“Kradjian has a flair for this kind of narrative composition: The wind section illustrates pursuit, percussive thwacks accompany the words “whips cracked,” as the society depicted in the opening faces a massacre. ”
The world premiere of Serouj Kradjian's Cantata for Living Martyrs, a three-movement work for orchestra, chorus, and soprano was held in Fresno, California in 2015. The piece was commissioned by the Armenian Genocide Centennial Fresno Committee.
In 2014 the Armenian Museum of Fresno as part of the Fresno Commemoration Committee, commissioned renowned pianist and composer Serouj Kradjian to create a new work titled Cantata for Living Martyrs, a three-movement composition for soprano, orchestra, chorus, as a musical memorial to the victims of the Armenian Genocide. The world premiere of the Cantata took place on April 25, 2015 at the William Saroyan theater, by the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring internationally renowned soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, baritone Eugene Beancoveanu, with Theodore Kuchar conductor, whereas Dr. Anna Hamre directed the Fresno Master Chorale and Fresno State Concert Choir. The second performance took place on April 26, 2015 in San Francisco at the Palace of Fine Arts.
“an emotional journey through one of the bleakest periods of human history, [which] touches upon three distinct images of man’s inhumanity against man...” - Kradjian
Cantata for Living Martyrs is a musical memorial to the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. An emotional journey through one of the bleakest periods of human history, the three movement work touches upon three distinct images of man’s inhumanity against man: A nation’s vibrant life interrupted by this immense cruelty, the aftermath of the tragedy, and the denial of the crime to this day, coupled with a nation’s survival, resilience and rebirth, against all odds.
The first movement, “The Dance” starts with the joyful depiction of a thriving nation, peaceful in its existence, proud of its millennia-old culture and history. This bliss is abruptly interrupted by Aghet (the Great Catastrophe). The eyewitness testimony of a German missionary, (sung by the soprano soloist) vividly describes a massacre; the rape, torture and eventual death of Armenian women. The text is based on a poem by the Armenian poet Siamanto (Adom Yarjanian), written in 1909. A year later he would move to Boston and become a newspaper editor. When he returns to his homeland shortly before 1915, little does he know that he would become one of the first intellectuals arrested on the night of April 24 and murdered during the deportations.
During the forced marches, four siblings of the teenaged Aram Haigaz succumb to hunger and torture. To make sure her last child survives, as a last resort, his mother gives him up to a Kurdish tribe. The second movement ,“I Bless You”, depicts the scene of their last meeting. The joy of seeing each other again and the sadness of saying their last goodbyes. Haigaz would never see his mother again, but he escapes Turkey, sails for America, and becomes a successful writer in New York. His story is one example of numerous similar stories of destroyed families, of forced separations and orphaned children who became living martyrs; the few who survived physically, but bore the pain and anguish of spiritual and psychological martyrdom for the rest of their lives. Nothing describes the magnitude of the tragedy and its aftermath more than the forced separation of a mother from her child.
Denial is the last stage of genocide. It is sad and inconceivable to see, that even after a hundred years, present day Turkey still denies this great crime against humanity, committed by its predecessor, the Young Turk government, during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. Generations of Turks have been brainwashed by the mantra which starts the third movement of the Cantata, “Denial and Rebirth”: “The Armenian Genocide never happened”. The repetitious and the scherzando nature at the beginning of the movement hints at the absurdity of denial, which at times reaches comical and grotesque proportions: How can such an obvious crime be denied when the evidence is all there? The chorus repeats it incessantly because when you tell a lie enough times your people might actually start believing that lie, while the soprano soloist, representing the descendants of genocide, simply states: I remember and I demand, recognition, restitution.
Hope for the future? That one day Turkey recognizes the wrongs of this evil crime against mankind. Until then, it will remain the “prodigal son” and the “lost sheep” among nations. Denial simply opens the door to new atrocities and annihilations, the likes of which we witness today, in Syria and Iraq.
But despite all the hardships, the living martyrs prevailed. They rebuilt, prospered and triumphed yet again and their story became a powerful inspiration to the next generations. No statement embodies that fact more than the great William Saroyan’s words which end the cantata: For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.
Cantata For Living Martyrs is a plea with a universal message: That the quest for justice should not have an expiry date and the only way the human race can avoid tragedies of this magnitude, is first and foremost, through coming face to face with the grave mistakes of the past, in order to create the resolve for building a better future. As a testament of that dream, I dedicate this work to my children Ari and Leah, the descendants of living martyrs.