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Monday, 29 October 2007
The power of music

"It sounds like our music."  That was the reaction when I played the music of Alan Hovhaness both in Ankara and in Adana.

After the Adana performance, the following extraordinary correspondence developed between my Armenian and Turkish friends:

Dear Mr. Alexan Zakyan; As you know, at Adana we (Cukurova Music Friends Association) realized the third international music festival and Mr. Berkofsky was our visitor again. He has given two wonderful concerts both in Mersin and Adana. Mr. Berkofsky gave his concert on the third day of the festival and his programme was combined with Chopin, Schubert, Liszt musics and also at the first half of the concert he played one of the musics of Armenian composer Alan Hovhaness: "Dawn on the Mountain of Initiation, Op. 303" and while listening this music -as always- I felt the Turkish and Armenian musics are very close to each other... I suddenly saw that the musics of two nations are coming from the same roots and this music is calling two nations to be brothers and peace. I was very happy to listen Mr. Hovhaness's music and I took a photocopy of this music from Mr. Berkofsky.

Mr. Berkofsky also gave a master class to the piano students of the Adana conservatory and on the third day just after the last student finished his playing all the students who took place at the master course, Mr. Berkofsky, piano teachers of the Adana conservatory and me went to the top of a hill which looks directly to the Adana city and made a little ceremony to show our respects to the persons who creates music for the peace, humanity and brotherhood. At this ceremony a CD of Mr. Hovhaness put down to the ground with the symbols which shows Turkey and Armenia and Mr. Berkofsky had a little speech to the students about the importance of peace in the world. It was almost dark and we had to turn back.

After this ceremony we met with Mr. Berkofsky at the dinner. Everybody was very happy and full of energy for looking towards. We decided to realize our best for the future. On that night Mr. Berkofsky went back to US and the other day we opened our eyes to a world which was full of sun and lights. I only wanted to share my feelings and ideas with you. Please give our best wishes to all your friends.

Tugrul Gogus


Dear Tugrul,

Thank you so much for your email. I am happy that in Turkey are people like you and we have much to do for bringing peace to our nations. We are open to cooperate and I think that the music is the best friend for this.

Best Regards, Alexan



(Quoted with permission.)

Dear Martin,

Firstly, I am touched with your news about the honouring ceremony for Mr. Haroutioun Chakmakjian, an Adana born Armenian and father of composer Alan Hovhaness.

That is only expected from a responsibly conscious artist like you who dedicates himself for establishing peace and friendship amongst people/nations through his music.

The symbols buried down during this ceremony are well chosen.

1- Alan Hovhaness's own recording of his Symphony no. 11, titled " All Men are Brothers " reminds us our one and only roots which is long forgotten. 2- A Pomegranate calls for; "we" are not alone. 3- Turkish "eye" which is called " Nazarlik " - i.e. a talisman against Devil Eyes, is marking a good will.

I recall from history that there were many Armenian composers who created landmarks in the Turkish Classical Music. There were many Armenian architects who contributed to the Turkish architectural development with their magnificient buildings. Last but not the least, there were many Armenian statesmen who served in government in very high ranks and held important posts etc.

Turks and Armenians lived for centuries together in peace. We, the sons of our past generation and our grandchildren deserve to live in peace too.

Hence, I personally believe that this ceremony is a very important event.

Secondly, I am equally moved by the contents of the letter written by Mr. Tugrul Gogus addressed to Mr. Alexan Zakyan and the heartening reply of the latter. I fully agree with Mr. Gogus that Alan Hovhaness's music has many 'Turkish' reminiscences. It appeals to the Turkish Ear easily and captures the audience at once. That is what happened in the Mersin recital. We do wish to hear more and more of this composer in future from you and from your students.

Lastly, I request you to convey my kind regards to Mr. Alexan Zakyan and tell him that; There are many people in Turkey who are alike Mr. Gogus who are expecting an echo from Armenia.

