Noubar Aslanyan: The Composer
by Boris Turchinsky
Armenia… A silent question,
A soul of love, the only one,
You have been carved from women’s tears
From stones, and sorrows, and the sun.
© “Armenia” by Albina Sadovskaya
The “Festive Fanfares”
The “Festive Fanfares”: such was the name for the large concert of “Merkaz Yuval” music center’s wind orchestra. The concert held in Haifa Auditorium marked the 70th birthday of the composer Noubar Aslanyan. The spectators granted him a standing ovation and saluted each of his pieces with applause.
Our conversation started right after the show and right on the stage which was still full of flowers from the grateful audience of Haifa.
- Dear Noubar, I’ve read a lot about you on the internet. However, it was all mostly about your music.
And now, let us tell our readers first about how little Noubar got acquainted with the world of art. Who or what was the trigger for that?
This is a rather sad story of a boy from a poor family…
I was born in Greece in 1943, but our family relocated to Yerevan later.
I had to start working as a construction man after I finished 7-year school just to be able to buy a new pair of trousers and a harmonica I was dreaming about. When my Mom learned about it, she got me out of there, but by that time I had enough money to buy all that plus a new shirt. Later, I enrolled at the evening shift electromechanic college. I had to work, so I found a job at the All-Union Electric Equipment Research Institute, and I kept working there for ten years.
We had a mandolin at home, and we all used to play it – it was our legacy from our father who had passed away very young. In Greece, our father played guitar, mandolin, accordion and violin in a band. He was a musically gifted man, and I think I’ve inherited that from him. Besides, we also had his French horn at home.
It seems as I was fifteen, a neighbor I was friends with said he was going to go to the Palace of the Pioneers to have his musical abilities tested, and that he wanted to start learning to play a musical instrument. “Lets’ go together”, he suggested.
At the entrance exam for music college I played my pieces: waltzes, foxtrots, tangos… I was admitted and put into the class of the composer Grigor Akhinyan, whom I really owe a huge debt to.
Years went by, and as I was passing the state exams, the examination board was chaired the same composer who accepted me into the college some years ago – the famous Eduard Baghdasaryan. He looked at me for a moment, and then he said: “Noubar, look what kind of stuff you entered with (tangos, a waltz) and what kind of things you’re leaving with! I was graduating with a string quartet and a concerto for flute and orchestra. By the way, the concerto was performed the same year by State Chamber Orchestra of Armenia, and then it was also performed at the conference of Baltic and Transcaucasian Republics.
By that time I had already left the institute and I had enrolled at the conservatory. I was composing, was married with a son. I was studying composition in the composer’s Grigor Egiazaryan’s class. And in 1973, I graduated from Komitas State Conservatory of Yerevan.
Step by step, I was growing professionally, and my family was very supportive. My son started learning to play the piano when he was seven and started learning to play the trumpet later. My daughter also followed her Dad’s footsteps: she finished the conservatory’s composition department. My wife, Alla, has been teaching music theory, sol-fa and piano at a music school for twenty years!
Mr. Aslanyan has lived in Israel since 1994. He mostly occupies himself with composing. Noubar’s pieces have a distinct Armenian spirit, while some of them have the features of traditional Jewish music. Besides, he writes in multiple different styles and genres.
His pieces are well-known both among performers and among students. I am talking about his pieces for solo instruments and vocal soloists, choral music, music for chamber, wind and symphonic orchestras.
One of his favorite styles is “program music” depicting the events happening around us or going on in his life. I am not exaggerating by saying that Noubar continues the traditions of such prominent Armenian composers as A. Khachaturian, A. Spendiarov, G. Yeghiazaryan, G. Akhinyan, E. Oganesian, E. Mirzoyan and others.
His pieces have been performed in the USA, Canada, in the former Yugoslavia states, Greece, Bulgaria, Sweden, Switzerland, South Korea, Germany, on the territory of the former USSR, in Armenia, Israel.
So, Israel. How did Your New Homeland Greet You?
- This is my traditional question for all repatriating musicians. Noubar, what were your first impressions of reality in the new country and how do you feel about it today?
- Well, our occupation is the only profession which is trusted here is Israel: people don’t say we bribed someone to get our diplomas. As I had been a member of the Union of Composers of the USSR, I was accepted into the Union of the Composers of Israel, and I have been a member ever since.
- What kind of inspiration did the land of Israel give you?
The first piece I wrote here was the sonata for solo cello «Entebbe-20». I dedicated it to Yonatan Netanyahu, who perished in 1976 on the hostage-rescue mission… This sonata was performed at the beginning of a festive concert dedicated to the 56th anniversary of the independence of Israel in 2004 in Yerevan.
