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Detroit composer's new piece conveys Armenian holocaust
Metro area composer and producer Dan Yessian has always been proud of his Armenian heritage. But the Armenian genocide of 1915 was something he had to struggle to learn about.
"My grandparents reluctantly informed me about some of the things that had taken place," says Yessian, 71, who this week premieres his "An Armenian Trilogy," commemorating the genocide's 100th anniversary, at the Macomb Center For the Performing Arts in Clinton Township. "My grandfather saw his wife die in front of him. My grandmother used to carry ground meat under her breasts to feed her children. Five thousand kids were stabbed and throw into the river. Women were raped in front of their husbands.
"Unfortunately it's not too much different than what's going on today in other places in the world. It's a question of what we learn from history."
Some 1.5 million Armenians were murdered during the campaign by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, and controversy has raged over the years about the Turkish government's refusal to apologize for or even acknowledge what happened despite worldwide pressure. Yessian -- whose Yessian Music Inc. is based in Farmington Hills with studios in New York, Los Angeles and Hamburg, Germany -- was approached to write something by Pastor Garabed Kochakian of St. John's Armenian Church of Greater Detroit In Southfield. He began writing in earnest earlier this year, crafting a violin-and-piano peace in three movements -- The Freedom, The Fear and The Faith -- trying to convey in music the stories he heard from his grandparents.
"It's not happy music," acknowledges Yessian, who drew from his experience playing in an Armenian-American wedding band as a youth and incorporated a piece of music regularly played during Sunday church services in the final movement. "And it comes from an American perspective. I grew up under an Armenian roof but have never been to Armenia. I was more familiar with the food than I was with the music, so I wanted to make something that, musically, could be accessible to an American public."
The real challenge, Yessian says, was to portray that "there is hope and there's a reliance on hope -- but where does that hope emanate from after something so terrible. It's so polarized, you know? But that hope has to come from some higher being, whether you want to call it Jesus or God or Buddah. It's about faith and how that gets us through."
"An Armenian Trilogy" will be performed by violinist Sonia Lee and pianist Shawn McDonald. Yessian -- whose company handles advertising music for United Airlines, Ford, Coca-Cola, Disney and more as well as for the One World Observatory at the new World Trace Center in New York -- plans to make a recording of the work and also present a full orchestral arrangement next spring.
Dan Yessian, "An Armenian Trilogy" and Detroit Winds & Strings, "Hope Dies Last"
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29.
Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, 44575 Garfield Road, Clinton Township.
Tickets are $15.
Call 586-286-2222 or visit macombcenter.com.
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