Jasper Moss’ ‘Renaissance’ and his duty to music

By Arman Ghaloosian 

When one thinks of Armenian classical music, the first name to come to mind is Aram Khachaturian. Unfortunately for most, this is where the list ends, as many are unaware of countless other Armenian composers. This was precisely conductor, composer, and arranger Jasper Moss’s mission when he began organizing a concert he aptly titled “Renaissance: The Music of Armenia.”  

The young Canadian-Armenian is a graduate of McGill’s Schulich School of Music and is currently attending New York University, where he is pursuing a graduate degree in film music. He first discovered his interest in classical music when he was nine, upon hearing the seventh movement of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals;” he waited for the entire 48-minute suite to finish on Classical 96.3. He was so enamored, that his mother ended up buying the CD for him, beginning his love for classical music and a new life trajectory. He knew he wanted to be a conductor as well as a composer by his early 20s, so he began doing extensive research on all forms of Armenian music as a seasoned musician. 

Fast forward several years later, and Moss is giving an interview on that same radio station that sparked his interest in classical music as a child, promoting an evening of Armenian classical music. 

In the interview, the young conductor emphasized his duty to enrich and expand the scope of Armenian music, picking up where greats such as Komitas left off—continuing the trajectory of Armenian folk music being orchestrated and arranged for the classical stage, thereby widening the audience and its global outreach. In 2015, Moss participated in the AGBU’s Musical Armenia Program, where he had the opportunity to work with the orchestra of the Armenian National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet. In 2018, he returned to Yerevan to work with the Armenian State Philharmonic Orchestra and its artistic director, Eduard Topchjan. 

There is an “inherent connection” to your homeland when listening to Armenian folk music. Growing up in an Armenian household in Toronto, while attending Saturday school and playing basketball at AGBU, his appreciation for the culture was always there. A deep love for music makes it all the more special, as he is able to leave his own mark on the world of Armenian music. 

The “Renaissance” concert took place on Feb. 18, at Toronto’s Trinity St. Paul Centre, to a packed house eager to hear what he had put together. The performance was organized by the young Canadian-Armenian composer, who also serves as the Music Director of the Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra. Jasper also arranged all the pieces performed and conducted the orchestra. Fellow Toronto-Armenians Lynn Isnar and Vartan Gabrielian performed alongside the orchestra as the soprano and bass-baritone, respectively. The concert featured the music of Komitas, Sayat Nova, Parsegh Ganatchian, Alexander Spendiaryan, Aram Khachaturian, and Moss himself. 

Moss emphasized the importance of this event, as many of these pieces transcribed for an orchestral performance were being heard for the first time. The first piece to introduce this historical event was the hymn or sharakan titled “Oor es, mayr eem.” This piece was performed with an orchestra, although a solo vocalist traditionally performs it. Komitas was next in the repertoire for the evening, with astonishing performances with the familiar “Keler, Tsoler,” and “Hoy Nazan.” Sayat Nova was performed as well, but instead of traditional folk instruments, “Nazani,” “Blbololi hit,” and “Kamancha” were arranged for orchestra and did justice to the music of the 18th-century troubadour.

The concert also featured the Canadian premiere of Parsegh Ganatachian and Alexander Spendiaryan’s wonderful compositions. Most people will know Ganatchian as the composer of the Armenian national anthem, yet his lullaby “Oror, eem balas” accompanied by the duet Isnar and Gabrielian was truly spectacular. Audience members were deeply moved by this piece arranged by Moss, which was one of the standouts of the evening. 

The audience was also privileged to be present for the world premiere of Moss’s own composition titled Cello Concerto in D Minor. An original composition, this piece exemplified the energetic spirit of the up-and-coming composer while also paying respects to another great Armenian composer, Khachatur Avetisyan. During the performance, snippets from Avetisyan’s “Vagharshapati Par” wereheard, with a unique and fresh orchestral arrangement. Moss noted that to write a musical composition, one must pick up the skeleton of the piece, decide on the central theme, process the transition, and fill in the rest with the orchestra. 

Instead of performing Aram Khachaturian’s prominent pieces (like the “Sabre Dance”), the less-often-heard Children’s Album One and Two arranged for orchestra, mesmerized the audience. Moss said he decided to do so with the hope of popularizing other works by Khachaturian rather than simply focusing on compositions performed many times over. Before beginning, Moss humorously reminded the enthusiastic crowd to save their applause for the end, as he knew audience members would be eager to applaud in between each of the 20 works that make up the two albums. The monumental performance ended with two standing ovations, with the audience aching for more. 

Following the final bows, the young conductor greeted the crowd along with the other soloists, and everyone was eager to congratulate the young Canadian-Armenian musicians on this historic event. 

Ultimately, Moss’ main goal is to create something for people to enjoy and keep music in their lives. He hopes to organize more concerts to showcase Armenian classical music to a broader audience. The young Torontonian acknowledges the rarity of being an Armenian composer these days, especially one who lives and works in the diaspora. Regardless, he is successfully revamping Armenian classical music for the world to witness. The duty to enrich comes with its challenges, which the talented composer is prepared to face and will undoubtedly overcome. His dedication to Armenian music is truly inspiring and something any concert-goer will immediately recognize during one of his shows. Bravo Jasper!