Notes From Hairenik
April 27, 2010
Last night Anush and I went to Yerevan’s Opera House to hear Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 performed by the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra featuring pianist Katharina Treutler. The entire concert, which also included two pieces by Tchaikovsky, was conducted by the APO’s Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Eduard Topchjan.

I've heard the second piano concerto performed twice in Yerevan--the first time being in 2002 when the APO was performing it accompanied by a visiting female pianist from Russia in the now defunct Cinema House while the Opera House was being renovated. Yesterday Anush purchased two tickets at only 500 dram each for the expansive upper balcony, which is the arguably the best area to listen in the entire hall, but because the concertgoers were so few in number--there was only about 15 of us--we were told to move to the lower balcony, or the "amphitheater." Aram Khachaturian Hall was not even a third full, which was a real shame considering the spectacular music that was performed during the evening.

I don't know of any other city in the world where you can hear classical music performed by first-rate musicians for less than $2.00. Unfortunately, whenever I go to the symphony I encounter this same sad situation. About half the people in attendance seem to be music students. Anush’s cousin Aram, who is studying trumpet in the state music conservatory, goes to nearly all the classical performances at the Opera House. Last night while we were chatting during the intermission he was nodding and smiling to classmates appearing from all directions.

I can't remember exactly where I first heard Sergei Rachmaninov's second piano concerto. Most likely it was the theme melody of the second movement that was "sampled" in the song "All By Myself" by Eric Carmen from the 1970s, only I naturally didn't realize that at the time being a little kid. Then when I heard the same music in the film "Brief Encounter" by David Lean from 1945 at a screening at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge nearly 10 years ago I began to just comprehend the intensity that the music transmitted.

German-born Katharina Treutler, who has won several prizes in Europe, gave a spellbinding, masterful performance of Rachmaninov's second, and the orchestra was just as strong. The musicians were most vivacious in the last movement, however, especially towards the end of the work. Treutler's playing was elegant, nowhere near as heavy handed as I have heard on the recording I own with Arthur Rubinstein on piano. I should also mention that she looked absolutely stunning in her strapless green-satin dress--she's a gorgeous woman. In retrospect we should have sat down below so I could get a better look at her long alabaster arms gliding gracefully across the keyboard. At the end of the concerto she returned from backstage to perform an unidentified short solo piece that was no more than four minutes in length, then departed the stage for the last time.

The second half of the concert was dedicated to Tchaikovsky. Two works for orchestra were performed, including his familiar “Romeo and Juliet” overture, and the “Francesca da Rimini” symphonic fantasy, which I had never heard before. The orchestra was fairly large—there must have been over 80 people on stage for the overture, and even more musicians came out for the second work. On the far right of the stage I counted seven double basses alone, and they didn’t all fit in one row—one man had to sit all by himself nearly out of sight consoling his contrabass. Both works were extraordinary, the second one especially so, thunderous with heavy percussion and strings in some parts but gentle moving with harp accompaniment in others.

I am going to be honest and say that I haven’t seen more than two or three symphony orchestras perform live in concert in my lifetime, but I have heard my fare share of classical recordings. Call me patriotic or whatever but the sound and clarity of the APO is superb. The orchestra really blew me away during their performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 nearly two years ago, one of the most amazing concerts I have ever attended. The musicianship of this orchestra is stellar, but it’s a pity that there are few people left in Yerevan to appreciate it. Aram Khachaturian Hall should have been packed last evening. The harmonies produced in that building during each performance deserve the renowned respect that they command.

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