Then, I was introduced to different music bands, such as “Kinneret” and “Zamir”, who started playing my quartettes; I was invited to work in Sweden, later, I was invited to represent Israel in South Korea. My a capella cantata “The Feast of Booths (Sukkot)” was performed by Polish Radio Choir, and I must say, this was probably the best performance of this piece.
- Noubar, tell us about your friendship and cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces Orchestra.
- This wonderful orchestra has performed my three pieces: “Dream of a Soldier”, “The Speed March” and “Troopers Don’t Give Up”. I’d like to express my gratitude to Michael Yaaran, the ex-conductor, who followed the traditions of the famous military orchestra music performer in our country, the conductor and composer Izhak Graziani.
In 2007, the Ministry of Defense organized a contestant for the best military march. Quote by M. Yaaran:
“Being the Principal Conductor of the Israel Defense Forces Orchestra, I had to pick the winners out of 70 pieces written by our contestants. It was a very interesting job, but also a very challenging one. As I was working, I marked three marches which were different from the rest due to their originality and their rich, professional orchestration. The power and the beauty of their music reminded me of marches by Alexander Chernetsky, co-founder of the genre of Russian military march. There was another thing I liked: all the marches by the author I picked resembled of traditional Armenian music. I’m happy to hear he’s a famous composer and his pieces have been performed not only in Israel and Armenia, but all around the world. Much health and much inspiration to Noubar!
As a token of gratitude and respect to the military orchestra and to Michael Yaaran, Noubar Aslanyan wrote the piece “A Walk”, which he gave as a gift to the orchestra and their conductor. The original note sheet is a part of Michael Yaaran’s musical archive. The composer named his piece “A Walk” as he believes that apart from the duty to defend their country, the soldiers have their private lives: their families, their girlfriends and their hometown they keep going back to. In short, it’s all very lyrical…
The Seven Most Important Pieces
- Noubar, you are a composer writing all sorts of genres. Do you find some of your pieces to be of primary importance?
- First of all, it’s my “Cantata for a mixed choir”, my three instrumental concertos (for clarinet, trumpet, and for trombone), string quartet (which I dedicated to my parents), the “Elegy” for string instruments and piano (which I dedicated to my mother) and the Sonata for the piano. All of these are what I call my program pieces. However, to me, all of my pieces are like my children, I love all of them equally.
- I know about your friendship and communication with many musicians in Armenia, the country that you are very fond of.
- I used to work as principal conductor of a wind orchestra, but my work was not only limited to music. I also was a MP and I helped many. And I’ve been helped by many as well. Probably, the Lord sees it all and repays us. My daughter went to Yerevan to for the oral defense of her thesis. As she came back to Haifa, she told me: “Dad, your voters are looking for you!”
I communicate with a lot of musicians and conductors. You’ve mentioned the many concerts I’ve had in Yerevan. Whenever I’m there, there are always meetings, long talks… Today, we are lucky to have these new opportunities for communication. It certainly gives us more freedom. It’s like Armenia got a bit closer.
- Tell us something about your meetings with famous performers, conductors and composers.
- I’ll tell a funny one. It happened in 1972 in Moscow at the All-Union Plenary Meeting of Young Composers at the House of Composers of the USSR.
On the first floor, they were selling notes and records. A friend tipped me that they had the vinyl records of the fourteenth symphony by Shostakovich – the new one.
I nearly worshipped this composer! I ran downstairs and bought three records at once. As I came back up to the hall, all of a sudden I saw three great composers of the time: D. Kabalevsky, T. Khrennikov, A. Khachaturian and beside them was… Dmitriy Shostakovich!
My first thought was I’d go and ask Shostakovich to sign a vinyl, as I wanted his autograph! But… I was a scaredy-cat and couldn’t make myself come near him. I’ve been regretting ever since.
Quote by Noubar’s spouse, Alla:
“Noubar is a gifted and a hard-working man. As his wife, I’ve been trying to maintain his comfort, so that nothing would distract him when he works. “Silence, Daddy’s writing music!” were the words our kids heard very often. But I am also a professional musician and I’ve always been my husband’s first audience. However, as the kids grew up and became musicians as well, Noubar received three new spectators and judges – the kindest ones! Apart from being a good husband, Noubar is a great father and grandfather!
On April 24th, 2015, the world commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Genocide of Armenians. A series of concerts was dedicated to this sad event. One of the most memorable ones was the
one of the National Philharmonic Orchestra with their principal conductor and artistic director, Eduard Topchjan who is also a Meritorious Worker of Art of Armenia. Here is what he says:
“Noubar Aslanyan is a very interesting composer, a very original one. He has mastered multiple musical genres. Many of his greatest pieces have been performed in Armenia. I was the one who arranged the premiere of his “Concert-poem” for trumpet and symphonic orchestra, which was dedicated to the genocide of the Armenian nation in 1915. The solo was performed by the wonderful Israeli trumpeter Ram Oren who was very easy to communicate and work with. It was a big success”.
