Introducing two composers who built a bridge between East and West

The Music of Gurdjieff and Komitas

The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble, Levon Eskenian, Lusine Grigoryan

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Armenians George Gurdjieff (ca. 1866-1949) and Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935) based their compositions on traditional Armenian folk music. During this afternoon concert in Podium Mozaïek, pianist Lusine Grigoryan will play a selection of their works. On authentic instruments, the ensemble then translates this material back to its ‘folk’ sources. Arranger Levon Eskenian will talk about his arrangements and about the composers, their synthesis of East and West, and their ambivalent, in the case of Komitas tragic connection to Constantinople (nowadays Istanbul).



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The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble was founded in 2008 by the Lebanese-born Armenian musician Levon Eskenian. He formed a group of leading Armenian musicians with a view to creating ethnographically authentic arrangements of the music of Gurdjieff and Komitas for authentic Armenian instruments such as the duduk (double reed instrument), the zurna (double reed folk oboe), the pku (single reed folk clarinet), the tar (long-necked lute), the saz (double-string long-necked lute), the kamancheh (vielle), the oud (lute), the quanun (box zither), the daf (frame drum with small cymbals) and the dhol (double-headed drum). Published by the prestigious German label ECM, the ensemble's debut CD Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff received numerous awards, including a Dutch Edison for best world music album.


Komitas is the founder of modern Armenian composed music. He was born in 1869 as Soghomon Soghomonian in Kütahya in what is now Turkey, then part of the Ottoman Empire. Orphaned at a young age, Komitas was taken into a seminary near Yerevan. After his ordination as a priest he took on the name Komitas. As well as spiritual matters, from a young age Komitas was also interested in music; as a boy his singing talents had already been recognised and he studied composition in Berlin. A contemporary of Bela Bartók, Komitas shared the Hungarian composer's great interest in folk music. Collecting thousands of songs, he was the first to chart traditional Armenian music. In 1910 Komitas settled in Constantinople, which was then a world city with an influential Armenian community, and soon became a pivotal figure in the local music scene. However, the Armenian genocide of 1915 had such an impact on him, that he had a complete mental breakdown and would never compose again. In 1919 he moved to a sanatorium in Paris, where he died in 1935.


George I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949) was an influential spiritual leader in the first half of the 20th century. For years he travelled the Middle-East, Central Asia, India and North Africa, encountering a myriad of musical, dance and spiritual traditions along the way. After twenty years of travelling he moved to the West, making a name for himself with his doctrine of 'the harmonious development of man'. As well as his writings, Gurdjieff's legacy is a body of music, including a large collection of piano pieces which he dictated to one of his pupils, the Russian composer and pianist Thomas de Hartmann in the 1920's, having collaborated with him before on the music of Komitas.


In the first of two Holland Festival concerts, The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble combines the music of Gurdjieff with the pioneering Armenian works by Komitas. This evening concert at the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ consists of two parts. In the first part, the ensemble plays the music of Gurdjieff, a programme which they have performed before and have recorded onto their award winning CD. The second part is a new programme, in which they will play the music of Komitas.


As well as this evening concert, the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble will also give an afternoon concert at Podium Mozaïek, featuring a special conceptual approach to the piano works of Gurdjieff and Komitas. These works will first be played in their original form on the piano by Lusine Grigoryan, followed by an ensemble version of the same work, arranged by artistic leader Levon Eskenian. In creating his arrangements, Eskenian has used instructions concerning style and genre which Komitas had written in his scores, which suggested that ensemble performances could use traditional Armenian instruments. As Komitas managed to translate typical Armenian folk music genres and instrumental sounds to the piano, without violating the original, in this concert The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble translates the piano works back to their ethnic origins, though in a new version. The programme consists of famous Komitas pieces such as Seven Dances and Msho Shoror. Pianist Lusine Grigoryan is a renowned interpreter of Komitas' work, with extensive knowledge of his musical heritage and aesthetics.


The philosopher, spiritual leader, writer and composer Georges Gurdjieff was born in the second half of the 19th century in Armenia. He formulated the concept of the Harmonious Development of Man during his travels throughout the world in search of truth. His remarkable musical repertoire is based on the music he heard in Armenia, the Caucasus, the Middle East and many parts of Central Asia, India and North Africa, where he became acquainted with a great amount of spiritual and folk music, rituals and dance traditions. Gurdjieff’s music comprises some 300 works and fragments of works for piano that he composed in the 1920s by dictating them to his student, the Russian composer and pianist Thomas de Hartmann. Nowadays, Gurdjieff’s compositions are mainly studied in the West by using De Hartmann’s piano transcriptions.

The Armenian priest, musicologist, composer and musician Soghomon Soghomonian (1869-1935), known as Komitas, was the originator of the modern Armenian school of composition and forerunner of ethnomusicology. Through composer Makar Yekmalyan in Tiflis, Komitas became acquainted with European compositional techniques; he then went to study in Berlin. He was a contemporary of Bartók, and Debussy considered him brilliant: ‘I bow before your musical genius!’ Komitas was a master of the scholarly subdisciplines that have surrounded old forms of Armenian music geographically and historically. Komitas visited different regions of Armenia and wrote down thousands of Armenian, Kurdish, Persian and Turkish songs. In many parts of the world, he propagandised Armenian music by giving lectures but also as a musician: he was active as a choir director, singer, flutist and pianist. In 1904, he published the very first anthology of Kurdish folk songs. During the persecution of the Armenian intelligentsia, Komitas was deported in 1915 to Anatolia, where he witnessed the killing of his companions. He was rescued with the help of influential people and spent the last 20 years of his life, a broken man, in a Parisian psychiatric clinic.

The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble was founded in 2008 by the Armenian musician Levon Eskenian with the objective of performing ethnographically authentic adaptations of the music by Georges Gurdjieff that has been handed down in piano transcriptions by his student, Thomas de Hartmann. The ensemble, which has performed in Europe and Asia, consists of leading Armenian folk music instrumentalists who play the duduk (a woodwind instrument), the saz (a string instrument), the santoor (a cimbalom) and the dhol (a double-headed drum), among other things. The German label ECM Records published the ensemble’s CD Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff, which was highly praised, receiving the Dutch Edison and the National Music Award of Armenia. It was also picked as CD of the week by radio stations around the world. Georges Gurdjieff is known in the West as one of the greatest spiritual personalities of the 20th century. Levon Eskonian, the artistic director of The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble, has chosen and arranged works by Gurdjieff that have their roots in Armenian, Greek, Arab, Kurdish, Assyrian and Caucasian spiritual and traditional music for Eastern folk music instruments. The ensemble’s new repertoire includes the music of Komitas.


George Gurdjieff, Komitas
Lusine Grigoryan
arranger, artistic director
Levon Eskenian
The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble:
Emmanuel Hovhannisyan
(duduk, zurna, pku)
Norayr Gapoyan
Avag Margaryan
(blul, zurna)
Armen Ayvazyan
Aram Nikoghosyan
Meri Vardanyan
Vladimir Papikyan
Davit Avagyan
Mesrop Khalatyan
Eduard Harutyunyan