Born: Solag, Armenia, 1928
Best-selling album since 1990: Apricots of Eden (1996)
Djivan Gasparyan introduced the Armenian duduk (wooden oboe) and its ancient repertoire to the world. He has adapted the deceptively simple, double-reed, apricot root instrument to contemporary contexts, and popularized the purest form of its music as an aid to meditation.
Gasparyan was born in a village on the edge of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, when the country was a member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Having heard elder masters of the duduk, the Armenian national instrument, and seen it used in a film, Gasparyan taught himself to play it starting at age six. In 1948 he became a member of the Tatool Altounian National Song and Dance Ensemble, and he was also a duduk soloist with the Yerevan Philharmonic Orchestra.
The duduk, a cylinder-shaped wooden instrument, is hand crafted in three sizes—approximately 11, 13, and 16 inches long, with corresponding mouthpieces 3.5, 5, and 6 inches in length. The density of the apricot root used for its body produces a soft, warm tone, and its large, "split-tube" mouthpiece allows for subtle intonation. A single note, which bears only the slightest timbral edge, may be shaken between the lips for a gentle quavering sound, and a player's ability to manipulate this distinctive sound is highly prized by the instrument's aficionados. Armenian musicologists site evidence of the duduk's use as early as 1200 b.c.e., though Western scholars suggest it is 1,500 years old. Its traditional tunes have a beguiling, often mournful, sentimentality. Its range is only one octave, and it is typically played with one or more other duduk players holding a steady drone against the soloist's melody. Gasparyan sometimes performs unaccompanied.
Gasparyen has been an active professor at the Yerevan Conservatoire, from which he graduated, for more than four decades. He began touring internationally in the late 1950s, holding concerts in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the United States. He won Gold Medals in world music competitions sponsored by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1959, 1962, 1973, and 1980, and is unique in holding the title "People's Artist of Armenia." He is also a singer, and has composed songs based on the love poetry of Vahan Derian. His first album released in the West was I Will Not Be Sad in This World (1989).
British rock composer Peter Gabriel featured Gasparyan extensively in the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's film The Last Temptation of Christ (1989). This exposure increased Gasparyan's profile enormously, though the music was not released on an album until 2002, when The Last Temptation of Christ (Passion) came out. By then, Gasparyan had released several more albums of Armenian folk and dance songs. He performed with the Kronos Quartet and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and collaborated with Canadian guitarist and ambient music producer Michael Brook on Black Rock (1998).
Gasparyan is also prominent on soundtracks of the films The Russian House (1990); Atom Egoyan's Calendar (1993); The Crow (1994); The Siege (1998); a Hungarian-American cable television production, Storm and Sorrow (1999); Onegin (1999); and Gladiator (2000). All of these productions depend upon Gasparyan for a sound that seems to acknowledge centuries-worth of sorrow, perseverance, and hope for a better future.
Gasparyan was the winner of a 2002 WOMEX Award, given by the World Music Expo organization, which produces biannual conventions and seminars for activists in world music recording and presentation. The award celebrated a lifetime of "creativity, quality, and success in the name of this world's music."
Ask Me No Questions (Traditional Crossroads, 1994); Apricots from Eden (Traditional Crossroads, 1996); Heavenly Duduk (Network Records, 1999); The Art of the Armenian Duduk (Arc, 2001). With Michael Brook: Black Rock (Real World Records, 1998). With Magnus Finnes: Onegin (Milan, 1999). With Peter Gabriel: The Last Temptation of Christ (Passion) (Geffen, 2002). With Graeme Revell: The Seige (Varese Sarabande, 1998). With Hans Zimmer/Lisa Gerrard: Gladiator (Decca, 2000). Soundtracks: The Russian House (MCA, 1990); The Crow: The Original Motion Picture Score (Varese Sarabande, 1994); The Siege (Varese Sarabande, 1998).
www.libramusic.gr/artists/nazeli.html; www.traditionalcrossroads.com/pages/4268.html; www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/world/womadgasparyan.shtml.