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Kimberly  Simpkins

Catching Khachaturian

February 18, 2013 at 4:11 AM

I was delighted when my violin professor suggested that I study Khachaturian's Violin Concerto in my first semester of graduate school. You see, I made this "list". I guess you could sort of call it my "violin bucket list", or what I want to be able to play before I die. Doesn't every violinist have one? Khachaturian's violin concerto was on my "list" (along with Bach Partita No. 2 and the elusive Chaconne...but alas, I'm not quite ready for that one yet. Maybe next year!)

I have a particular affinity for this concerto for several reasons.

First of all, I discovered it when I was in high school. I had a recording of David Oistrakh playing it. It caught my attention because of the tonality of the piece, as well as the rhythms. As violin concerti go, it was "different". It stood out to me among the other more famous "standard" ones. It was this hidden treasure that I stumbled upon one day at the library my mother worked at. I loved the Eastern flavor of the augmented 2nds, the syncopation in the 3rd movement, and the rich, almost mournful sound of the 2nd movement. I just fell in love with this concerto.

Then, I actually had the opportunity to travel to Armenia, and perform in Khachaturian concert hall in Yereven. That was quite a trip. It was with the musical missions group I traveled with as a young adult. I learned so much about the rich, cultural heritage of the Armenian people. It is the oldest Christian nation in the world. (We were privileged to meet the head of the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Catholicos, and play for him.) They are very proud and spiritual people...and interestingly enough, more Armenians live outside of Armenia than actually reside IN country. I've met Armenians all over the world. We even learned the Armenian National Anthem, that is sung at the beginning of every public performance. Since we were performing publicly, we learned it too. They also love music and have a deep appreciation for the arts. We got to hear a concert of the Armenian Philharmonic in the Khachaturian Hall a few days before we performed there ourselves. Aram Khachaturian is a hero in Armenia. He was a fabulous composer.

So, I really connect with this concerto, but I've never studied it or tried to play it. One thing I was surprised to discover is that it is not nearly as difficult as I thought it might be. I find it to be very playable, even though I'm still in the early stages of learning it and don't quite have it in my fingers yet. At first, I was quite intimidated by it...but now that I'm getting into the nitty gritty of it, even with the tonalities and intervals, I feel like the mystery is being removed bit by bit, and I feel like I'll actually be able to play this thing one day.

If I could say one thing that I've discovered that is paramount to learning to play this piece of music, it is that one MUST learn where the half-steps and whole steps are. I have never marked so many "V"'s in a piece of music in my life! Also, in several spots it helps to think enharmonically. My brain cannot process a jump from an F-flat to a C-flat, but I CAN process an E-natural to a B. Knowing the finger patterns help too. I call this the "live long and prosper" concerto because of the finger pattern of half-step, whole step, half step that makes your hand look like you're doing the Spock Salute. Sometimes half-steps occur in the places I least expect, and several occur in a row, making my fingers feel very squished. But again, knowing the finger pattern helps me not get confused.

I have not decided which cadenza to do yet. My edition has both Khachaturian's and Oistrakh's. I think that, at this point for me, the deciding factor will be whichever one is easier, lol...or I guess whichever one my professor makes me do! *grin* I recently discovered a new cadenza by Artur Avanesov, and I think that one is the one closest to my heart...if I can convince my professor! So far, my favorite recording is the famous one of Kogan playing. I know it was written for Oistrakh, but I think Kogan really owned this one. Although the recent one with Mikhail Simonyan doing the Avanesov cadenza is pretty good, too!

I'm only in the first movement right now, but I would love to learn the entire concerto. For now, though, this is the perfect piece to break me in after a 20-year hiatus from playing any kind of concerto!

So who out there has played this, and do you have any advice that will make "catching Khachaturian" any easier? What's your favorite recording of it? And...what's on YOUR "violin bucket list"? Do share!!!!

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