An evening with Arthur Meschian
Last Friday I had the rare and privileged opportunity to see rock musician Arthur Meschian perform in front of a small audience of about 300 at the Gomidas Chamber Hall on Khanjian Street (which was also the site of the public space destruction protests about 10 days ago). The musician just returned to live in Armenia only a few weeks ago from Boston, where he worked steadily as an architect. The concert lasted for about two hours.
Meschian was in prime form despite a 40 degree Celsius fever, and his voice was fantastic. The hall has excellent acoustics, thus minimal sound projection devices were used. Musicians who performed included famed folk-rock troubadour and Meschian’s disciple Vahan Ardzuni and Ara Sarkissian, a composer in his own right from Boston, who is a friend of mine. Although the musicians at times sounded as though they were robots, the drummer especially who apparently was restrained by Meschian’s meticulous arrangements, the music that emanated from their performances was stunning. Meschian played keyboards as well as acoustic guitar, and he even played violin at one point.
On stage he is as intense as his music, which is explicit with introspect, longing, and satire. Meschian’s stance is stoic in front of the microphone, but he lives the music through accentuating gestures. At the end of some notably potent songs, he would point to someone randomly in the audience, then crack a smile, in an act to instantly relieve the listener with a sigh of hope that so much is not to be despaired as his lyrics suggest.
Meschian carefully selected songs from his near 30-year-old repertoire, most of them being officially recorded on three self-released albums from the early 1990s, namely “Monologue of a Crazed Violinist,” “Catharsis,” and “Wander.” He is known and admired for setting the words of poet Moushegh Ishkhan to music, which can be heard on the “Wander” album. He did not perform any tracks however from the last recording he made titled “Communion,” which was a seven-part introspective, philosophical composition focusing on religious themes. Most songs played were from “Monologue,” which arguably can be considered his finest album.
Incidentally all four albums were remixed and remastered a couple of years ago, having been released in a four-disc set, which sounds excellent. He cleaned up the murky-sounding pieces and even raised the volume level a few notches on some tracks to produce a heavier rock sound. This boxed set can be found in a few shops in Yerevan that actually sell non-pirated recordings, and was once available at the Hairenik Bookstore in Boston as well as on Narek.com, from where I purchased it.
The musician was a pioneer in the Armenian rock movement of the 1970s, a time when rock was very much underground in Armenia and probably still is, given the tremendous popularity of rabiz and its manifestations amongst the youth. He, along with others such as Ruben Hakhverdian, was part of protest movements in the late 1980s, particularly one demanding that the then-faulty Medzamor nuclear plant be shut down. I do not know the circumstances regarding his leaving Armenia about 15 years ago, but I am assuming it was a result of his brave protests against government policies and decision making.
It is rumored that Meschian will give a much larger concert in December or January, but that has to be confirmed—probably in the next few weeks.
At the end of the show Meschian spoke a few emotional words, mainly about his own long-awaited return to his homeland as well as the stage. This concert marked his much-anticipated emergence from retirement, and it is welcomed.
November 8, 2005
Notes From Hairenik – A Blog About Life in Armenia