A new album of contemporary chamber music might never have come into existence without UCLA professor Movses Pogossian. Recorded on the UCLA campus, the album, Con Anima, is also among a select number of projects that the record label, Edition of Contemporary Music, has produced outside of Europe.
Con Anima, which was released Nov. 6, presents previously unrecorded works by Tigran Mansurian, one of Armenia’s greatest contemporary composers. The collection was conceived by Pogossian, a professor of violin and director of the Armenian music program at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, and renowned violist Kim Kashkashian. Kashkashian is not affiliated with UCLA, but she and Pogossian have performed together in the past.
Mansurian’s compositions reflect Armenia’s cultural heritage; some were directly shaped by the specter of war and violence that have shaped its history and remain a concern even as the nation faces the devastating effects of its latest conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan. String Quartet No. 3, for example, was written during the Nagorno-Karabakh War of the late 1980s and early ’90s.
Those references are of deep personal importance to Pogossian, whose grandfather was his family’s only survivor of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. And although he said it may be challenging to celebrate a new album release in light of Armenia’s current struggles, Pogossian hopes the project will inspire pride and encourage resilience.
“The historical trauma suffered by Armenians is powerful,” Pogossian said. “We must all make sure to remain human no matter what life throws at us. Music has that power, especially the work of Tigran Mansurian, which is always poignant and almost piercing in its honest connection to the roots of Armenia’s musical tradition.”
Pogossian is one of three UCLA musicians who play on the album, along with clarinetist Boris Allakhverdyan and violinist Varty Manouelian. The tracks were recorded between January and April 2019 in the recording studio of the Herb Alpert School of Music’s Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center.
“ECM prefers to record its CDs in Germany in order to oversee all aspects of production,” Pogossian said. “Their decision to complete only post-production work in Germany speaks to the quality of our facilities and staff, and the success of our young but accomplished donor-supported Armenian Music Program, which I have been honored to lead for the past seven years.”
Con Anima showcases Mansurian’s expansive body of work and its creative influences including the compositions of Komitas Vardapet, the founder of the Armenian classical music tradition, who lost his life in the 1915 genocide.
The project also showcases the caliber of UCLA’s recording facilities.
“This release represents a beautiful triumph by our talented faculty and I could not be prouder,” said Eileen Strempel, dean of the music school. “It’s a wonderful honor that a label as prominent as ECM has chosen to release this work and allow for its recording at our school.”