. I also wrote an hour-long opera for TV.

I like Sadeq Hedayat and his literary modernism. I might write some music about his life and works. I have always been a huge fan, fascinated with how he spent his last hours in that apartment. I have read his novels The Blind Owl and Buried Alive. I even wrote a scenario about those last hours. Hedayat had asked an Armenian friend to visit him before his death, which means he had staged everything. Hedayat committed suicide by gassing himself in a rented apartment in Paris on April 9, 1951.

Q-How about music?

Soloists should be allowed to perform as well. They can always be our cultural ambassadors to other parts of the world. Classical music is like the English language that everyone understands. It could represent any country or culture. It's about time we took care of our performers with higher salaries, just like our football players. A country that's got it all is still poor without art.


Contemporary music is no longer able to create or evoke memories. What happened?

I think some memorable works are still being made out there. The problem is, they never reach their audiences. These works will resurface in a 50 years time and only then will people find out what they missed. Some music works become popular during the lifetime of an artist. But that doesn't mean the next generation will like them too. I always say I want to compose for future generations. I don't live for today. If people tell me I'm a popular musician, I wouldn't buy it. Their compliments are not real. It's the future generation that I'm after. If they like my works, that will be the real compliment.

To put it in context, when you construct a building using standard procedures and materials, it will last for a long period of time. The same is true about an art work and its longevity. If we create it for today, it will be remembered for today. There will be no eternity.

We like reading Hafez. His poems are still music to our ears after so many centuries. His scientific knowledge helped him make his poems eternal. When an artist becomes a celebrity during his lifetime, it does in no way mean he has made it. We might not know many contemporary artists. But still they will be remembered for many generations to come. It's now very easy for the new generation to listen to the past one hundred years of music and tell which ones were great.

What are the key qualities in a professional musician?

An artist should always live among his or her people. He has nothing from himself. Whatever he has is from his people. A true artist reciprocates that favour. An artist that fails to live like his people will never succeed. He borrows ideas from people and turns them into an art form. Poets like Hafez and Molana didn't create love. Love was there since eternity. They just added their own unique flavours to it. Likewise, Ferdowsi didn't create Rostam for his Book of Kings. Rostam had been there long before he began writing his epic book. He just made him the unique protagonist of his story. Meaning, he borrowed from the folklore and paid it back later. That's what made him great. Similarly, a world-class musician should live among his people. He should never assume that his time is far more precious than others.

We have had top-notch soloists in recent years. Which one is key to the success of a symphony orchestra, the performer or the leader?

We have some great soloists in Iran. The problem is, they have no place to perform. How could you find out there are top football players around when there is no field to play and show their talents? We cannot judge our soloists when they get no change to perform.

Another problem is that our musicians have limited resources. A good soloist has to perform publicly several times a year to stay in the game. There is no other way to develop and grow, let alone become famous. A pianist always playing at home will never become a world-class pianist. The long road to success begins with performing live on the stage.

The point is, people are vitamin intakes for musicians. We should never separate them. The same is true about a symphony orchestra. You cannot separate the performers and the conductor. It's like solving the riddle of one hand clapping. With one hand, no clapping happens at all. They are part and parcel of each other. They can only do well if they work together as a team and in coordination. Symphony orchestra is the biggest and the hardest ensemble in the world. To get the idea, performers could strike half a million classical notes in one single performance.

Speaking of classical music, why is it not popular in Iran?

Literature is popular over here - although more people read newspapers than the poems of Hafez. Classical music is an integral part of any given culture. We have to find its proper place in our culture too. Kids in Europe start going to classical music concerts from an early age. This is yet to be the case here. Even in places where people don't listen to classical music, they still support it. After the Second World War, first thing the people of Austria did was to build an opera house and a concert hall. In their words, it makes no sense for our workers to build factories when they don't have culture.

Why did you choose classical music as a profession?

-I was meant to be a classical music composer. I fell in love with it when I went to listen to a symphony orchestra in Armenia. I was five years old and it had a profound impact on me. At the age of 17, I went to study classical music in Vienna. After graduation I returned to Iran.

How do you see the future of music?

Music is here to stay. It was here when God decided to create the human being. It will still be here when the world ends. Every generation has its own taste for music. No one can control or direct it.

... Payvand News - 01/18/17 ... --

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