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Tuesday, 13 November 2007

In a video documentary produced by Jean Walkinshaw, Hovhaness recalled the first time as a boy that he heard music from a "composer."  That composer was Schubert.

When Hovhaness composed "Saturn" for our Long Island Chamber Ensemble, for soprano, clarinet, and piano, he said that he had been inspired by Schubert's "Shepherd on the Rock" for that same combination.

Larry Sobol, our clarinetist (and later, the producer of Hovhaness' 80th Anniversary concert in Carnegie Hall,) visited Hovhaness toward the end of his life when Hovhaness was in a wheelchair and very frail.  Larry recounted that he gently bent down, asked Alan whether he was still listening to music. 

"Schubert" was the hushed reply.

Posted by cristoforifund at 1:15 AM EST
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Monday, 12 November 2007
Staying Focused

It was at a reception after one of the Texas Tech concerts.  A student musician began to complain with many decibels and at great length about what he considered to be an obnoxious right-wing radio station.  He turned to Alan and asked him what he thought.

"Just don't pay attention to it.  Pay attention to your own work and develope that." 

Posted by cristoforifund at 6:28 PM EST
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Sunday, 11 November 2007

It was in the early 1970's, not too long after our Long Island Chamber Ensemble performances of "O Lady Moon" and "Saturn," and our discussions about astronomy.

I was on the way back to the East Coast, returning from a recording session in Los Angeles.  Alan had told me that he was to be guest artist for a festival of his music at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. I was able to arrange my travel to stop over in Lubbock for several days.

I had booked a room at the same motel where Alan was staying and arrived late in the day.  The next morning we emerged from our respective rooms, looked over the second-floor railing, and had a good chuckle over the bigger-than-life signboard announcing the name of the petroleum dealership occupying the plaza below:


Posted by cristoforifund at 8:58 PM EST
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The Ceremony

Before recording the Concerto No. 10 with the Seattle Symphony, I had asked Alan about one particularly ethereal movement.

"It sounds like a temple ceremony" I volunteered. "It IS the ceremony" he gently corrected me.

Posted by cristoforifund at 8:38 PM EST
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Monday, 5 November 2007
Alan Hovhaness writes to "Baconiana"
Alan Hovhaness used to talk at length with me about how he
believed Francis Bacon to be the true author of Shakespeare, 
that he had to "shake his spear" at society.  It was a great delight
to all of us when Larry Sobol and I were able to present him with 
photocopies of several original Francis Bacon letters from the 
archives of New York's Pierpont Morgan Library.
The following is a letter which he wrote to the publication 

"Dear Sir, 

While I was in London I had the privilege of reading the proofs of "The Hidden Music" by Commander Martin Pares.  I concur in every way with the beautiful article, both in its premise and in its development. 

From early childhood I have had a special love and veneration for Shake-speare, but felt there was a great mystery concerning the sphinx-like identity of the author.  When hearing his plays, the words seemed to be the expression of at times a great and skilful statesman, and at other times a profound mystic and philosopher, a man who lived in many worlds.  In the early 1930's as a very young man (sic), two visitors became embroiled in a very heated argument.  One was a newspaper writer who bitterly opposed the Baconian theory which was being expounded by a dancer and poet.  The words of the latter suddenly made sense to me and brought into full focus the personality and portrait of the true author.  Here, at last, was the man whom I had admired and loved for so many years and who had been, as it were, my Master.

I feel certain that Bacon, the poet, philosopher, scientist, and statesman, was also a composer who used certain names for his music to which he set "anonymous" words.  An example, I believe, is "The Silver Swan" by Orlando Gibbons, and also certain works by John Dowland.  I hope some research can be carried out in this direction.

The experiencing of hidden music mentioned by Commander Pares in the "crypt of an ancient cathedral" is moving and evokes many parallel moments in musical history and also in my own personal musical life.  This "celestial alchemy" I can vouch for in its truth and authenticity.  At certain moments, in some unknown way, I have heard celestial voices rising above the music of an orchestra.  It may have to do with the quality of the melody being performed plus a special kind of tone-spacing such as reinforced three-voiced divisions in strings where a kind of holy trinity of sound is created, possibly by accident, but which a composer hopes to make obliquely happen on purpose, if the acoustical and performing conditions are just right.  This makes possible a kind of heavenly co-operation by mysterious forces, "those better than we," according to the Armenian ancient expression.

Of course this will not always happen when one wants it to, but it really has happened in certain passages at certain times.  It is not always celestial sounds that are heard.  A pupil of mine who was somewhat gifted in clairvoyance managed to release a demonic force in one of his pieces which brought out sounds from another dimension audible to all of us.  These were sounds of terrifying cries of those in agony; as it were, of the damned.

An unknown world is opened up in this fascinating article, "The Hidden Music".

Yours faithfully,

Alan Hovhaness

July 10, 1970" 

Posted by cristoforifund at 10:41 AM EST
Updated: Monday, 5 November 2007 10:05 PM EST
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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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