RadioArt (LILIT GRIGORYAN): “He understands the essence of his native Armenian music very deeply and he has an exceptional talent for the art of orchestration. I often hear some exotic dissonances in his works, and now I know that those come from Armenian national folklore, as they are played on some folk instruments. I like the way he uses those in his own scores. It’s never overdone. To me it always sounds like it couldn’t have been written otherwise.”
These are the words of composer Rowan Taylor about the American-Armenian composer Edward Manukyan.
First, choosing the profession of a linguist, Edward Manukyan entered Yerevan State Linguistic University after V. Bryusov, but the interest in music which he had early in his youth became more and more powerful. He taught himself piano and music theory, and in 2002 he moved to the United States to pursue an education in music. He took classes from Rowan Taylor and at the same time studied the basics of symphonic composition, the art of orchestration, etc. He also studied conducting and continued his education at the California State University, Los Angeles, earning a Master of Music Degree in Composition, for which he presented his first symphony, dedicated to the 15th anniversary of Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union.
Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Aram Khachaturian… These are composers who have left a great impact on the works of Edward Manukyan. But it is Khachaturian’s influence which, indisputably, has shaped Manukyan’s musical taste and style.
MANUKYAN: In 2003, the 100th anniversary of Khachaturian’s birth, the only piece that I knew from Khachaturian was his “Saber Dance”, much like many other youngsters who care little for classical music. But in 2003, quite accidentally, I came upon Khachaturian’s name in a book about the jazz pianist Bill Evans. It made me curious as to why I didn’t know more about Khachaturian than the American pianist. And so I got interested. On that same day I went to a record store and bought all the CDs of Khachaturian’s music. All of that made a cosmic impression on me. I remember very well how I first played selections from his ballet Spartacus and then his piano concerto, which took a long time to be digested, since I wasn’t prepared for it then. But it did leave a magical and powerful influence and since then I haven’t turned away from the path of continuing the Armenian classical traditions.
RadioArt: Indeed, the influence of Armenian classical music is apparent in the musical handwriting of Edward Manukyan, although his early interest in jazz has left its impact as well. But the Armenian spirit dominates in his works so much that conductor/composer Loris Tjeknavorian has even described him as the Sayat-Nova of our time. The extent of such presence of Armenian influence is explained by Manukyan as a subconscious yearning to be near one’s homeland, when one has been far away for such a long time.
Manukyan says he doesn’t need a special moment or time of day to compose. The music simply comes in, ready to be put down.
MANUKYAN: There are moments of profound exultation, when the music comes so fast that you don’t even have time to write it down. But the only condition necessary to be creative, as Elbert Einstein said, is having “a table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin. What else does one need to be happy?”. I simply adore that quote from the great scientist. I couldn’t add in or subtract any other item.
RadioArt: Since the very beginning of his career, Edward Manukyan’s music has been performed throughout the world, earning the composer an international reputation. The only continent where his music hasn’t yet been performed is Africa, he says half-jokingly. But wherever he is, it’s always important for him to listen to his audience and to understand them. The opinion of his audience is the only thing that may prove the music worthwhile, he says. Music is not an end in itself; it has a very specific recipient.
MANUKYAN: Music is an interesting way of telling the world of yourself, and it usually speaks of misfortune. The tone of optimism is a stranger to music. And considering that huge inner calling and all the hardship which the creator must carry in order to give birth to the music, I don’t think it’s just a minor personal interest… The Armenian audience is not too fond of silence. They hurry to share their impressions with those who are sitting with them and it creates unnecessary noise. Perhaps that’s the only complaint so far, but they are, of course, very attentive too. They also wait around at the end of the concerts to approach me and relay their impressions. They appear to be a bit shyer than the audiences in America. In the states, people are more personal on such occasions.
RadioArt: For the past 9 years Manukyan lives and creates in the United States. He has been in Armenia for the past few months and has had time to get to know some young local musicians and is very impressed. Today many young composers complain that they have fewer opportunities to have their music performed and the audiences still don’t know them. But Manukyan thinks that the popular appeal of composer’s works depends on the diligence of the very composer.
MANUKYAN: The composer must, very aggressively – and I mean aggressively, pursue the appreciation of the public. It is not a small matter, and one shouldn’t just hope that by some magic all the public interest should somehow focus on one’s works. Even in my earliest years I never complained about this problem, because it’s a boring thing to say how difficult it is to get your music out there and get musicians to perform them… Who cares? Is life easy? Our entire life is a long chain of overcoming hardships.
RadioArt: Besides orchestral and chamber works, Edward Manukyan’s list of works also contains music for solo instruments and songs. And during his stay in Armenia, he has already composed five more songs, on words by Russian poets. They were premiered on September 4, at the Komitas Chamber Music Hall, at a concert with Tigran Mansuryan, named “Two Generations”.
In a few days Edward Manukyan will return to the United States, but with a concrete decision – from now on to visit Armenia every summer. And the smiles that have appeared on the faces of Armenians have made him very happy, giving him new creative inspirations.