Maltese Conductor Alan Chircop Stars in Fourth Edition of Armenia International Music Festival
Local conductor Alan Chircop took a break from his time organising and directing music festivals to travel to Armenia to participate in the latest edition of the Armenia International Music Festival, in collaboration with the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia and the celebrated pianist Vladimir Ovchinnikov. We met up with Chircop to talk to him about this latest project and his experiences in Armenia.
Boasting a wealth of experience as both a performer as well as an organiser of music festivals, Maltese musician and conductor Alan Chircop has fast become one of the nation’s most respected contemporary artists, with dozens of successful concerts, projects and productions under his belt.
Now, fresh from his work on the 10th anniversary edition of the InClassica International Music Festival, which he presided over as Artistic Director, Chircop has recently joined the world-class roster of talent taking part in the 4th incarnation of the Armenia International Music Festival which also featured appearances by other notable conductors including Dmitry Yablonsky, Felix Korobov, Sergey Smbatyan, and Ilya Norstein, to name a few.
Collaborating with the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia, and the famed Russian pianist Vladimir Ovchinnikov, the conductor presented a programme with works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as well as the renowned contemporary Armenian composer Eduard Hayrapetyan at the Komitas Chamber Music House in Yerevan. We caught up with Chircop on his return back to Malta to talk with him about his experiences in Armenia, as well as gain an insight into his thoughts about the festival and the wider state of contemporary classical music in Armenia as a whole.
How was your experience of Armenia? Did you like the country and did you enjoy your time there?
“Armenia is a great country, and the ambience there is always wonderful. It’s now my fourth or fifth time there so I feel quite at home, and it’s always very nice to return becasue the people are very hospitable and the atmosphere is very exciting. In spite of Covid one couldn’t really feel any hindrance in activities, and it was very nice to see the halls really packed with people which is an indication that people have been waiting for the moment to kickstart cultural activities once again, so it was a very nice experience to be back to normality within the cultural scene.”
Alan Chircop conducting the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia at the Komitas Chamber Music House
The Armenia International Music Festival has now been taking place for 4 years since 2017. As someone with a lot of experience organising festivals of this type, what were your thoughts about it and its development over the years?
“I could immediately see a big leap in this festival and how it’s evolved over the past years. It was successful from the very start but now it’s gained a lot of recognition and it’s now become one of the established annual events in Armenia. Even just looking at the following that it has there – seeing and hearing so many people back in the halls is a result that speaks for itself and shows that the people there are really following this festival. It’s quite a long festival with many concerts so to have such an attendance for so many concerts is very encouraging and impressive. I hope that it will keep on growing and developing on this trajectory, but it’s already in a very successful situation.”
You collaborated with the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia for this festival, still a relatively young orchestra as these things go, having only been founded in 1962. How did the collaboration go for you?
“The National Chamber Orchestra is young in terms of when it was established but it’s a very well-established orchestra and it has a very high degree of recognition in the country. The orchestra itself is a state orchestra and they’ve got a lot of activities around the year. They have their own venue and are very versatile and seasoned musicians. This is my second collaboration with them I believe, with the first being way back in 2016, so it was very nice to return.
I was also very happy with the programme we had for this concert. Half of it, as you know, was dedicated to a living composer – Eduard Hayrapetyan – with whom they collaborate quite a lot, and it was very nice to have two Armenian compositions there, one of which had never yet been performed in Armenia before! So it was all very interesting, and I was also glad that the composer was present because we could talk to him during rehearsals and get his insight on his exact intentions for certain passages, and how he imagined and envisaged this composition. It was a very moving and touching experience with him because after the actual concert itself he was so moved and touched with our interpretation that he was in tears, and as a performer this is always an amazing feeling, and something which I’m very grateful for – to have truly managed to make the person who actually composed the piece happy and satisfied, and to have brought what he imagined and composed to life in a satisfactory way. It was a very nice experience for me, both with regard to having the actual living composer present there, and also having the opportunity to have this performed by their national chamber orchestra which is quite prestigious there.”
Following up on your thoughts about Hayrapetyan, what would you say are your views on the current state of Armenia’s contemporary musical output where classical music is concerned?
“I’ve had some opportunities in the past years to perform other Armenian contemporary composers, and the output is actually quite varied even from within the output of the same composers. This was my first experience with Hayrapetyan who I understand is a big name in Armenia and his output is quite extensive. Overall, I’ve found that music in Armenia plays a very important role in their cultural activities, and the enthusiasm they show about the performers and the composers… it shows that there’s this deep-rooted tradition, and it’s very amazing to see such a strong involvement between the youths and the established key players which is very encouraging. We also see institutions like the ASSO [Armenian State Symphony Orchestra], who are a very young state orchestra, becoming a major key player in the cultural scene in Armenia and promoting and collaborating with the masters, the living composers like Hayrapetyan. It’s truly amazing to see and a really touching experience for me, and it was really wonderful for me to be a key player in my role as conductor in this concert. I think that they seek to keep music really alive through the promotion of living composers, and they also have festivals for living composers, which is a very important factor. Armenia has a lot to offer in this sense and I think it’s very exciting to see that the contemporary classical music is very much appreciated there and it’s very welcomed since that gives you a lot of encouragement to keep on doing what we do.”
Alan Chircop (right) with Russian pianist Vladimir Ovchinnikov
You performed alongside Vladimir Ovchinnikov for this concert. Was it your first time playing with him, and how did you find the partnership went?
“I was very honoured to be collaborating with Vladimir Ovchinnikov because he’s a great name, and is a very renowned professor as well. It was also very nice from my point-of-view that we really clicked immediately where our musical perspective with regards to Mozart is concerned. We didn’t even need to discuss much, we just sat down and played and immediately realised that his interpretation of the piece was very much in line with my expectations and my own interpretation, and it just happened so naturally which is very nice when that happens. As a conductor it’s always ideal when yourself and the soloist interpret a piece in the same way because you always need to find that compromise and that balance when working together to reach some form of common baseline. In this case the music spoke for itself and Vladimir is an excellent pianist of course. I very much liked his interpretation because it was in line with how I myself would have approached the piece from a soloist’s point-of-view, so it was a real delight to perform with him.”
Alan Chircop is the Artistic Director of the InClassica International Music Festival and the European Foundation for Support of Culture (EUFSC). To learn more about his work and upcoming projects, please visit the EUFSC’s official website at http://eufsc.eu/.