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 October 10, 2003 

Unsound Renovation?: Chamber orchestra in danger of being muffled by new hall

'You can't have a hall of high quality with a stage covered in carpet,' Gharabekian says. 'It not only soaks up acoustics but also kills the very important connection between conductor and his orchestra or choir.'

The $190,000 Lincy Foundation renovation of the Chamber Music Theater in Yerevan has struck a sour chord with the artistic director of the National Chamber Orchestra.

Conductor Aram Gharabekian is not complaining about the new roof, the new lavatories or the new boiler or air conditioning system. In fact the conductor says he is not complaining but, rather, is "concerned".

The conductor, known for his attention to detail and subtlety of direction and for his insistence on high quality, is concerned that final touches of renovation of the 25-year old theater will hamper, rather than enhance the performances of his orchestra and choir.

"I never complain," Gharabekian says. "I'm just concerned and take to heart this thing and being a musician and a citizen I cannot be silent."

The maestro is primarily "concerned" that the hall's stage has been carpeted - a cosmetic decision that may be aesthetically pleasing, but is anathema for insuring proper acoustics for performance art.

"You can't have a hall of high quality with a stage covered in carpet," Gharabekian says. "It not only soaks up acoustics but also kills the very important connection between conductor and his orchestra or choir."

Careful to not appear ungrateful for the reconstruction gift, Gharabekian says he welcomed the opportunity to see the hall refurbished, and simply wanted to see the renovation used to its best advantage.

The carpeted Chamber hall looks good. Will it sound good?.

But no one asked the conductor's opinion for what might best serve the needs of his musicians.

"For instance at the Dramatic Theatre everything is wonderful because the director, who is also the administrative director, perfectly understood the way the building and stage must have been reconstructed so that creative problems could completely be resolved," says Gharabekian.

But unlike situations in other theaters where Lincy money provided a facelift, at the Chamber Music Theater the administrative director and creative director jobs are held by separate people.

Administrative director Andranik Harutyunyan says he is happy with the renovation, including the carpeted stage and that Gharabekian's concerns are exaggerated and have no foundation.

The Lincy Foundation has underwritten the renovation of 34 culture centers throughout Armenia, including the Chamber Music Theater.

Lincy representative Gagik Mkrtumyan says all responsible authorities were consulted about plans for each center. In the case of the Chamber Music Theater Gharabekian was not consulted, Mkrtumyan says, because he is not the decision-maker for the hall's physical affairs.

Mkrtumyan says Gharabekian's complaints are ungrounded and that carpeting of the stage was planned from the beginning by architect Stepan Kiurkchyan, who is a designer of the building and is the one to decide what to do.

Architect Kiurkchyan is sure that construction works of the Chamber Music Theater fully correspond to the demands that he, as a designer of the building, raised with the center's director.

Kiurkchyan says the carpet won't interfere with acoustics and that "there are many halls in the world which are covered with carpets."

Nor does the architect appreciate the maestro's "concern".

"I don't want Gharabekian to interfere in my business. I never tell him how to hold a baton," Kiurkchyan said angrily.

Gharabekian spoke with Kiurkchyan, requesting that the carpet be removed. But his request was denied.

"The carpet can be taken off and in the end neither the architectural nor design look of the building will suffer," Gharabekian says. "Kiurchyan doesn't have grounds for his rejection, he only mentions that it is not the carpet that should be taken out of the hall, but me and the orchestra."

The $190,000 Lincy Foundation renovation did not bring an accord to the Chamber Music Theather in Yerevan

During Soviet times when a hall or studio was constructed, specialists were brought from Moscow or Baltic countries to advise about acoustics, as that science was not well-known in Armenia.

Today, Ashot Arakelyan is such a specialist, and he shares Gharabekian's concern. Arakelyan requested a meeting with the architect, but was told there was no reason to meet, as the architect's decision was firm.

But Arakelyan says the Chamber hall has missed an opportunity to improve the acoustic conditions, by putting the carpet on the stage.

Singer and international award-winner, Anna Mayilyan, has performed on many of the world's major stages. She, too, favors a wood floor for the stage.

"The amphitheater of the hall also creates obstacles to the consistency of sound," the singer says. "Only those who sit in the first rows can feel the correct sound. Of course, it is not real to change the amphitheatre, however, it is possible to remove the carpet."

Mayilyan says that though the previous stage was also carpeted, the old one was so worn out it didn't interfere with acoustics.

"Today we can't wait until this new carpet gets worn-out and only after that start performing," says the singer.

The carpet issue aside, Gharabekian is also concerned that the renovation did not include new lighting. He worries that the deadline for completing the project will pass at the end of this month, without any provisions made for lighting.

The conductor has put his concerns in a letter to President Robert Kocharyan, but has received no reply.

"It's a pity that we lose this unique possibility," Gharabekian says. "Who knows when there will be another opportunity for reconstruction; maybe in 30 or 40 years . . ."

According to Agnes
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