Let’s now listen to Ram Oren:
- I was honored to be the first performer of his concert-poem “The Braves of Sipan” for trumpet and orchestra in Armenia in 2015. Noubar’s music cannot go unnoticed, it charms you and it keeps you on the edge of your seat.
I did my best to both convey the composer’s idea and to put my own emotions into the piece I was performing. I hope I did it right: judging by the Armenian spectators’ reaction, they were deeply moved by the music.
I wish much of inspiration to Noubar. We, the musicians of Israel, are looking forward to many interesting pieces, and I’d be delighted to perform any of his new pieces for the trumpet.
A Colleague about a Colleague: Boris Levenberg, Composer
It so happens that Noubar Aslanyan and I have something in common apart from being colleagues: we both had some absorption problems as we repatriated to Israel in the aliyah of the 90th, and
we happened to be neighbors. I remember our Saturday walks through our part of Haifa. I felt like I met an interesting guy whose views on music and composition were very close to mine. It was nice to know we both hummed the same favorite tunes from Shostakovich’s symphonies! I was also charmed by his great sense of humor. You see, I first got acquainted with Noubar as a person, and I heard his music later. However, as I listened to his pieces, I wasn’t disappointed: on the contrary, it made me like him and respect him even more. The world of Noubar’s music struck me by the number of different genres, I was stunned with Noubar’s serious approach to composing and by everything he achieved. In his music, I feel his deep love to Armenian folk motives which is very natural for Noubar. Many of his pieces are tragic, as is the fate of this ancient, most wonderful and hard-working nation.
Moving and Insightful Music
To understand the composer and to learn more about his music, I went to youtube and… I spent a long time there.
The concerto for trombone, the “Elegy” for four trumpets, the “Walk” we talked about, the sonata for cello solo, the sonata for flute and oboe, the poem for trumpet… And the concerto for clarinet. This is where I can’t help admiring the music itself and the performance by the Symphonic Orchestra and their soloist Jeffry Howard! I can relate to him, being a clarinetist myself. Having watched the video, I sent a short note of gratitude to Jeffrey. The very next day I got a message from him:
Concerning my performance of Noubar Aslanyan’s concerto, I’d like to say that I am on good terms with this amazing man and great composer. For several years, I’ve had the pleasure to play some of his pieces. I usually followed his recommendations and played them the way he wanted. Noubar is a very subtle musician and a great person. His music often has challenging technique, but it’s not only about technique. The slow parts are very moving and very insightful.
Before Noubar wrote his clarinet concerto, I performed his
“Elegy” for clarinet – and loved it. The music is amazing.
Some more details about the clarinet concerto.
The first part and the third part are typical examples of Noubar’s unique style as you feel his love to his native Armenia and to Armenian folk motives. It gave me a huge inspiration, and as I played, I was trying to feel the music, to picture Armenia as a county and a nation. To feel it the way he feels, you know? By doing that, I’ve almost felt like I was Armenian myself. And I enjoyed this transformation a lot!
We went to Armenia to perform this concerto there with the National Symphonic Orchestra. It was a grand success. It’s big honor for me and these are memories for a lifetime. I will always be proud of these memories.
You should have seen how we landed in Yerevan! Noubar was bursting with joy and happiness! And he passed this love to me by his music. I couldn’t help but love this country after I met his many friends and colleagues, some really nice people. Still inspired by that, I am planning to visit this country once again and to bring my family with me. I hope we do perform something else with the wonderful Armenian orchestra I will be always grateful to Noubar for his wonderful music!
Noubar’s son Armen is a wonderful trumpeter. Like his parents, he lives in Haifa, this great coastal city in the North which is sometimes referred to as Israel’s unofficial Northern capital. He is a conservatory teacher and a member of a symphonic orchestra and a jazz band. Here is what he says:
“If it wasn’t for my father, I wouldn’t become the musician and the man I am today!
As a child, I played in a wind orchestra and my Dad was the conductor. He dedicated some of his pieces for trumpet to me.
E.g., I played Dad’s five –part album at the concert in Haifa Auditorium in 2013.
I play both classical music and jazz with a great pleasure. The most important thing for me is the quality of the music.
I play my father’s pieces rather often. My father loves jazz, especially if jazz music is linked with folk melodies. I can relate to him, so we’re same here.
I am proud of my father and I love him very much.
A nice resume, isn’t it?..
(This article has been shortened)