G-major, D-major. Amen. So be it.
It is week three of the Festspiele here in Salzburg, where Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms echo through the streets every day. However, in a city filled with the world’s greatest musicians performing the stuff of musical legend, it is a relatively new piece of music that floods my mind.
Michael Gandolfi’s Ascending Light, which premiered this past spring in Boston, is a tonal uttering of “amen,” of “so be it.” A commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, the organ concerto is not a defeated surrender to tragedy, but rather a hopeful commentary on the vital force of Armenian life and culture.
Not necessarily written as a religious piece of music, Ascending Light is profoundly spiritual, a triumph over death. In both thematic essence and literal composition, the concerto rests absolute authority in God’s providence. It embodies a theology of accepting mortality by embracing the hope of eternal life and everlasting riches that conquer death, all the while declaring in its most elementary essence, “so be it.”
The Boston Symphony Orchestra commissioned Gandolfi to write the piece in honor of both the centenary of the Armenian Genocide and the BSO’s late Armenian-American organist, Berj Zamkochian (1929-2004). It was premiered by the BSO under the direction of Music Director and Conductor Andris Nelsons, accompanied by organ soloist Olivier Latry.
Although he was not asked to write a lament for the lost lives, Gandolfi could not help but find inspiration in faces of those who died one hundred years ago. His inspiration resulted in incorporating two traditional Armenian tunes: a sacred choral work called Aravot Lousaber (which translates to Ascending Light) and the lullaby of Tigranakert.
“The fact is with the Armenians, they’re thriving,” Gandolfi said in an interview at his Cambridge, MA studio. “Their culture is thriving, their people are thriving, they remain strong supporters of the arts, and they’re very religious people. Everything they had intact before this happened, in terms of their spirituality and culture, it seems to me to be thriving. They won.”
It is now August; April has far passed, along with it the official month remembering one hundred years since the Armenian Genocide. But this musical memory of the Armenian Genocide does not vanish with the turning of pages on a calendar. As the musical world celebrates its history in Salzburg, Gandolfi’s poignant message lives on: G-major, D-major. Amen. So be it.
Mary Hierholzer is a Research Assistant at The Center for Faith and Inquiry in Wenham, MA.