by AGBU News
Maestro Loris Tjeknavorian and the 120 member Armenia Philharmonic performed their weekly Friday night concerts throughout the winter. With no heat in the hall and temperatures falling below 25 degrees, musicians played with freezing fingers while standing room only audiences listened bundled in sweaters, scarves and coats. “I had a terrible time conducting because a cold wind blew in my face every time I waved my baton,” said Tjeknavorian.
Holding ticket prices at the usual 4 rubles to accommodate the financially pressed population, inflation is seriously affecting the budget of the orchestra. With a limited government subsidy, millions of additional rubles are needed to pay rising salaries, maintain the concert hall and underwrite the Yerevan and Leninakan youth orchestras established last year to prepare a future generation of world class musicians.
Even the new Leninakan Cultural Center is in jeopardy. Accompanied by tens of thousands of people and with great fanfare, Tjeknavorian conducted a fund raising walk from Yerevan to Leninakan last year, amassing an unprecedented 20,000,000 rubles in donations to establish a performing and visual arts center. Officials of the city of Leninakan, eager to generate cultural activities in the still devastated area, allocated one of the largest buildings in the main square. With skyrocketing inflation the renovation of the building has escalated to 50,000,000 rubles ($325,000). Tjeknavorian is seeking benefactors from abroad for the extra $200,000 needed.
It has been a difficult three years for Maestro Tjeknavorian. Asked by the Armenia Philharmonic members to take over the orchestra shortly after the earthquake, Tjeknavorian, the first foreigner to head an institution in the Soviet Union, had to contend with the local establishment’s closed door policy. A small but influential group of “elite” Armenian composers and musicians, subsidized and protected by the previous regime, had long held control over the performing arts. Payoffs and personal contacts for acceptance into the Conservatory or the existing prominent performing groups shaped the success or failure of aspiring musicians.
Holding open auditions, eliminating below standard orchestra members and ignoring pressure to accept friends and relatives of the establishment, Tjeknavorian quickly incurred the wrath of the power structure. Undaunted by the attacks, Tjeknavorian tours the earthquake area for monthly concerts, has expanded the repertory of the orchestra, organized three engagements and produced four CD recordings abroad and is now working on a fifth recording with producers from England. The Friday night concert tickets are sold out far in advance and visiting foreign dignitaries make the Philharmonic a must on their schedule.
With the disasters and hardships of the past three years, earthquake, war, revolution and blockade, the cultural scene in Armenia faces serious consequences. Some long established groups are depassé, others in need of revitalization and new ones, unable to afford instruction, decent instruments, costumes, scenery, rental fees or to perform with minimal pay, are drifting to other professions. As Papken Chookazian of the Madenataran recently said, “We built our grand Opera House when the nation was starving. If we hadn’t, culture would have died in Armenia. We cannot now put aside the talent that exists. It will take generations to restore.”