Berj Zamkochian delights Organ lovers in Vienna


Organist Berj Zamkochian (USA) in 1991 and 1994 gave a week-long master class for organ students under the sponsorship of the Conservatory of Vienna and the University for Music and the Performing Arts in Vienna. The sessions always ended with a solo recital by Berj Zamkochian in the Great Hall of the Konzerthaus. The great success of these concerts prompted General Secretary Dr. Karsten Witt to extend an invitation for Berj Zamkochian to appear on the "Organ Concert Series" in the Great Hall of Konzerthaus on February 16, 1997. The world renowned organist, whose recordings of the Saint-Säens Organ Symphony and the Poulenc Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani belong today to the most impressive recorded productions of these works (with Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra) is concertizing all over the world.

Berj Zamkochian performed again in Vienna, and the friends of the organ who missed this concert in the "Organ Circle" of the Konzerthaus missed in the true sense of the word an extraordinary organ recital! The stylistic conservative organists were maybe shocked by Zamkochian’s colorful registrations, but the friends of the organ, who wanted to hear a contemporary modern interpretation were enthusiastic in their delight of this musician, who is the American-born son of Armenian parents.

In the Bach Prelude and Fugue in A-minor, BWV 543 his approach was orchestral. With the Mozart Andante for Mechanical Organ in F-major K. 616 he used registrations that recalled the "Mechanical Organ." There was a Cadenza by Jeffrey Brody, stylistically fitting to Mozart that the organist played with pedals alone, performed by the American with perfect and precise technique. A real test piece for any organist is the Julius Reubke Sonata on the 94th Psalm in C-minor. This is a signature work for Zamkochian and he showed himself to be in full command of this masterpiece. He performed on the organ as if it were an orchestra, drawing forth all the possible colors, going from front to rear pipes, and with the colorful registrations underlined the monumentality of the work.

But the highlight, without any doubt, was yet to come; that of the first Austrian performance of the "Symphony for Organ" Visions of the Apocalypse, composed in 1996, a 26-minute work in four movements by Massachusetts-born composer Jeffrey Brody (1950). It was at the request of both composer and performer that Gerhard Track read verses from the Book of Revelation to give the audience a better understanding of the music. Brody, an already successfully performed composer both in the USA and Europe, writes in a very expressive tonality, with his own very distinctive style, which includes elements of 20th century writing. But, he goes in his own direction and confirms in his monumental work that we are still in the tonal age, especially when you speak a language of contemporary music, which the audience loves, and which is most appealing. (I must mention that this monumental work, and every work on the program, was performed by Zamkochian from memory and without the aid of registrants. Truly amazing!) We must hear the Brody work again.

With a chorale by J. S. Bach as an encore, the enthusiastic audience was released from the artistic spell of Zamkochian. Thanks to the Society of Konzerthaus who brought Zamkochian back to Vienna. He has been invited to return again next season. Truly, Berj Zamkochian belongs without doubt to the leading organ virtuosi of the world today.

(IADM) International Association of German Speaking Media Press-Agency, Cologne, Germany.

I have examined at some length the Concerto for Organ and Orchestra by the very gifted composer Jeffrey Brody. It is a monumental work, with evidence a great effort by its composer. The Organ part is most interesting, and it tells me that the composer knows well the instrument for which he writes, or that the person it is dedicated to has had some input into its creation.

I examined the hand-written score, which in itself is a work of art, and shows for the tender loving care with which pen reached paper. The first movement with its two cadenzi for pedals, the basso ostinato second movement, a tour de force for the Orchestra and Organ, and the third movement delightfully written on the theme of the Dance of Kochar.

The whole work leaves me speechless. Aside from his great genius of creation, I bow before the composer, Jeffrey Brody, for his thought in remembering the Armenian Genocide, when a whole world denies and ignores it. As an Armenian, I offer him my heartfelt thanks in the name of all Armenians but one day, at its performance in Armenia, he will receive the proper accolades due him from a grateful nation.

Edward Mirzoyan, former President of the Composer’s Union of Armenia.


Sonic splendor a feast for the ear

The vast and vaulted space of the magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City was the singularly appropriate venue for an astonishing organ recital of great musicality and virtuosity offered by organist Berj Zamkochian on Sunday, July 8. Of a year-long series of organ recitals offered as a Jubilee celebration of 1700 years of Armenian Christianity, surely this performance must be counted as one of the crowning jewels. The almost infinite spaciousness of the Cathedral made for a perfect match with the concert’s featured work, the Symphony for Organ, "Visions of the Apocalypse", by the noted Boston composer Jeffrey Brody. An almost capacity audience was left breathless at the conclusion of this towering work. Zamkochian brought his full powers of execution to this most demanding piece, not only playing notes, but the silences and the room as well as the listeners. Torrential waves of sonority were balanced by bare whispers of fragile sound, all in service to an apocalyptic vision of the composer and the organist.

