Sona Hovhannisyan, the founder of the Hover choir and the head of Komitas State Conservatory of Yerevan, talked with us about Komitas’s exceptional personality, her bond with the master and his transcending value which goes beyond time.

Text : Margarit Mirzoyan



Komitas’s role in the formation of what we today call Armenian music is indisputable. He did the work of institutes, preserving the music of an entire nation. He touched all these notes and melodies so delicately and sensitively that even today, he awakens a huge excitement, admiration and delight by his voice and his songs. Just the fact that after 150 years, Komitas’s music is relevant in all its expressions, both in modern reading and in the original version, is a reason to celebrate his life and inheritance. Today, in the base of the repertoire of almost all Armenian chamber music choirs and performers, Komitas is the start and the destination. There are many modern artists, such as Tigran Hamasyan and even one of the Spanish singers – Buika, who present their vision of Vardapet’s compositions. In all its versions, his music is ever-transcending, touching and insightful. The life of the author was quite tragic, but by its essence it conveyed purity and revival which can be felt and seen in every single note of his songs.



I am in front of Komitas State Conservatory, a magnificent building with huge glass windows beautifully caged in various patterns, allowing the outside light to enter the vestibules of the construction. Entering the building, the first thing I see is the sculpture of Komitas integrated into a large artwork composed of red tuff, peacefully placed on the wall before me. Later on, wandering on the floors of this building in the search of the rectorate, I see his images everywhere. The spirit of Komitas is cherished and well preserved here. Students are running here and there, one door closes, another one opens, and I finally find the room I was searching for and meet Sona Hovhannisyan. In her office, again, I see the images of the master everywhere; either alone or with his choir. In his definitive presence, we begin our interview.



Komitas is the founder of the professional Armenian composing school, which is oriented and defined by Komitas’s rich inheritance, work, and entire life in all its expressions. Composer Edvard Mirzoyan would always say: “Without Bach, German music would be the same as it is today but without Komitas, we wouldn’t have the Armenian music the way we have it now.” This one person has changed the entire musical thinking, proving that Armenian music is neither Western nor Eastern. It’s unique and is similar only to itself.



Timeless Komitas

In our days, Komitas’s word is passed in various directions and with different approaches but for all of us, especially, all chamber choirs, our first composition is Komitas. He’s the definition of a classic. How do we define the artists to be the classics of all time? Their music is timeless. You don’t listen to Komitas as the music of the past, you experience it right in the moment. That is the meaning behind the word classic in this context. The works of these artists speak with you even today. It can be an art treasure coming from hundreds of years ago but still remain relevant. We can say this not only about music, but also fine arts, literature and much more.

I’ve dedicated my entire lifetime to preserve and perform Komitas’s music the way it was written by the author himself and that’s my vision of his music. But I understand that each era brings its own allegories. If it is done by revealing the hidden layers of the given composition, then, of course, it’s interesting to know how representatives of different music genres read and perceive his music. In some cases, it’s the music which Komitas has collected from different Armenian settlements that is being presented, rather than the music he’s written himself. Thus, these traditional Armenian compositions are being performed by many artists.

I think, Komitas is still undiscovered. I’ve recently come back from Artsakh where five musical groups were performing. All of us see his music and interpret it differently but we’re all devotees and approach Komitas’s works with love. Our work teaches us to accept all these different perceptions because our main tool is human, meaning our piano is human and we know how to be respectful in these interactions and contrasting visions of the same notes.

Suddenly, someone may discover a new particle in a work which you haven’t noticed or vice versa. Our visions of the same music is what set us apart. Notes are not living creatures, you breathe new air into them and they start to live. But there are a million ways of living. One can live a distorted and detrimental life or can have a healthy, well-thought and planned life. We live with these notes for many years and our battle is mainly with them and it’s the right battle. We are always in an ongoing dialogue with the same material, with same Komitas. Before our performance in Gyumri, we sat and talked about how we should perform his music in a way that didn’t seem like a mechanical action, i.e., not just words and notes, but a value, visualization, bonds and structure, because music is a construction and Komitas managed to create unbelievable buildings. In a small scale, he managed to input monumental ideas. From first glance, he’s compositions are small, not symphonies or operas but in this small scale, he built such strong communication that it creates indescribable feelings and mood from the first notes. This is what music is all about: a blend of all of these.


Personal Bond

When I studied at Sayat Nova’s Musical School, I came across the collection of Komitas’s solo and choir compositions. I was a child but could already read his music and I was very much impressed. I was dreaming for everyone to leave the house so that I could be alone and repeatedly sing his works. It was a very important phase in my life. No one ever forced me to do it - not at school, nor in the family. My mother was a singer, but believe me, she never directed me. I discovered his music by myself.

When I was applying to the conservatory, they asked me to sing one composition of my choice. I sang one, then two, then they asked me to sing another one and another one. They were highly impressed that I'd acquired this knowledge by myself and of my own desire. This was the beginning for me. You know, it doesn’t matter in which era the exact composition was created. We, musicians, have that special bond with music of all times through the notes. We don’t need the inventions of today, the internet or the time machine. We recognize each other by the music and these connections are extremely valuable. Through all times, musicians didn’t need the technologies to witness the thinking of humans of 300 years ago.

Komitas is my daily water and bread, my friend, my closest person. While acknowledging his incredible value and greatness, I still connect with him as a close friend of mine. He never stops exciting, concerning, or humoring. He’s a very perceptive and insightful person. I always come back to him.



Leaving Mrs. Hovhannisyan in her room, in the company of her old friend, I exit the building, feeling his presence on the staircase and in the light that enters the vestibule. I go outside and look at the master for one last time, peacefully sitting in the park in front of the conservatory, observing the world and maybe composing.