Opera diva, folk singer, classical piano virtuoso, French chanteuse, jazz improviser, new age and sacred music composer – to say that Armenian artist Lucineh Hovanissian is a musician is to say that Niagara is just a waterfall. Rarely have so many gifts been assembled in a single creative individual. All of them were on display this week at a remarkable concert at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Cleveland. Lucineh – who is shown here with the dean of Trinity Cathedral, the Rev. Tracey Lind – has been in residence at Trinity as one of this fall’s Creative Fusion artists. While there, she has engaged in literally dozens of community events, sharing her culture, concertizing, translating ancient Armenian sacred texts, and composing music for Trinity’s choir and its magnificent pipe organ.
Last Sunday, this new work, “Quo Vadis,” had its premiere at the 11:15 service at Trinity. And on Wednesday, Lucineh gave a solo concert in the sanctuary, as part of Trinity’s ongoing Brownbag Concert series, performing á capella, accompanying herself at the piano, and singing with organ accompaniment.
The program was remarkable in the diversity of musical choices and styles, but more remarkable in the range and depth and virtuosity of the performer’s skill. The first half was comprised of sacred and popular Armenian songs – some traditional, some newly arranged by Ms. Hovanissian. Lucineh began by singing a “Song for Sunrise,” a 12th century composition with each line starting with one of the 36 letters of the Armenian alphabet. Sort of a sung ABCDarium. She accompanied herself with two handbells.
The second half was wonderfully virtuosic and contemporary; uniquely composed arrangements of sacred music by Fauré and Mozart were interwoven with ancient Greek and Armenian melodies and text, creating works of incredibly haunting beauty. She improvised on the piano with the Cathedral’s music director, Todd Wilson, on the organ. One work, “J `ai paiché” (“I Have Sinned”) combined a citation form Bach’s “Bourré” that she whistled, then sang, in French, a translated 10thcentury Armenian text from the Book of Lamentations. Soulful, passionate, and rich, it was a performance that Edith Piaf could not have surpassed.
To close her program, she played two works of her own composition – very modern, jazz and new age underscored with classical intent. “Quantum Tunnel” asked the universal question of who we are and where are we going, and the final work, “Alternating Light,” was dedicated to Nicola Tesla who, Ms. Hovanissian believes, found the answer in discovering alternating current that brings us the light that so pervades and supports our lives.
After a standing ovation, Lucineh ran to the back of the cathedral and climbed the stairs to the organ loft where she offered an encore, “My Gift to Cleveland,” a rich and powerful rendering of the African spiritual “Deep River,” again accompanied on the organ by Todd Wilson. This was a concert of deep, deep cultural fusion. We thank Lucineh for bringing so many elements of the human spirit and creativity together for us in this truly international solo concert. It is an experience I will not forget.