Mr. Brody’s Symphony, composed in 1996 especially for Berj Zamkochian, is a sprawling and dramatic work based on four sections of Book of Revelation. The truly stunning interpretation that Zamkochian brings to it is clearly the result of great collaboration with the composer. Capturing virtually all the performing qualities of Zamkochian from the most brilliant bravura technical display to magical changes of color, this work provides a truly unique vehicle for the wizardry and the deep musicality of Zamkochian..

The Symphony’s first movement, "The Trumpet of the Seventh Angel", provides a key to the compositional style employed throughout the nearly half-hour work. Blending acerbic harmonies, jagged rhythms and a powerful, tonal lyricism, the composer brings a surprisingly fresh approach to the craft of inspired musical composition.

The sinuous and slithering chromatic lines of "The Marked Beast", the work’s second movement are relieved by an almost overwhelming major-key explosion , one in which Zamkochian made the most of as he built up the layers of sound in a growing web of fat and ripe textures. The third movement, "The Peace of the celestial City", is again quite slow, but here the composer provides a very different type of near stasis. An ineffable calm provides the listener with but a glimpse of the heavenly realm. The truly stunning diminuendo that Zamkochian achieved in the almost endless final chord was an event all to itself. To this listener’s ears, no other organist these days can achieve such effects. The concluding movement, "The Lake of Fire", is a sure-fire Toccata in a clear-cut Sonata form with an extended introduction and a literal recapitulation with a take-no-prisoners coda.. The very daunting technical demands of this last movement vanished into the abyss, defeated by Zamkochian’s superior technique and musicality. The final prolonged C-major chord with added ninth brought a triumphant resolution to all of the preceding chromaticism and harmonic acerbity. Seldom is such a plain C-major chord greeted with such a welcome. But this resolution was the logical and obviously well-thought out answer by the composer so expertly brought out in performance by Berj Zamkochian.

We understand that Mr. Brody has composed for Mr. Zamkochian a Concerto for Organ and Orchestra in commemoration of the Eightieth Anniversary of the Genocide.

To this listener’s ears American performances would seem to be highly in order.

After the Brody "Apocalypse" Symphony it would seem that there would be no further need of organ music for a while but Mr. Zamkochian accomplished the seemingly impossible task of forging a link to the present and the past by ending with his own arrangement of the traditional Hyre Mer, stunningly played.



(The Armenian Reporter International, Sept. 1, 2001)

On April 26, 1996, Jeffrey Brody and Berj Zamkochian were in Lansing, Michigan, for a performance of Jeffrey Brody’s Concerto for Organ and Orchestra. The performance took place in St. Thomas Aquinas Church, with the 110-member Symphony Orchestra of Michigan State University under the direction of Leon Gregorian with Berj Zamkochian as soloist.

The following review was written for the LANSING JOURNAL:

MIGHTY MUSICAL MONUMENT TO THE ARMENIAN MARTYRS OF 1915 by Dr. Conrad L. Donakowski, Professor of Musicology, Michigan State University for the Lansing Journal.

Genocide is the capital sin of our century. The first holocaust was the martyrdom of the Armenian people in 1915, which should have been a warning. Since mass extermination is done so often in the name of political improvement, the promises of popular leaders offer scant hope in the struggle against despair. Even religious faith has been subverted to evil designs, as we see in Bosnia. In this valley of tears, where can one find a vision larger than the limitations of politics or sects? The search for a glimmer of meaning often turns to artistic inspiration.

One such glimpse is offered by a vast musical creation inspired by the Armenian holocaust. On April 26 the Michigan State University Symphony Orchestra under Conductor Leon Gregorian played at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, E. Lansing, Michigan, with organ soloist Berj Zamkochian. The principal work of the evening using the full 110-member orchestra plus the mighty king of instruments, was Boston composer Jeffrey Brody’s Concerto for Organ and Orchestra, composed for organist Berj Zamkochian, and dedicated to the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide.

The first sound heard was a frightening crescendo that set the stage for an epic struggle between life and death. The opening movement of the seamless forty-one minute work depicts in classic form the struggle between despair and hope. These are portrayed by two intertwined Plainchant themes. One is Dies Irae, Day of Wrath, inspired by the plague that killed hundreds of thousands in the Middle Ages. Many composers have used this musical motif to symbolize the terrors of death, in conflict with the hauntingly beauriful melody that is final tone from the Requiem, In Paradisum-Into Paradise. Its message is hope.

The central movement is based on the Armenian funeral chant, "Ashkharh Amenayn’. This powerful music contemplates the destruction of a people, building to a climax of a crashing percussion blow upon which the entire movement turns around in retrograde, leading out of despair to hope. The final movement, "Rebirth", is based based upon an Armenian folk dance, "Kochari Bar", which symbolizes the rebirth of a people thought destroyed, but ever rising again. The message of "Rebirth" was particularly apt when one looked at soloist and conductor, both born of parents who were victims of the tragedy of the Armenian Genocide.

We were all overwhelmed by Brody’s Concerto and its compelling execution. Its technical difficulties alone could defeat many an orchestra. The MSU ensemble under Maestro Gregorian has to be reckoned among the finest conservatory orchestras in North America, both for technical mastery in executing this most demanding work, but even more important for the expressive ability to move everyone’s heart and soul. Drawn from the four corners of the globe, these young musicians themselves inspire the listewner to hope, and work, for a better world.

