“Bad people don’t make good musicians”
World famous artist and the unsurpassed duduk player Djivan Gasparian talks for BLESOK about his reception with the Macedonian audience, his travels, the musicians he cooperated with, his wishes and plans.
BLESOK: Djivan Gasparian opened his soul twice for the Macedonian audience. He made two very similar, but also different concerts. During the first one in Kurshumli-An, the ambiance and the emotions melted, while the second one was a place to offer the cleanliness of the music and the stirred soul of the great artist. How did you experience these performances?
#1 GASPARIAN: I agree that these two happenings were beautiful, and I personally am very satisfied from the last-night performance. I simply think that the barriers between me, the performer, and the audience vanished, we offered our souls to each other, and melted. On top of it this concert was far better organized and technically more advanced.
BLESOK: If by last summer you were a cult-personality, it seems now that you are a great pop-icon who knows to draw the attention of a larger audience.
GASPARIAN: That’s right. I think that if the people don’t know the artist, it would be hard for him to establish contact with the audience. I reckon that in Macedonia I am the same thing that I am in my native Armenia. If the people did not know my music, they wouldn’t have accepted it with such delight. I am very happy because the audience received me as one of their own, as they would receive a Macedonian.
BLESOK: So, we can conclude that Gasparian, not only because of the presence of Dragan Dautovski Quartet, but on his own also, accomplished to build a bridge, to connect the Armenian and the Macedonian music, the souls of both peoples.
GASPARIAN: That was really interesting. That was not only my idea, but also result of the efforts of Goran Tanevski, the organizer of both my concerts. He came behind that idea, which the audience loved. By the way, this is not my first meeting with Dautovski. We talked once on a festival in Israel, but this is the first time to play together. I have no doubts that we both had a good time, which we shared the joy of playing together. I hope to meet again, and even record something with him. I always work with different musicians and do not insist for them to be world-famous. On the contrary. I’ve performed with great names, or it was vice versa. Peter Gabriel, Michael Brook, and the others I’ve played with looked for me, and found me. My presence at their materials was their idea. I must admit that cooperating with them was a pleasant experience. I believe that they had a good time and learned something precious. Because of that, I would be really glad if I work with some Macedonian musicians in the future.
BLESOK: You’ve worked with world-famous artists, but also with unknown ones. What is it that you value in an artist?
GASPARIAN: The soul, first and foremost. It is what raises the quality of a musician. If a musician has a good soul, then a good technique and a good ear, he is a real artist for me. It doesn’t matter if he is known in the world or not.
BLESOK: Which members of world elite that you worked with you value the most?
GASPARIAN: They are all really good artists. Gabriel, Brook, Lionel Richie, the people of Cronnos Quartet, Hans Zimmer, the harph player Andreas Volenveider, they all have that certain something. They were very enthusiastic about cooperating with me, respect my music and I think we managed to do well togather.
BLESOK: Our audience is very interested in your cooperation with the authors of the music for the movie “The Gladiator.” You appear on two melodies on the soundtrack, but it seems that your spirit hovers above all of it.
GASPARIAN: When they invited me to record music for the movie I saw that they had written music for duduk. I asked them: “Why did you call me when you already have written the music?” They had no answer. Still, I had no doubt that they are acquainted with my history. I had no doubt that they know well enough how to spend the money from the movie budget, so I first recorded what they wanted me to, and then Hans Zimmer asked me to improvise, in a way I think and feel. I did that. Hans, Lisa Gerard and the others there just listened and recorded. After a few months, while in Erevan, I got a copy of the soundtrack. It was a nice surprise that you could feel my influence, my contribution, to hear those additional improvisations.
BLESOK: At the age of 72 you are a world music star. What keeps you going? Do you, maybe, feel as a child in your soul? Did you have time to grow old? Do you have the strenghth to keep working at the same pace?
