As the Komitas Trio makes its inaugural debut, Michael Krikorian brings Keyboard Concerts the gift of a new chamber ensemble
Michael Krikorian, a proud Fresno State graduate, was a big hit in 2019 when he returned to his alma mater to perform in the Philip Lorenz International Keyboard Concerts series. Now he’s coming back with a couple of friends. The Komitas Trio will give its debut performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 4, in the university’s Concert Hall. It’s an exciting development in the packed career of Krikorian, who has carved out a busy professional life for himself in Los Angeles. (But it’s always nice to come home.) I caught up with him by phone and email to talk about his latest adventure:
Q: You named your new trio after one of the great Armenian composers. Why did you pick Komitas?
A: Komitas was a seminal figure in the history of Armenian music whose work as a composer and ethnomusicologist profoundly influenced future generations of musicians. I feel a deep spiritual connection to his music, which is a sentiment shared by many in the Armenian community. He is a cultural icon, and as a survivor of the Armenian genocide has become a symbol for the enduring power of music to affirm life and cultural identify in times of extraordinary suffering and hardship. A central focus for the trio is the celebration and championing of music by Armenian composers, so adopting the name Komitas seemed like a natural choice.
Q: Komitas was a multi-talented guy: a composer, yes, but also a poet, priest, arranger, singer, choirmaster, and, perhaps most famously, an ethnomusicologist. It strikes me that you wear a lot of hats these days, too: performer, teacher, composer, writer. Do you feel a certain kinship to Komitas because of that?
A: Yes, absolutely! Arno Babajanian was another multifaceted artist who I admire and feel a kinship to. I want to engage in the music-making process from as many different angles and perspectives as I can, which is what inspires me to wear all those different hats, so to speak.
Q: You founded this trio with two other prominent Armenian musicians from the Los Angeles area: Aroussiak Baltaian (violin) and Garik Terzian (cello). Tell us a little about each of them.
A: They are both fabulous Los Angeles-based musicians, and fellow USC alumni! Aroussiak has appeared as a guest concertmaster with the Fresno Philharmonic, and currently appears regularly with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Garik is a highly sought after chamber musician, who is also a graduate of the Komitas Conservatory in Yerevan, Armenia.
Q: All three of you are passionate about Armenian music, but you don’t want to limit yourselves, is that correct?
A: Yes, there is just too much great music to be boxed in. In this program, we are performing a trio by Clara Schumann, which is a piece that deserves much more attention than it has received. We are also performing Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2, a piece that expresses all the anguish and devastation felt by those who have endured the horrors of war and oppression. This is unfortunately all too relevant today with the unfathomable suffering being inflicted upon the people of Ukraine.
Related story: From student to star pianist, Michael Krikorian comes home to Fresno State (2019)
Q: Your Keyboard appearance is the inaugural performance of the trio. Anything special planned? Champagne?
A: We don’t have a reception planned. If we did, Champagne would be nice. However, I think Ararat brandy would be more on-brand for us.
Q: Your program includes Babadjanian’s Trio in F-sharp minor. You’ve called his piano trio “the greatest thing he wrote.” Why do you think that?
A: It is masterfully crafted — substantial yet concise — in some moments hauntingly beautiful, and in others ferociously energetic. It is one of his more traditional works, though he does push the boundaries of tonality. Armenian folk music is the soul of this piece, and I feel it resonate in my bones.
Q: What was your pandemic like? How did you adjust?
A: I was fortunate to have the technological means to continue teaching my students remotely. My online teaching setup became more sophisticated as the pandemic dragged on, and I am continuing to use it as a supplement to regular in-person lessons. I did appreciate having the time to practice music for the sake of pure enjoyment without the pressure of preparing for anything in particular.
Q: You served as a guest artist in a class for CSU Summer Arts last year about composing music for video games. Why is this field such a popular one for composers these days?
A: Video games are relatively new as an artistic medium, but they have cemented a firm place in popular culture. Games have exploded in popularity in recent years, and the tools to create them are more accessible than ever. As a result, the sheer number of games coming out is staggering, and so the field is ripe with opportunities for composers. The element of interactivity separates games from other visual storytelling media, and can make for truly profound experiences for players. Music plays a huge role in shaping those experiences, and being able to contribute to this can be so fulfilling for composers.
Q: If video games had been around in his time, do you think Komitas would have taken a crack at composing for one?
A: I think Babajanian would have been more likely to take a swing at composing for video games – he did actually compose some film scores!