Concerto for Violin and Cello Program Notes

Tigran Mansurian (b. 1939)
Concerto for Violin and Cello

Tigran Mansurian is one of Armenia’s most prominent contemporary composers, with an oeuvre that includes orchestral works, chamber music, works for solo instruments, and film scores. He has cultivated ties with major composers such as Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina, Arvo Pärt, and performers such as Kim Kashkashian and the Hilliard Ensemble.

Born in Beirut, his family moved to Armenia in 1947, eventually settling in the capital city of Yerevan. Mansurian attended Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory, where he later taught and became director. In the 1960s, he became interested in the musical developments of the Western avant-garde; his music has been known ever since for its combination of Armenian material, rich in ancient sacred traditions, and contemporary Western techniques. As he has said of Armenia’s musical language: “Our position on the map of music and culture is exactly on the spot where East and West meet.”
Mansurian’s Double Concerto was written in 1978 and dedicated to cellist Natalia Gutman and violinist Oleg Kagan. Its soundworld is searingly expressive even in its most austere moments. The first movement begins softly, with statements of the violin and cello themes. The movement rapidly escalates, with desperate glissandos and tremolos building to a terrifyingly intense middle section before the fervor suddenly dies down. The second movement is meditative, starting with the solemnity of a church hymn and maintaining its slow tempo throughout. The opening of the first movement is restated as an epilogue, sealing away the disquiet within.