Emotional Khojaly 613 tone poem received in rapt silence during closing of Mulhouse festival
Press Release: On 17 September, a new orchestral arrangement of the emotionally-charged tone poem Khojaly 613 – originally written by French composer Pierre Thilloy as a commission by The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Khojaly Massacre – received a rapt and reverential response from the audience attending the concluding concert of the Les 2 Mondes Festival at the Théâtre de la Sinne in Mulhouse, located in the Alsace region of France. The work, featuring the Mulhouse Symphony Orchestra, was an aural evocation of the Khojaly Massacre, the worst single atrocity of the Armenian–Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which claimed the lives of 613 civilians in 1992. The orchestra was under the baton of Azerbaijani conductor Fuad Ibrahimov, who was making his French debut.
Having previously been performed in versions for smaller ensembles, the new arrangement features additional percussion and brass, starkly emphasising the terror inflicted by the Armenian armed forces on the Azerbaijani civilians. Pierre Thilloy commented: “Khojaly 613 has now been performed around the world for nearly five years. This new arrangement is actually closer to the original concept for the piece I had in mind, as my ultimate aim was to have it played by a large orchestra.”
The work featured the solo violin of Sabina Rakcheyeva, the first Azerbaijani graduate from the Juilliard School in New York, whose impassioned performance inhabited the piece, performing in unison with French clarinettist Alain Toiron, whose interpretation grasped the tragic nature of the work.
In the programme notes, philosopher Laurent Galley wrote: “It is an evocation on the theme of a massacre, committed on Azerbaijani soil in February 1992 to the indifference of the world. This music has been accorded the privilege of their song; to know their language, it must remain silent. The music whispers, murmurs and drums in the silence; it is a tragedy amongst us, somewhere, and as it is ‘somewhere’, it is very close to us…
“This work, which bears the name of the village and the number of victims, is only one memorial amongst many. No-one holds a monument accountable. It is a testament itself. It is not for anyone other than the people to commemorate, judge, learn to live with each other and be reconciled.
“Music modestly serves to covey the memory of their existence through the air. This is the same for Pierre Thilloy, who views it as a tragic event, and accords it the greatest respect. This work is not content to exhaust, affect and be complaisant. It features stormy percussion, the sound of marching, and fearful echoes that come increasingly closer and evoke imminent combat as the preamble to a drama. The music recalls and suggests the inevitable, like a storm over a long period… but there is always the sweetness of the air, celestial stillness and irrepressible lyricism, with oriental accents, reinforced in the first version of the work by the use of such folk instruments as the balaban.”
Eliza Pieter, Director, TEAS Strasbourg, commented: “After hearing the piece for nearly five years in various permutations of instrumentalists, including symphony orchestra and chamber ensemble, I am still deeply touched by the work. The version heard in Mulhouse tonight surpassed all my expectations. It was interesting to notice that the French audience present, the majority of whom had not previously heard of the Khojaly Massacre, were equally mesmerised by the piece.”
Also on the programme for the concluding concert were the elegiac Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber, which features a gradual emotional crescendo, and has been featured in numerous films, most notably Oliver Stone’s seminal antiwar film Platoon; Mozart’s joyous Clarinet Concerto; Darius Milhaud’s surreal score to the ballet-pantomime Le Boeuf sur le toit, originally written to accompany a silent Charlie Chaplin film and replete with Brazilian themes; and a very rare performance of the octogenarian Azerbaijani composer Khayyam Mirzazadeh’s Concerto Grosso, written in 2009 for strings and bells.
The Les 2 Mondes festival, spearheaded by Mulhouse resident Pierre Thilloy, is the second such festival to bring together the music of the Silk Road – with Azerbaijan at the epicentre – and the wider world. Lasting four days, the programme included an evocation of the Azerbaijani Book of Dada Gorgud on ancient instruments; the Les Étoiles de Bakou (Stars of Baku) Azerbaijani dance troupe; ethnojazz from the pianist and composer Etibar Asadli; dance by Aygerim Yersainova and Mukaddas Mijit; and the multinational Samarkand String Quartet, in combination with the Kazakh kobyz – the ancestor of all string instruments – and digital group KORDS.