Interview With Aram Satian: Starting a New Composition

Aram Satian Արամ Սաթյան

Achod Papasian | Music of Armenia, Yerevan 

Achod Papasian met Aram Satian, the newly elected president of the Composers Union of Armenia to find out more about his plans and objectives for the Union. He is the successor of Robert Amirkhanyan who had been the Head of the Union since its establishment in 1991. The meeting took place in his office - a wide circular room decorated with columns, overlooking Pushkin Street in Yerevan.

Mr. Satian, could you tell us about your past work experience?
As a composer, I am the author of three symphonies and two operas - significantly, I wrote the first Armenian pop-opera (Lilith). I have also written more than three hundred pop songs for numerous singers of the Armenian *'Estrada' - for Syuzan Margaryan, Gayane Hovhanisyan and Russian pop singers. My music, including one of my sonatas which was recorded by the French cello player Dominique de Villancourt, has been published and performed in many countires. As a director, I directed the Department of Musical Theory at Arno Babajanyan College. From 1991 to 1994 I was the Artistic Director of the National Chamber Orchestra. I conducted music programs for Armenian TV and Radio and directed most of the orchestras that performed for the radio.

What changes do you plan to implement at the Union?
It has only been one month since I have been working here, but I am already active. We try to keep our Facebook page updated. My son who lives in London says: “Dad, you work like the English: every single thing that you do is published online!” (laughs). My mission here is to revive the composers union. I want to turn it into a center that can take care of our composers’ management issues; can represent Armenian composers in international festivals and create connections with international music organizations. In 1965, the famous British composer Benjamin Britten came to Armenia and wrote many pieces in a cottage near Dilijan. We should try to turn this place into a center for British composers to visit in order to teach master classes and to exchange views with our musicians.

Do you plan on inviting artists from foreign countries?
Yes, definitely. We would like famous composers to teach master classes in Armenia, we would be delighted to be able to invite George Benjamin (British composer), Pierre Boulez, Krzysztof Penderecki… We also plan on hosting international events in the Composers’ Creative Center in Dilijan; its musical hall can host around 600 people. We have several projects in mind but the main issue is financing, given that the Union does not receive funding support from the state. That is also one of the main challenges of the Union: it needs to secure its own funding. Nowadays, everything depends on money. That is why pop music is more proliferated than, let’s say, “serious” music: it is cheaper to produce and generates more profit.

Will there be any funding opportunities for young, up and coming and promising talent?
Well, for young musicians, we have already started get-together groups. What we would like to do now is to make connections with young Armenians who live outside Armenia by organizing concerts and getting them to come together. At the moment, we are also in contact with Russia’s Composers’ Union who is offering to finance a cooperation with our young talent. Our Ministry of Culture should definitely help us to build these partnerships. We have to support our young composers because they are our future. They come up with fresh ideas, new ways of thinking and they should also benefit from our experience as leaders.

What type of a leader are you? 
Everywhere I’ve ever worked, people have been very happy with my efforts. I’ve only been here for one month, but I’ve made friends with all my colleagues. In this institution, you are not only expected to lead, but also to establish relations with every person. It is particularly true with all these great composers - Tigran Mansurian, Ashot Zohrabian and many others. One has to be able to satisfy each composer’s ambition while making the right choices for the whole.

Working in the same field must make things easier…
Actually, it makes it more difficult, because every composer is like an opponent who creates their own art by challenging the others’. It’s quite arduous to create unity out of these different styles and personalities. And in this matter, being equal doesn’t help. We, the creators, the thinkers, want to blossom and thus we always try to break the standards of equality. On the contrary, my mission with the Union is to give each of the musicians the opportunity to grow in their own artistic world, according to their own rules. 

Do you still compose?
Of course! But, I have to say, this last month I have been very busy and so I have had no time to compose. But I am working on recording a new song which will be released soon, probably together with a music video. So yes, I am always active as a musician. You know, a composer is not someone who writes music, he is someone who cannot live without composing.