Britain and Armenia: A musical bridge

Britain and Armenia: A musical bridge

British composers revealed new depths within Vahan Teryan’s and Yeghishe Charents’ poetry


A concert of British and Armenian vocal music took place at the Yeghishe Charents Museum of Literature and Art, Yerevan on 27th December 2017. It featured British and Armenian love songs sharing warmth and love for the Christmas season.


The concert was a continuation of the British and Armenian musical bridge concert project which had taken place at the Komitas Museum-Institute in September 2017 and had been hosted by the British Embassy in Yerevan as one of a series of events to mark 25th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between the UK and Armenia.

The concerts were organized by Armenian composer and pianist Arpine Kalinina, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, London. In the following interview Arpine shares with us how she initiated the concerts.


Tell me about the British and Armenian musical bridge.


I would like to express my gratitude to the British Embassy in Yerevan and Her Excellency Mrs. Farnworth for their invaluable support for the project, which was very fruitful and led us to new opportunities to link the musical culture of Armenia with that of the UK.


I have been attracted to British culture since my childhood. My love of British art, music and literature led me to choose to continue my musical studies in the UK. During my time at the Royal Academy of Music I organized a number of concert projects of Armenian vocal and instrumental music by collaborating with British, Slovenian and American performers at the Academy.


At the Academy I also attempted to discover the depths of British music traditions.  I’m more than happy that I studied and communicated with extremely talented British composers, including Jonathan Woolgar and James Moriarty. All these experiences immensely enriched and changed my music. I think the British and Armenian vocal music project hosted by the British Embassy in Yerevan was a sort of reflection of my love of British culture.


Thanks to the project the British composers, Jonathan Woolgar and James Moriarty, shared their interest in Armenian culture. Jonathan and James have created new vocal pieces especially for the project based on Armenian poetry by Vahan Teryan and Yeghishe Charents. The pieces were premiered by Armenian opera singers Sofya Sayadyan (soprano) and Berj Karazian (tenor, an honoured artist of the Republic of Armenia) to create a unique British and Armenian musical bridge. My ballad “Remind me not”, based on a Byron poem were performed as well.  Byron himself visited the Armenian Catholic Mkhitarian Congregation in San Lazzario (Venice) and spent some months during 1816-17 studying Armenian history and language, writing: “Armenian is the language to speak with God”.

Jonathan and James visited Armenia in September for the concert when their pieces were premiered. As part of this project they gave a seminar for young Armenian composers at the Aram Khachaturian house-museum. I believe these pieces are the result of Jonathan’s and James’ deep interest in Armenian music and culture. They have managed not only to stay faithful to the essence of Vahan Terian’s and Yeghishe Charents’s poetry, but also to reveal new depths within it. These impressive pieces based on Armenian poetry are included in the repertoire of my ensemble “Kantegh”. They were performed at the Yeghishe Charents Museum of Literature and Art, and will be performed during our future concerts too. I believe that these compositions will have a unique place in the Armenian contemporary vocal music repertoire and continue to be performed in the UK and around the world.


The concert, on 27th, also featured music by British and Armenian classical composers alongside music by Jonathan and James.


We opened the concert with British folk song arrangements for voice and piano by Benjamin Britten and afterwards performed Armenian folk song arrangements for voice and piano by Komitas. In presenting Britten and Komitas’ folk song arrangements side-by-side, it is worth noting that Britten visited Armenia in 1965 and stayed for over three weeks at the Dilijan Composers Union Resort. On 28th August there was a Britten Festival in Yerevan, and the composer himself attended the concerts.

This concert aimed to foster cultural exchange between the UK and Armenia. It is our hope that this newly-built British and Armenian musical bridge will be well traversed in the years to come.


The pieces by the British composers, James Moriarty and Jonathan Woolgar, based on Armenian poetry, and the recording of the piece by the Armenian composer Arpine Kalinina based on a Byron poem. The recordings above are from the premiere.


Interview by Hovhannes Babayan

Aravot daily newspaper



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