BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
“At this time when we cannot ignore the suffering in Ukraine, we also honor through our music the Armenian people, victims of genocide in 1915, by looking at what they lost and what it means to be lost.” –Pianist Marta Aznavoorian
Multiple Grammy-nominated pianist Marta Aznavoorian chose April 24, the 107th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide when 1.2 million women, children, and the elderly were arrested and exiled on death marches from Turkey, as the release date of her album Gems From Armenia. She and her sister, cellist Ani Aznavoorian, will perform music from the album, which spotlights music from their ancestral homeland, at the Music Institute of Chicago’s concert May 15th in Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston.
“We were raised in the Chicago area, but we look back two and three generations to see what it must have been like for those brave people who survived to abandon their own country and enter a new one. We reflect on Ukraine and the Holocaust as well. Even after 100 years, the Armenian community still feels the impact of that genocide,” she says.
The Cedille Records’ album marks the recording debut of her and her sister’s joint ensemble, the Aznavoorian Duo. She describes the Armenian music chosen for her CD as “very melancholy, very passionate, all in a minor mode.” Among the works that the Aznavoorian Duo have chosen will be by the Armenian priest, Komitas, the composer, musicologist, and singer thought to be the founder of the Armenian national school of music.
During the genocide, he was one of the many Armenian intellectuals arrested and sent to a prisoner of war camp by the Ottomans. A few years before the genocide, Komitas spent summers in the Armenian countryside, developing a close relationship with villagers, transcribing and preserving rural Armenian songs that became his book of 50 songs. In saving and recording so many of these folk songs, Komitas is thought to have saved the cultural heritage of Western Armenia.
“Komitas documented thousands of songs, which have survived. Even though he survived the genocide and was finally moved to a hospital in Paris, the atrocities that he saw were too much for him,” Aznavoorian explains.
The program also features selections from the CD, including works by Alexander Arutiunian, Arno Babajanian, Aram Khachaturian, Serouj Kradjian, Vache Sharafyan, and Avet Terterian.
Aznavoorian grew up in Barrington in a family that loved classical music: “I often performed at church as I was growing up, and I think my father always hoped that my brother, sister, and I would perform as a trio. I began my classes at the Music Institute as a young child and studied there until college.”
She continues, “The Music Institute has really expanded in recent years and offers education at a very high level. There are many more live performances and efforts to make its music accessible for all. I love exploring music with my students, both children and adults. I am teaching most of the day, with travels to performances usually every other weekend.”
Having performed internationally as an orchestral soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the New World Symphony, and many other acclaimed institutions, she is a founding member of the celebrated Lincoln Trio, which has toured the world with its performances.
A faculty member in the Music Institute’s Piano Department since 1999, she recently was named to the prestigious position as Artist in Residence. This position, made possible by the support of Jim Stone, encourages, promotes, and rewards excellence in musicianship and instruction while acknowledging excellent faculty contributions to their field, the Institute, and the community. She is expanding her ambassadorial work for the Music Institute to support performances, master classes, community outreach, and fundraising activities.
Aznavoorian, also a lecturer at the DePaul School of Music, has recently founded Keynote Productions, a non-profit which awards scholarships to underserved students wanting to further their musical education.
On teaching online during the pandemic, she says, “In that dark and lonely time, I discovered that this was a very nice alternative. I still have students who prefer to study online and if someone is feeling a little sick, you don’t have to worry. I love to teach and this is a great opportunity for me too, so even when I am on the road, we have been able to carry on with my students’ love of music.”
Though she feels she is not yet at the “finish line” of her career, Aznavoorian is enjoying all that she does and the close relationships she has with places like the Music Institute: “I have great admiration for Mark George, the Institute’s president and CEO, who with all his other accomplishments has made the faculty feel like family to one another. As Artist in Residence, I am asked to represent the Institute whose mission is very compatible to my own. I now have more opportunities to make decisions, be more of a presence in my master classes, and cultivate our mission.”
The Aznavoorian Duo will perform Sunday, May 15, at 3 p.m. at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston. The performance also will be available online streaming live. For more information, visit nicholsconcerthall.org.