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Martin Berkofsky's address at the Alan Hovhaness Memorial Unveiling, Sunday, May 17, 2009
"If one had to choose the most important of the myriad influences which gave Alan Vaness Chakmakjian his world success, we might find the New England strength of character at the top of his list. Alan Scott Hovhaness, as he was known throughout the rest of his life, was steadfast, purposeful, reliable, dependable, unceasing, innovative, individual, and totally unique.
In the summer of 1932, he climbed to the summit of Mt. Monadnock every single day, almost as a metaphor to his life and career. Studying. innovating, creating new forms, shapes, harmonies, textures, as he ascended the visionary musical mountain to leave the world richer by over 400 of his compositions.
When it was time to change course, he chose a new mountain – Ararat – to explore the vast treasures of his Armenian heritage. Many friends, both here and abroad, encouraged him. The great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius advised him and became the god-father to his daughter. The great conductors – Fritz Reiner, Leopold Stokowski, Andre Kostelanetz – became his standard bearers in the world concert halls and recording studios.
His incessant thirst for the knowledge of world musics brought him to study the music and culture of India, Japan, Korea. His continued quest to reach the mountain peaks – which he considered to be meeting places for man and God – brought him to live in Switzerland and then in Seattle where the majestic Mt. Rainier could be seen from his window.
Despite his renown, he never lost sight of his most valued possession – his almost self-effacing simplicity. One late night in the early 1970's, we were walking together in New York City. Alan suddenly pointed to the neon-hazed sky, telling me, “Martin, you should study astronomy.” Quite puzzled, I asked him what he meant. He continued, “If you study astronomy, you will begin to comprehend the vastness of all creation, and, in doing so, realize your own insignificance. You will then achieve true humility and be able to be an artist.” That was the greatest piano lesson I had ever received.
Decades later – I think around 1994 – Hinako, Alan’s wife, asked me on short notice if I would record his “Concerto No. 10" with the Seattle Symphony. I agreed and barricaded myself in my room to learn this new work in the few weeks before the sessions.
I arrived in Seattle just shortly before the recording, going straight from the airport to Alan’s home. I had prepared a long list of questions about the score, hoping I could use up all of the time with these, avoiding the inevitable. But, of course, I had to be put on the spot to play my newly “woodshedded” version of the Concerto and to face the music. At the end of my efforts, I sat quietly, holding my breath and expecting a storm of criticism. Instead, I only heard from Alan, “Thank you for playing my music.” I understood that the greatest were the greatest because they were the most humble.
If you were to visit the elegant reading room of the Library of Congress Music Collection, you would see the magnificent composing desk of Sergei Rachmaninoff. When I visited Alan for the first time at New York’s Alvin Hotel, I scanned the run-down room for this hallowed piece of furniture. In front of a battered upright piano which had already lost ten of its nine lives, there was just a large cardboard box covered by imitation wood-grained contact paper. Alan’s composing desk – the birthplace of his remarkable works.
Should I mention that it was here in Arlington – on Turkey Hill – that Alan joined his father for his first lessons in climbing? Or could I ever express in grateful enough words, the accumulated thanks of a world to you, Arlington, for nurturing and giving us all Alan Hovhaness?
You have had the wisdom and the generosity to present this very first tangible memorial to Alan Scott Hovhaness. Thank you, Arlington. Thank you from a grateful world."
Armenian News Network, 16 May, 2009
MONUMENT IN HONOR OF ALAN HOVHANESS TO BE OPENED IN ARLINGTON
As the centennial date (2011) of the world renowned American composer of Armenian Heritage Alan Hovhaness approaches, Arlington will honor its most illustrious, artistic son by declaring May 17 “Alan Hovhaness Day.” On that day, the Alan Hovhaness Commemorative Committee will acknowledge his outstanding contribution to the world of music by unveiling a monument in his honor on the grounds of the Jefferson Cutter House in Arlington Center. Attending the event will be officials of the town and other dignitaries. The dedication of the monument will constitute the central feature of several memorial events, which were launched on October 5, 2008, with a concert held at the Armenian Cultural Foundation. After the dedication of the Hovhaness monument on Sunday, May 17, a free, open-to-the-public concert will be given in the auditorium of the Arlington Town Hall. The concert “In Tribute to Alan Hovhaness” will be directed by Dr. Pasquale Tassone, former director of Performing Arts in the Arlington Public Schools. Featured performers will include pianist Martin Berkofsky, renowned and dynamic pianist, known primarily for his interpretations of music by Hovhaness and Franz Liszt, and pianist Ani Hovsepian. The program will include the world premiere of Tassone’s composition Dzon (Ode in Armenian) for solo marimba, string orchestra, and percussion featuring Sivlie Zakarian on marimba as well as music of other composers. Participating in the concert will be the Honors Orchestra and Madrigal Singers of the Arlington High School. The great composer Alan Hovhaness authored 67 symphonies and 434 opuses.
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1,2: Arlington, Massachusetts' new Alan Hovhaness Memorial. The bas-relief plaque is mounted on a 10-ton rock base.
3,4: Dedication programme for Hovhaness Memorial unveiling.