GASPARIAN: In regard to health, I feel very well. My father and grandfather both lived long. My grandfather died at 97, and my father at 95. Their longevity was probably a consequence of their work. My father never stopped working. He never had to go to a doctor, never had an illness. I feel quite well and have energy to do a lot more things. Because of my continous engagement, I am very respected in my Armenia. Recently I played for a crowd of four thousand people in Moscow, who rose and applauded for more than 15 minutes when my name was mentioned. Probably, 75% of the people there were Armenians. But, on the concerts in the USA, and here, in Macedonia, my countrymen are not present, but still there’s a lot of attention and respect. That is the thing that keeps me going, gives me strength to keep working at the same pace. I have no time to grow old.
BLESOK: Your music is very emotional. At the Skopje concert, you played the beautiful song “My mother,” with a lot of feelings and artism. I suppose the song refers to your mother.
GASPARIAN: I sing: “Day and night you didn’t sleep, mother / You sung lullabuyes to me / You gave birth to me with an intention to become a good man / Forgive me for not being able to give you as much as you gave me.”
I wrote this and the other two songs as my gift to other humans. This is not a song about my mother, but about all mothers in the world. My songs sing praise to love and understanding. I want to thank God for the goodness that he gave to people, the free thought, for everything that makes us human.
BLESOK: For a long time you were a teacher of music, planting the love towards the wisdom of art in the young people. What was the basic thing that you wanted the students to learn?
GASPARIAN: I thought at the Erevan University for 25 years. Since the first day of the department of folk music. In the last few years I have too much obligations, so I cannot teach as much. I teach my students to be good persons first. Bad people don’t make good musicians. I play professionally for 50 years. I have a room full of medals and decorations. I’ve played for Stalin, Hrushchv, Brezhnjev, for the queen of England, Cannedy, the shah of Persia, the sheik of Kuwait. I’ve recorded with Eno, Gabriel, and many others. I wouldn’t have done all of that if I was not a good man. I wouldn’t have been a good musician. That is the thing I am trying to teach my students. Everything is possible if you take the path of goodness.
BLESOK: When was your first performance in the West? We know that you were one of the best musicians in the USSR, but for political reasons it must have taken a long time untill you were able to present your music to the world?
GASPARIAN: In 1959, with about 150 artists, the elite of the Soviet culture at the time, the members of the Bolshoi Theatre, the Leningrad Ballet, I had a three month tour in the USA. I remember the 20 consecutive concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. Aftert Armenia’s independence, my travels multiplied – I became a free man. Before that, I had to ask for a permit from Moscow. Sometimes they would let me, but sometimes they would not, no matter if it was some big humanitarian event, sponsored by international organization. For example, UNESCO invited me once for a humanitarian concert in Paris. But, since Hachaturian and Rostopovich were to be at the concert too, only the later got a travel permit. When we found out about that, the three of us were happy that at least one of us can perform before the French audience. We went to a bar and got drank together. Such were the times, and such was the system. When they allowed themselves to treat me as a dummy, a recepient of world-class awards, winner of competitions and all, what do you think happened to the ordinary people?
Brian Eno is probably the person who contributed most to building my reputation in the West. This musician bought one of my records while visiting Moscow in 1988, and delighted with the content hurried to offer cooperation. The rest is history. After the big tour in the West, which were televised via satelite, the world learned that the story of Djivan Gasparian is the story about the duduk. I will die, but the duduk remains. The story about its development will continue, because the students I leave behind are good masters. I love the duduk. There were good masters before, good players. I am only a link in a chain, although I play in a different manner than my predicessors. I start new roads and the new duduk school. I won’t display false modesty, so I will quote an American writer, who once said to me: “Gasparian, you don’t play, but pray.”
BLESOK: As far as I know, your last album, “Armenian Phantasies,” was released in the West last year. You made it with your closest colaborators and students. Do you plan some new records for this year?
GASPARIAN: About three months ago, I recorded the material for my new album in Turkey. Besides that, since this year I celebrate my 50th anniversary as a performer, I prepare a compilation of four CDs. The producers insist on realizing my old wish: to record classical Armenian folk songs, accompanied by a symphony orchestra.
BLESOK: Did you realise all your dreams?
GASPARIAN: No. Dreams are neverending. Whatever I do, the world remains big. Still, I want to do as much as I can. I repeat: the world is big, its endless! Today its mine, tomorrow its yours!
Translated by: Filip Stojanovski