'We' - the people who are taking sides with world peace and friendship, are not alone like the grains of a pomegranate, Under the aegis of symbolic Turkish 'eye' Nazarlik ,Turkish-Armenian relations shall prosper as ever. The music of Alan Hovhaness's music shall serve as an initial media to bring our nations together again.

With my best wishes..

Ihsan Toksoz



(Quoted with permission.)

Dear Ihsan Toksoz,

Thank you for your email. Now our two nations need more peace then ever.

I am so thankful to Mr. Berkofsky for his great heart and because of him we made a small bridge. And I hope that if we will cooperate more this bridge will be as much strong that will help our Governments to find a way of reconciliation.

From our side we are open to discuss any kind of projects which will help to this.

Best Regards,

Alexan Zakyan



(Quoted with permission.)

Dear Mr. Alexan Zakyan,

Thank you very much for your message.

Under the initiation of Mr. Martin Berkofsky and with a few exchange of messages amongst us, I believe that we have already carved a niche of goodwill mission to create a base to spead peace amongst our two nations. This is, however placing a great load of responsibility on our shoulders.

Although we are numbered on this planet by a gang of irresponsible men, our strength shall be culminated in by uniting hands to arrange reciprocal musical performances between Turkey and Armenia. Nevertheless, we should not be discouraged if there are some prejudicial hinderances.

I will spread the news of our correspondance amongst my friends who can support us. Let us do our best to realize this mission.

I hereby cite a sentence from a learned Indian gentleman whom I take pride to know personally.

" When power leads man towards arrogance, the arts remind him of his limitations.

When power narrows the areas of man's concern, art reminds him the richness and diversity of his existence.

When power corrupts, art cleanses and establishes the basic human truths which serve as the touchstone of judgement. "

S. S. KANORIA from his foreword to the book titled; Rasa - The Indian Performing Arts in the last 25 years, Volume 1. Published by Anamika Kala Sangam Research and Publications, Calcutta, 1995

Best wishes. Ihsan Toksoz


Posted by cristoforifund at 12:28 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 24 October 2007
Weapons of mass destruction

In a 1971 interview for Ararat Magazine, Alan Hovhaness was quoted:

"We are in a very dangerous period. We are in danger of destroying ourselves, and I have a great fear about this...The older generation is ruling ruthlessly. I feel that this is a terrible threat to our civilization. It's the greed of huge companies and huge organizations which control life in a kind of a brutal way...It's gotten worse and worse, somehow, because physical science has given us more and more terrible deadly weapons, and the human spirit has been destroyed in so many cases, so what's the use of having the most powerful country in the world if we have killed the soul. It's of no use"


Posted by cristoforifund at 9:00 AM EDT
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A credo for all musicians

Alan Hovhaness had applied many times for a Guggenheim Fellowship before his application was finally accepted-and then renewed.  In one of his early applications he stated a  credo which seemed universal to all of us:

"I propose to create an heroic, monumental style of composition simple enough to inspire all people, completely free from fads, artificial mannerisms and false sophistications, direct, forceful, sincere, always original but never unnatural. Music must be freed from decadence and stagnation. There has been too much emphasis on small things while the great truths have been overlooked. The superficial must be dispensed with. Music must become virile to express big things. It is not my purpose to supply a few pseudo intellectual musicians and critics with more food for brilliant argumentation, but rather to inspire all mankind with new heroism and spiritual nobility. This may appear to be sentimental and impossible to some, but it must be remembered that Palestrina, Handel, and Beethoven would not consider it either sentimental or impossible. In fact, the worthiest creative art has been motivated consciously or unconsciously by the desire for the regeneration of mankind."

Posted by cristoforifund at 8:46 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 24 October 2007 8:53 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 23 October 2007
All Men are Brothers

Haroutioun Chakmakjian was the father of Alan Hovhaness.  He was born in Adana, Turkey, (his death certificate from the state of Massachusetts cites Adana, Armenia,) and by a circuitous route through Lebanan, surviving the shipwreck of the S.S. Poseidon, arrived penniless in Boston.  Despite years of the worst kind of deprivation, he graduated Harvard University, became a Professor at Tufts University, an editor for the Armenian Hairenik newpaper, and author of a number of books including the first Armenian-English dictionary.