Berj Zamkochian delivered his usual amazing performance as organist. The Concerto tested every facet of his performance. Operating upon a whirlwind of notes while registering the 4200- pipe instrument distributed about the building in seven divisions, Zamkochian is indeed a legend in his own lifetime. No wonder the New York Times places one of his CD’s among the ‘fifty most important records of all time’.

Prior to the concert with orchestra, Zamkochian played one of the masterpieces of romantic organ literature, the Julius Reubke Sonata on the 94th Psalm. The 24-year old 19th century composer created a meditation that seems to forecast the modern Brody work. The big question, "how can God permit evil" is cast musically in many moods from despairing dark timbres to bright hope. Zamkochian called into focus the vast tonal resources of the St. Thomas organ. The magnificent acoustics of the building coupled with the visual splendor make this church the best venue for music and song in the region.

The evening concluded with the ever-popular Saint-Saens Organ Symphony. The silken string ensemble, and precise wind choir blended with the grand organ. All played faultlessly in a totally pleasurable finale to a concert that explored the heights and depths of human emotion. The conductor, soloist, composer and musicians earned a standing ovation that did not want to end.

Perhaps the best compliments for composer and performers came from the many children in the audience. They sat spellbound, which is itself a tribute to the range of human feelings expressed.

On a shoestring, Longwood produces true `Love'
by T.J. Medrek

Monday, June 11, 2001

Longwood Opera's ``The Measure of Love'' and ``The Impresario'' at First Baptist Church of Cambridge on Saturday.

Longwood Opera may have one of the smallest budgets of any opera company in New England. If you're looking for sumptuous sets, a cast of PBS superstars, or even an orchestra (Longwood's singers perform to piano accompaniment), look elsewhere. But if the Needham-based company is short on dollars, it's certainly long on heart, mostly that of co-founder and general director J. Scott Brumit. And in opera, that's one of the most valuable things money can't buy.

So it seems appropriate that Longwood's current production features the world premiere of an opera titled ``The Measure of Love.'' That production, part of a double bill with Mozart's ``The Impresario,'' played Needham's Christ Episcopal Church the first weekend of June and, on Saturday, came to the First Baptist Church of Cambridge.

By Boston composer Jeffrey Brody, who is the company's music director and pianist, and librettist Richard Sizensky, ``Measure'' is an entertaining charmer, filled with in-jokes about an unnamed Boston music school (it could be anywhere, actually) and the competitive students of its opera department. But it's also a serious work that, without being heavy-handed, gives us a glimpse of what it might mean to devote one's life to something as all-consuming as a career in music.

The four-scene, approximately 75-minute opera begins with Ann (the delightful Shanel Nand) as a starry-eyed soprano-in-training fending off the advances of swaggering, would-be baritone Jim (John Whittlesey) while waiting for her voice lesson with renowned teacher Nat Sprague (Cynthia Bravo). Ann confides to Jim that she's in love with the grand passion of opera, a world where, she sings, ``No one's afraid to say, `I love you.' '' Jim, playing Mars to her Venus, replies, `` `I love you' isn't hard to say.'' Jim's girlfriend, Monica (Monique Nasser), happens to be the opera department's prize pupil and a favorite of the imposing department head, Dr. Holmes (Brumit).

Ann is given a chance to have a normal personal life with a young businessman, David (Craig Hanson). But normal just can't compete with Ann's dreams of stardom - and a powerful attraction to Jim when she is cast opposite him over Monica in a school production of Mozart's ``Marriage of Figaro.'' In the final scene, Ann tries to resolve her desire for true human-scale love with the powerful seductiveness of operatic - that is, larger than life - emotion.

Brody's music is characterized throughout by a kind of melancholy, a sweet sadness that shows his love for these people almost because of, rather than despite, their self-deluding conceits, and it's a love that readily communicates itself to the audience. The more theatrical scenes, like Monica's ``I cannot believe this!'' in which she rails against her rival, could be a tad more dramatic, and the vocal line sometimes wanders a bit aimlessly. But these aren't fatal flaws, and ``Measure'' deserves a life beyond this premiere and the superior performance of this cast. Certainly it should be an instant hit on the workshop and conservatory circuit.

The Mozart, with its tale of rival prima donnas vying for top billing in a new opera, made an ideal curtain raiser, and sopranos Kim Bolling and Cordelia Chenault plus Hanson made the most of it, with the tireless Brody again at the piano.

Jeffrey Brody's "Psalm 100," commissioned in memory of a chorus member lost to AIDS, is a stirring straightforward motet built on a solid 19th-century foundation laid by Bruckner.
              Richard Dyer, The Boston Gobe, March 11, 1991

The Violin Concerto is a wonderful composition, varied, interesting, atmospheric, tightly constructed yet free-flowing, eclectic yet mod and very moving in the ways only fine music can be. The dynamic balance between the violin and orchestra was masterful.
----Dr. David Diamond, on Jan. 28, 2007 Salem Philharmonic performance conducted by the composer