Alessandra Pompili is on an astral journey with Alan Hovhaness

“My goal is to create music not for snobs but for everyone, music that is beautiful and healing.” These words from composer Alan Hovhaness appear in a short introduction to a recently released CD. This is the second recording that pianist Alessandra Pompili has made of her piano works and it is clear that she shares the composer’s musical approach.

In her introduction, she explains that she has always incorporated contemporary music into her recitals, but Hovhaness particularly appealed to her because of her interest in the “relationship between music and silence”. Her works, she finds, are conducive to this approach. “For me, acting is not just about enjoying wonderful music, but also presenting something that will make audiences want to relive that experience over and over again.”

It was Martin Berkofsky, a “defender of the music of Hovhaness”, who introduced him to the Armenian composer. He would send her dozens of works from his home in Virginia, and she began incorporating them into her performances. Then, like Berkofsky, she also started creating some of her compositions in Europe. His first CD, “Alan Hovhaness: Piano Works”, was released in 2014 and included Shalimar and Cougar Mountain Sonata.

The new recording is titled “Alan Hovhaness, Piano Works vol. 2 – Traveling on Earth and in Space. The five selections reflect, in fact, three countries (Ossetia, Japan and Greece) and two spatial dimensions; the former include Fantasy on an Ossetian air Op.85, komachi Op. 240, Nos. 1-7, and Greek Rhapsody No. 1 op. 63. In the journey through conceptual/astronomical space, music takes us Hermes Stella Op. 247 I, II, and on a Journey to Arcturus Op.354 I-VI. “So it’s a trip to very unusual destinations,” the pianist noted in an understatement.

A multilingual musical universe

Even for the non-specialist listener (like this writer), it becomes clear that we pass from one musical culture to another, when, after having heard the Fancy inspired by Ossetia, we know that with kamachi we have entered a Japanese cultural realm, with its ancient sages climbing steep mountains. The seven short pieces in this section, lasting one to two minutes each, are sound images, separate vignettes or cameos, recalling (like many of Hovhaness’s compositions) the works of Komitas. Although spoken by the same composing voice, the Greek Rhapsody who concludes the recording speaks another different language. It moves from high-pitched melodies and sped-up rhythms to the poignant and emotionally diverse “Goodbye Song of a Boy Who Must Go to War”, to a brief march-like conclusion, Revolution. As Kansas State University professor Dr. Craig Parker put it, Hovhaness was “a musical polyglot”, able to compose in a wide variety of idioms, having become intimately familiar with musical traditions ( and instruments) of many countries.

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