It was my thought upon returning to Adana, Haroutioun Chakmakjian's birthplace, to honour this gentleman who had done so much with so little.  I had been giving days of piano master classes at the Cukurova University State Music Conservatory and asked my colleagues-fellow music teachers-and the piano students if they would like to join me in a small ceremony.

We found a hilltop overlooking Adana, gathered together and spoke about the importance of peace in the world, and prepared to seal a container symbolically holding a recording of Alan Hovhaness conducting his own Symphony No. 11, "All Men are Brothers," a small Armenian pomegranate-the national symbol-and a Turkish nazarlik-a talisman to bring good luck, to bury in the ground.

One young student from the class noticed that both the pomegranate and the nazarlik had decorative strings attached to them.  She tied the strings together.  "This means that we will all work together."

Should we issue Alan Hovhaness' 11th Symphony, "All Men are Brothers," a pomegranate, and a nazarlik to all the world's leaders asking them please to tie the strings together? 

Posted by cristoforifund at 8:26 AM EDT
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The composing desk

As an enterprising student, and later as a would-be cub researcher, I would always admire the elegant writing desk which the Library of Congress displayed as Sergei Rachmaninov's very own.  I had often wondered how it would be to sit at this magnificent shrine; would melancholy Russian melodies suddenly spring forth, would the themes of never-completed symphonies materialise before my ears? My fear of permanent banishment from Paradise always kept me from attempting the realisation of my dreams.

Years later I visited Alan Hovhaness in New York.  He lived in a dilapidated room in the less-than-pristine Alvin Hotel.  We were to rehearse on an ancient upright-broken-down piano.  The "kitchen" was served by a few dime-store relics, and I was invited to place myself on a rickety seat fronted by a cardboard box covered with imitation-wood contact paper.

My eyes searched the room for that polished patrician podium and pulpit; that elegant shrine that sourced all melody and harmony.  Suddenly it dawned on me that it sat right before me: and that  this beautiful, moving, visionary music was composed-had to be composed-in the most simple, honest, and non-pretentious of circumstances.

A cardboard box: the composing desk.

Posted by cristoforifund at 12:52 AM EDT
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Monday, 22 October 2007
The little planets

The session with the Seattle Symphony went well.  We worked hard-over and over until everything was right and Concerto No. 10 was respectably documented.

Afterwards, a few photos in the garden outside of the Seattle Opera House and then a lunch. We talked-or rather, Alan spoke and I listened.  He told about "the little planets," (the asteroids,) and how life was perfectly possible there, that he had already been there and knew this.  I was not surprised: years before in New York he had spoken about "flying across the English Channel," knowing Rosemary Brown (who had "written" compositions by other composers,) and other quite believeable out-of-body experiences.  How could one have composed such extra-visionary works without being being open to these?

I wonder if he is now watching from the Little Planets. 

Posted by cristoforifund at 8:41 AM EDT
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Greatness in humility

I had only a month.  Hinako, Alan Hovhaness' wife had telephoned asking if I could record the Concerto No. 10 with the Seattle Symphony.  I asked her to send me the score as quickly as possible and promised to do my very best.  It was a lonely month of woodshedding.

I drove straight from the Seattle airport to the Hovhaness' home, armed with questions about the score, asking as many as possible and using every delay and stalling tactic which I could invent to postpone the inevitable, having to play this newly-learned concerto for Alan's scrutiny.

The moment of truth could not be denied any further.  I nervously launched into my fresh-from-the-woodshed efforts, arrived at the last note and holding my breath, prepared for a storm of criticism.

Only one gentle comment from Alan followed: "Thank you for playing my music."  How could I have imagined anything else from someone so humble in his greatness?

Posted by cristoforifund at 8:09 AM EDT
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Saturday, 20 October 2007
Astronomy-the best piano lesson

It was often, after our rehearsals, that Alan Hovhaness, Larry Sobol, and I would walk the late-night, less-than-prim streets of New York. Larry and I would listen with reverence as Alan told of the wisdom of Francis Bacon, or would humourously remark about an overly-liquified gentleman whose sprawled corpus was blocking the path, "looks like Gottschalk."

One late night,  the topic suddenly changed from our usual menu.  Alan pointed to the sky which bravely emerged through the neon haze.  "You should study astronomy."  I wasn't ready for this particular tutorial and replied with a simple "What do you mean?"

The answer was quite to the point.  "If you want to be a great musician, a great artist, you must first study astronomy to understand the vastness of all creation.  You will realise your own insignificance and then will achieve true humility."


It was the best piano lesson I had ever gotten. 

Posted by cristoforifund at 1:32 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 21 October 2007 12:13 AM EDT
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The most important letter I have ever received


(quoted with permission)

3 FEBRUARY, 1973

"Dear Martin,

Just a line to express how much I was impressed by your beautiful letter of Jan. 28, 1973. While I am very sorry that you were ill, at the same time I feel that you have had a genuine enlightenment or mystical experience. Don't let anyone discourage you on this point, as most people are thoroughly immersed in a world of thick, dense materialistic clouds of illusion, and in their present state are unfit to understand a true experience. They will say it is insane, but it is an experience of higher wisdom and comes in the form of vision. Also, often physical disability or sickness brings on this tremendous universal view. I remember a day in Seattle in 1967 when I was very ill and thought I could not travel with the orchestra, which I was supposed to do. Suddenly the heavens opened, also the dark walls of my hotel room opened. It seemed that I could see everything, including the mountain and the stars and other worlds beyond, all through the power of music, because at that moment, I heard inwardly for the first time the main theme of Fra Angelico which seemed to be played by the orchestra of the universe. After this experience, I seemed to be suddenly completely well, so I dressed as normally and went out to meet the orchestra. Later I copied the parts from memory without even making a score and conducted a brief rehearsal or runthrough of a wild cosmic sound leading to the full statement of this theme in its climax form, with brass and full strings. The members of the orchestra were quite shaken with the experience of the music and came up and told me so. I did not mention anything about how the music came to me, but I could see that it was a reality and not a dream or a spell of insanity. In fact, one learns many things by certain kinds of dreams, dreams which have the wind of truth blowing through them, dreams which are not dreams but a being lifted above the dense ocean of physical life. Because of this, I was much interested in your experience, which seems in every way normal and positive. These things are the most important things in life and any artist who has them has an important journey to make and something important to say to the world.

All best wishes in every way and much courage.



Posted by cristoforifund at 1:28 PM EDT
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It was still cold in Moscow, a late March day in 2004, only several days after Atakan Sari, the Globalis Symphony Orchestra, and I had premiered Alan Hovhaness' Two Piano Concerto in Tchaikovsky Hall.

We were sitting at our two pianos in the cavernous recording studio at Moscow's House of Sound; (everything in Russia is conceived as 'big-enormous-grand,") a historic venue where "USSR State Symphony Orchestra" was still to be seen stenciled on the instrument cases standing guard in the corridors; corridors inhabited by the spirits of the so many great Soviet-era artists who had opened their hearts to the waiting microphones.

Now it was our turn.  We were to record Alan Hovhaness' two-piano work "Mihr"-a tribute to the ancient Armenian God of Fire, an etherial and other-worldly prismatic panopticon honoured by Wiilliam Saroyan who suggested accompanying texts to Hovhaness.

It was demanding and exacting work as all worthy recording sessions must be.  Again and again, over and over; our veteran producer even leaving her sound-proofed booth to conduct through some moments of precision ensemble.

My mind briefly wandered through my pidgeon Russian: Mihr-Mihr-the work's title kept hovering above the American and Turkish pianists recording an Armenian work, being directed by a Russian producer-Mihr-Mihr...Mir...

 Mir.  Peace.  Of course.





Posted by cristoforifund at 11:47 AM EDT
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