A First for Armenia and Composer Ian Krouse

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For any composer, the imminent world premiere of one of their works is an occasion that always brings with it feelings of excited, joyous anticipation for the new sounds about to be unleashed before their audience. But for Ian Krouse the coming premiere of his latest work is an altogether more serious matter.

It has fallen upon Krouse’s shoulders to not only compose a work commemorating the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, but to also compose the very first classical setting of the Requiem Mass in the Armenian language.

The Lark Musical Society of Glendale, which commissioned Krouse’s “An Armenian Requiem,” will premiere the work on Wednesday, April 22 at 8 p.m. at UCLA’s Royce Hall. They will be joined by singers Shoushik Barsoumian, Nike St. Clair, Yegishe Manucharian and Vladimir Chernov along with the Tziatzan Children’s Choir, Lark Mastersingers, and UCLA Philharmonia under the direction of Neal Stulberg.

Krouse, who is a professor at the university’s Herb Alpert School of Music, said that it was he who suggested the ambitious project to Lark’s founder and director Vatsche Barsoumian, after finishing work on a prior Lark commission. “An Armenian Requiem” will be Krouse’s third commission from Lark.

“I have always wanted to compose a large-scale requiem mass, particularly along the lines of Britten’s ‘War Requiem,’ and so I suggested such a project to Vatsche,” Krouse said. “The idea caught his attention and he reminded me that the timing couldn’t be more perfect. After all, the centennial of the Armenian Genocide was just around the corner. I was particularly intrigued when he observed that [a setting in Armenian of the requiem mass] had never been done.”

Though Krouse neither speaks nor reads Armenian, he was aided in his word setting by Barsoumian, who also selected the texts employed for the work.

“Vastche spent nearly a year consulting with experts in the field before arriving at the present structure: seven liturgical sections which would be preceded, juxtaposed and followed by poems carefully chosen from the past 1,000 years of Armenian history,” the composer explained.

The 15 texts comprising the work reach out beyond the traditional Catholic Requiem and include, among others, works by the early 20th century poet century Atom Yarjanian and 13th century mystic Gregory of Narek. The works of the former, who took up the pen name “Siamanto,” have become etched into the Armenian collective memory. One of his poems opens Krouse’s “An Armenian Requiem.”

It was last July that Barsoumian presented Krouse with the final selection of texts. Though he had been the instigator of this ambitious work, even he was taken aback by the scale of the texts chosen. Nonetheless, he buckled down to work, taking the fall semester off to fully concentrate on composition.

“During breaks from composing, I read the Bible from beginning to end, something I had not done for many years,” Krouse said. “[I also] studied the history of the Armenian people, in particular the events leading up to the Genocide.”

Though Krouse said that “An Armenian Requiem” calls upon influences ranging from J. S. Bach, Brahms, and Britten to Renaissance masters such as Pierre de la Rue and Johannes Ockeghem, he singled out the music of Komitas Vardapet as a “cornerstone” of the work. Komitas – who was a well-respected composer and musicologist, as well as a priest – was among the very first Armenian intellectuals rounded up by the Ottoman Turks in the purges that augured the start of the Genocide.

“Komitas’ own beautiful settings of the Divine Liturgy,” said Krouse, “along with other hymns from the Armenian service, serve … in much the same way that J.S. Bach used Lutheran chorales in his passions and cantatas. Since becoming associated with Lark, I have developed a growing familiarity and admiration for the music of Armenia, in particular Komitas, who, tragically, suffered a nervous breakdown in the aftermath of the Genocide from which he would never fully recover.”

Tickets for the world premiere of Ian Krouse’s “An Armenian Requiem” can be purchased online from the Lark Musical Society via its website www.lark2015.org or by calling (818) 500-9997. Tickets can also be purchased at Abril Bookstore in Glendale (415 E. Broadway) by calling (818) 243-4112.

Royce Hall is located at 340 Royce Dr., Los Angeles on the UCLA campus.

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