A Musical Journey
To the Caucasus, Pt. 1:
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From my perspective, Yerevan, Armenia’s capital is a cultured, clean, unbelievably safe and enchanting synthesis of old and new. A former Soviet Republic, Yerevan’s red brick Stalin-era buildings coexist harmoniously adjacent to modern architectural design; late model BMWs and Mercedes-Benz vehicles appear equally as mainstream as the 1970’s model Soviet era Lada, Moskvitch and Volga automobiles. City sidewalks pay homage to Armenia’s heroes great and small with commemorative statues plaques and effigies. The optic and aesthetic effect of Yerevan’s wide downtown city boulevards and Main Square channels the opulence and grandeur of the Paris 1ère arrondissement and the Champs-Elysées. Above it all, the great Mount Ararat looms majestically over the city.
On a daily basis, Yerevan afforded me the wonderful opportunity to practice my spoken Russian with its citizens, part of my main goal in coming to Armenia. I was very impressed that nearly every Armenian citizen spoke fluent Russian as a second language and that everyone was more than happy to switch from Armenian over to Russian in order to communicate with me.
My principal purpose of business in Armenia was a 4- concert tour. The 9-hour time difference proved to be a major adjustment to wrap my head around, and I was incredibly relieved that concerts and media appearances had all been scheduled in weeks 2 and 3, because I needed that time to adjust. I must say that I was quite humbled by the number of people who did attend my debut recital performances; I initially had no idea what kind of audience to anticipate, having arrived from half a world away. My first concert in Yerevan took place at the Cafesjian Center for the Arts, a modern pyramidal building located in Yerevan’s main square. As if the aesthetic impression of this building’s structure is not already very impressive and overwhelming, the inside reveals a of true marvel of human creativity. Cafesjian Center’s ten successive flights of escalators lead directly to the building’s summit; it was strategically designed to channel the effect of cascading waterfalls. The graceful pacing of the ascending escalator journey allows visitors to give pause and admire Cafesjian’s surrounding modern artwork.
At my first concert in Yerevan, I was admittedly a bit perturbed upon learning an hour before my performance that my interpreter could no longer come, and that given the short timeframe, I would have to address the audience using my limited Russian. I could, however, sense that the audience was sincerely touched by my earnest efforts to reach them in a native tongue. The Armenian public’s palpable patience, understanding, attention and subsequent hearty applause made me feel an especially close connection to them during my recital performances.
In my spare time, I had the opportunity to explore more of Armenia’s vast geographic beauty. I visited Geghardt, a region said to possess one of the world’s freshest water sources and the Temple of Garni from 77 A.D., beautiful and overwhelming in structure. I ventured by car to the Mount Aragats, standing at an elevation of 4090 m. En route to Aragats’ summit, I stopped at the well-preserved Amberd Castle from the 7th century. From the summit of Mount Aragats is an absolutely stunning and rewarding view of the great Mount Ararat. I also visited museums and the Great opera house where I had the opportunity to watch Almast, a great Armenian Opera by Alexander Spendarian.
Above all, it is the kindness of the Armenian culture that I have taken away and will always remember. I can only describe my overriding feeling while in Armenia as having been its “special guest.” Any initial reservations I may have had about being a foreigner there soon vanished as every interaction I had was met with a warm welcome to the country whether I was attending a professional performance engagement on media interviews or buying groceries at a neighborhood supermarket. In a literal sense, I was also treated as a guest by every close human encounter I experienced the Russian phrase ты моя гост (you are my guest) was an expression that I heard and experienced regularly from the time of my arrival in Yerevan airport until my departure 3 weeks later. I learned quickly that it is commonplace in Armenia for a person to pay bus, taxi, or train fare for their guests. People also pay bus fares after reaching their destination which I found quite dignifying. When it comes to paying bus fare, passengers closer to the rear of the bus simply ask other passengers to hand their fares to the driver in the front. One could only dream about such a utopian system in North America!
I was privileged to be hosted by a lovely Russian speaking Armenian woman who kindly shared her home with me for the duration of my month-long stay in Yerevan. Every morning, I awoke to the most incredible homemade borscht and грибами суп (a mushroom soup) I have ever experienced. I also enjoyed eating Armenian specialties like walnut gata, tolma, garlands of crabapple fruit, hatchapuri and many other incredible exotic foods largely exclusive to the Caucasus region. All of these unique experiences contributed enormously to the authenticity of my visit to Armenia, an aspect which I had strongly craved.
In short, my first visit to Armenia has left an indelible impression on me. Armenia is so unbelievably rich in culture and history. I probably would have never had a chance to learn about its very carefully preserved legacy had I not ventured there. My relatively short-term stay in Armenia has taught me so many important lessons about humanity and kindness; it opened my eyes to what it really means to give and share with others. I also feel fulfilled to have had an opportunity to share my music with Armenian guests in concert.