“I knew that the level of culture in Armenia had slipped, and slipped badly, since the fall of the Soviets, but what I saw the other day was a reminder of just that.”
What the ethnomusicologist was talking about was an old film (mid 1970s) of the Zareh Sahakyants-led Armenian Chamber Orchestra, which we, too, fortunately watched.
“Zareh was brilliant,” he said. “He was the orchestra’s conductor, but as a true orchestra leader, he did what Aram Khachatryan and others were able to do...play an instrument, and do it expertly. Zareh also did arrangements, but not like they’re doing today. The orchestra played two horovels, and horovels are difficult to arrange properly...thus, today’s conductors and music arrangers staying away from traditional folk music.
“The men of the orchestra stood as they played their violins during the horovel. What class. And I think of today’s chamber orchestra...from the looks on their faces, they’re just going through the motions, waiting for their next paycheck.
“And it was like a royal wedding, when Zareh’s daughter married Spivakov, the famous Russian violinist. That was the level of Zareh Sahakyants, and others like him. I don’t want to talk about who’s marrying whom today. Or about what’s going on at the Conservatory, which during Soviet times was known throughout the Soviet Union as one of the best, if not the best, of the conservatories. For example, just the other day, one of the bribe takers called a student a name, which wasn’t nice at all, and the student pushed him back into his chair, threatening him...which the professor deserved.”