The Armenian Gurdjieff Ensemble conquered the audience’s hearts at the Holland Festival in 2015. It now returns for a concert with the Syrian ensemble Hewar, which mixes Arabic music with jazz and western classical music. They are premiering two new pieces: one by the Armenian Tigran Mansurian and Kharej AlSerb by the Syrian Issam Rafea. Works by the Armenian composers George Gurdjieff and Komitas Vardapet, arranged by Levon Eskenian, will also be performed, as well as music by the members of Hewar: Kinan Azmeh, Dima Orsho, Jasser Haj Youssef and Basilius Alawad. The concert is a close interaction between two different cultures that live in close physical association with one another and have had a rich cultural exchange over the centuries. A dialogue giving voice to a wish for sustained peace.
Levon Eskenian founded the Gurdjieff Ensemble in 2008. Eskenian, an Armenian born in Lebanon in 1978, moved to Armenia at the age of eighteen, where he studied composition, improvisation and
piano at the Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory. In 2006 he heard a CD on the ECM label containing piano music written by spiritual leader Georges I. Gurdjieff in collaboration with composer Thomas de Hartmann. The sound of those pieces, suffused with influences from the Caucasus musical tradition, inspired Eskenian to create the Gurdjieff Ensemble (formerly known as the Gurdjieff Folk Instrument Ensemble). The ensemble aims to reconstruct this ethnographically authentic music from the oral tradition lost during the genocide of 1915. The group went on tour with those arrangements and released a CD in 2011 which won numerous prizes, including a Dutch Edison Award as album of the year in the world music category.
The Gurdjieff Ensemble then focused its attention on the work of Armenian priest and composer Komitas Vardapet, who was the first to collect Armenian traditional music and use it in his own compositions. This repertoire has again been arranged by Levon Eskenian for his ensemble’s traditional instrumentation, and recorded on a CD released in 2015 on ECM, the same label that brought out the Gurdjieff CD. In 2015, these musicians presented music written by both composers during the Holland Festival, and in 2016 they went on a world tour with their Komitas programme.
The Syrian ensemble Hewar (meaning ‘dialogue’ in Arabic) and featuring composer/performers Kinan Azmeh (clarinet), Dima Orsho, Basilius Alawad (cello) and Jasser Haj-Youssef (violin, and viola d’amour) is a unique musical exchange between different musical personalities (using each individual instrument as the only means of communication), reflecting an approach that is as much musically-based as it has social and political references and subtexts. They perform adventurous Arabic music that is inspired by Arabic music traditions but by no means limited by them. The four performers-composers aim - in their spontaneous "dialogue" on stage - to blur the lines between the improvised and the composed, the traditional and the contemporary. The ensemble brings together a fresh and diverse musical palate and influences by frequently inviting guest artists, and draw from an array of musical traditions—namely Arabic, jazz, and classical music among others. Hewar was launched with a concert that took place in the historical setting of the al-Zaytuna church (old city of Damascus) in September 2003, and has been touring the U.S., Europe, Japan, and the Middle-East ever since. Hewar has released three albums: Hewar (2005), 9 days of Solitude (2007) and Letters to a homeland (2012). The trio has performed with such artists as the celebrated Armenian duduk player Djivan Gasparian and many others. They have made numerous appearances at the renowned Morgenland Festival Osnabrück. Last year, they were featured guests during the Salām Syria festival in Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie.