To demonstrate anew his dedication to socialism, however, Khachaturian began work on a ballet about Spartacus; party officials granted him approval only because Karl Marx once wrote that the rebel Roman slave was the "true representative of the proletariat of antiquity." "Spartacus" became a sensation in Russia and was subsequently staged all over the world. (Friday and Saturday, the Grigorovich Ballet Company will perform the famous 1968 Bolshoi choreography at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.) With the death of Stalin in 1953, followed by the success of "Spartacus," Khachaturian's status was gradually restored. He was eventually readmitted to the Composers Union -- but the denunciation had taken its toll. He never attempted any major symphonic works after 1948, and his last 30 years were spent primarily writing music to accompany films or plays.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday September 16, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Ballet dates -- An information box accompanying an article on composer Aram Khachaturian in Sunday's Calendar gave the wrong dates for performances of his ballet "Spartacus" at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. They will be Friday and Saturday, not Saturday and Sunday.
Now, 55 years after the denunciation, there is a concerted effort to bring Khachaturian back into the public eye -- and ear. In Los Angeles, the official centennial celebrations will kick off Sept. 28, with an all-Khachaturian concert featuring pianist Arzruni at Agajanian Hall in Canoga Park.
The performance will be the first stop of a tour, sponsored by the Armenian General Benevolent Union, during which Arzruni is scheduled to play and lecture in cities around the world. The tour is to culminate in New York next May with a seven-hour marathon concert featuring all of Khachaturian's chamber and piano music.
Speaking by phone from the Armenian capital, Yerevan, Arzruni explains why the centennial is so important: "Khachaturian is Armenia's most important composer. He is its musical ambassador to the world at large." Indeed, Khachaturian is the pride of Yerevan, where he was buried after his death in 1978, but because he was neither born nor raised in Armenia, some question categorizing him as Armenian at all.
"He was born in Georgia, spent his whole career in Moscow, and somehow he's been designated the great Armenian composer?" Taruskin says. "His music isn't particularly Armenian. His models are 19th century Russian music like Borodin's 'Prince Igor' and 'In the Steppes of Central Asia.' "
Others insist that to call Khachaturian a Russian composer is to ignore certain aspects of his music. According to Serviarian-Kuhn, who says she has performed the Khachaturian Piano Concerto more than any living musician: "Rachmaninoff is Russian. Tchaikovsky is Russian. But when it comes to melody, Khachaturian is, completely down to the bone marrow, Armenian."
(Khachaturian himself was conflicted about these labels, but a 1957 letter hints at the pragmatic composer's own feelings on balancing music and heritage. "Bury me in Yerevan," he wrote, "but bring the orchestra from Moscow.")
Also to celebrate the composer's 100th birthday, Delos is releasing "The Khachaturian Centennial Album" on Sept. 23, featuring all the music that will be performed by the Philharmonia of Russia and others in a Khachaturian evening at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 10.
The Philharmonia's Orbelian, conductor of both the Delos CD and the Carnegie Hall concert, is among those who feel that this fall's events could spark a new interest in the composer's music. On the phone from Moscow, he says: "That's the whole point of this centennial -- to bring his music, some of which has never been performed outside of Russia, to people's attention."
Audiences and critics may give these unheard Khachaturian works a listen, but there is a widely held view that his music is all flash and little substance.
According to Taruskin: "I don't think people pay much attention to him now ... although I don't think musicians have ever thought much of Khachaturian -- he was always a composer for the crowds."
Orbelian acknowledges that audiences find the composer's works accessible but insists: "There's nothing naive about the music. The bombastic qualities are powerful means to an end. It's not just noise for noise's sake."
Serviarian-Kuhn agrees: "His music is unique -- yet people want to compare it to other composers and say that he doesn't have the meat, of say, Prokofiev." She laughs. "But he never wanted to be a Prokofiev.
"I'm upset by the fact that he's not performed more," she adds. "But remember, Armenians are known as survivors. Khachaturian's music will continue to be heard."
A Khachaturian season
'Khachaturian,' the film
Details: Oct. 17, 9 p.m.; ArcLight Cinemas, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; $11; (323) 464-1514.
Also: Nov. 7-13; Laemmle Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; $9; students, $7; children and seniors, $6; (310) 274-6869.
Sahan Arzruni, piano recital
Details: Sept. 28; Agajanian Hall, AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School, 6844 Oakdale Ave., Canoga Park; $20; students, $10; (626) 794-7942.
Grigorovich Ballet Company, 'Spartacus'
Details: Saturday-Sunday, 7:30 p.m.; Pasadena Civic Auditorium, 300 E. Green St., Pasadena; $26.25-$102; (626) 449-7360.