| From Beirut, Lebanon | Moved in 1996
Hayern Aysor's correspondent sat down for an interview with Lebanese-Armenian Levon Eskenian. In 1996, he overlooked the difficult conditions in Armenia and decided to settle in the Homeland with the great desire to examine pure Armenian music.
In Armenia, Levon first created the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble, which immediately became popular abroad and even received the Edison Award, which is one of the world’s four most prestigious awards. Most importantly, he started a family in the Homeland.
Hayern Aysor: Levon, you repatriated at a young age. What made you decide to repatriate at that age? Was it a decision that you had already made, or was it the calling of the spirit?
Levon Eskenian: Music was what made me repatriate to Armenia. I have been interested in music since childhood. Being Armenian, I would listen to Armenian music and feel the desire to continue my musical education in Armenia. That was why I repatriated. In 1996, at the age of 18, I returned to the Homeland. I started from scratch. My parents also encouraged me, believed in me and agreed with me.
Hayern Aysor: Where did you receive your musical education?
L. E.: I received my primary musical education in the Piano Department of Romanos Melikyan Music School of Yerevan and continued my higher education in the Piano Department of Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory. I also learned how to play the organ and studied composing. In 2005, I finished my studies and thought of continuing my education in Germany, but due to problems, it was constantly postponed. Perhaps it was providence, I don’t know.
I realized that I couldn’t be far away from Armenia. I had plans, and I saw my future in Armenia. So, I changed my decision. Now, undoubtedly, it is safe to say that staying was the right choice.
Afterwards, I continued my education and obtained a PhD in piano education from Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory in 2007.
From 2005 and 2014, I have been the artistic director of the Naregatsi Art Institute. I would organize over 200 events a year. During those years, we would establish contacts with many artists from Armenia, the Armenian Diaspora and foreign countries. I learned a lot about life while working at the Naregatsi Art Institute.
Hayern Aysor: You started living alone when you were 18. Wasn’t it hard?
L. E.: It all depends on how you look at difficulties and to what extent you consider them the difficulties that you are facing. I approached all that knowingly, thinking that everything is transient.
I tried not to create problems. Of course, the problems were inevitable, but I sought ways to solve them.
Hayern Aysor: Levon, was it easy for you to communicate with people and make friends in Armenia?
L. E.: In the beginning, I stayed at a student hostel where there were young Armenians from different provinces of Armenia and the Diaspora. Imagine seeing people speaking in different dialects and with different mindsets in the same environment. Whether I wanted to or not, I had to adapt and find ways to communicate. It was a big test that I managed to pass with honors.
I made friends when I was studying at the university. I also met many people during the years of working at Naregatsi Art Institute. I would meet more than ten artists a day and we would go on to become close friends. Those contacts helped me become presentable at international levels.
Hayern Aysor: What do you remember from your first visit to Armenia?
L. E.: The water in Armenia…I remember how I couldn’t get enough of it. I would constantly drink cold water.
Hayern Aysor: What is the Armenia of your dreams like?
L. E.: First, Diaspora Armenians need to be engaged in different projects for Armenia’s development, and there is a need to create a field for beneficial cooperation. Every Armenian needs to do everything possible to support Armenia’s development, but of course, without any expectations. To help the Homeland means to help yourself. If we all keep this idea in our minds, then that will help us preserve the Armenian identity.
Armenia has all the preconditions for prosperity. By using our resources correctly and combining our efforts, we can help our country flourish.
Since I travel often, I see that there is tremendous potential. The Armenians with that potential need to be engaged in the programs organized and carried out in Armenia. This is the Armenia of my dreams.
Hayern Aysor: Now let’s talk about the Gyurdjieff Ensemble.
L. E.: The main purpose is to preserve and disseminate Armenian music. I also wanted to undertake an initiative and move forward. I created the Ensemble in 2008 with the purpose of presenting ethnic Armenian music and my instrumental versions of those songs based on the works of G. I. Gurdjieff and Komitas. The Ensemble is composed of 11 top musicians of Armenia. Over time, the Ensemble became popular and gained a reputation, after which we began to receive invitations to participate in various international festivals. Our target is mainly the foreign audience since the goal is to introduce Armenian music to foreigners. It was a great honor to listen to composer Tigran Mansurian as he praised our Ensemble, and that is also binding.
The Ensemble has been active since the first years following its creation. In 2011, the famous German ECM Records released Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble’s album entitled “The Music of George Gurdjieff”.
The album was unprecedentedly successful. The world’s major radio stations selected it as the best album of the week, and in 2012, during a visit to Holland, we were granted the Edison Award, which is one of the world’s four most prestigious awards and was once granted to Charles Aznavour.
After the release of our album, we started touring in Europe, Asia and Australia. The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble gave concerts in several famous halls and at famous international festivals. The Ensemble has performed in Lebanon, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Russia, Switzerland, Belgium, Portugal, Holland, Poland, Romania, Australia and Armenia.
What became very important for the ensemble was the release of the new album entitled “Komitas-The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble-Levon Eskenian”, which was recorded in Switzerland and released by ECM Records in October 2015.
The world’s top and leading presses have covered the album. Songlines Magazine included it in its list of the top 10 albums of 2015, and the songs off that album are played in the planes of British Airways.
The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble also participated in the events dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Throughout the year 2015, we gave commemorative concerts in Zurich, Bucharest, Brazil, Buenos Aires and Cordoba.
Hayern Aysor: You often visit Armenian communities of the Diaspora. What problems do you think our compatriots face today?
L. E.: Unfortunately, most Diaspora Armenians are isolated from Armenia and have almost forgotten the Armenian language. They especially need support and need to be in the center of attention.
The key objective in the Diaspora is to help preserve, disseminate, and develop the Armenian language, especially among the youth. They need to be reminded about their native language every step of the way because they are the ones who will be protecting Armenian culture in the future. Only this will help Armenians preserve their national identity.
Hayern Aysor: At the end, what would you suggest to those who leave Armenia and try to get lucky in foreign countries?
L. E.: I can bring up my personal example. I’m not a tremendously wealthy Diaspora Armenian who simply decided to live in Armenia. I started a family and had a child in Armenia. It is easy to seek heaven in other places. You need to seek heaven within you and in the place where you live and create. I would simply advise them to think long and hard before leaving and then take that step.
When I travel, I meet Armenians who left Armenia many years ago and still live as refugees. They haven’t progressed or achieved success. Who needs to live like that and waste their years? That is “the sweetness” of living abroad.
I especially feel bad when I see Armenian youth who feel desperate to leave Armenia. Everyone should know that wherever they go, there is no better place than Armenia.
I love Armenia, with its advantages and disadvantages. I love it not only sensually, but also consciously and emotionally. We tour many countries, and during our trips, I miss Armenia and want to return as soon as possible.
I am an Armenian artist. Armenian culture is my source of nourishment, and this means that I have to live and create in Armenia for the benefit of all Armenians around the world.
Interview by Gevorg Chichyan