Djivan Gasparyan: goodbye to the master of the duduk

08.07.2021, by Giacomo Luperini

From his debut in his twenties to an internationally successful career, Ponderosa pays homage to Djivan Gasparian, Master of the duduk.

1947, Moscow, the Bolshoi theater: an unknown young musician, barely in his twenties, takes to the stage before a full audience, gathered for a momentous occasion. The young man begins to play a deep, ancient wind instrument, its sound oscillating between sweet and deeply sad, making the chords of the human soul vibrate: the duduk. It is said that after that concert, Stalin himself chose to present the young man with a watch, in acknowledgement of his talent, and that from that day forward he was known as the “Master of the duduk”.

The Master, whose real name was Djivan Gasparyan, did not receive a formal musical education. At the age of six, he began practicing his instrument in the most traditional fashion: by listening to and following in the footsteps of the few who were still passing on their knowledge from one generation to the next.

The duduk is Armenia’s most traditional and iconic instrument, its tones often coloring the musical landscape of the country’s daily rituals. Though we probably don’t realize it, most of us could identify its sound thanks to Djivan himself who, in the course of his long and prolific career, played it on some of the most popular and impactful movie scores in history, including “The Crow”, “Gladiator” and “Blood Diamonds”. Djivan’s easily identifiable contribution to movies has the ability to bring audiences back in time, to faraway places that belong to us all. His music is everyone’s music, starting from Armenia to place itself firmly in our collective imagination.

Djivan also took part in successful musical collaborations, working with Brian Eno, who chose to produce his first album, Kronos Quartet and many others. Among his most treasured partnerships was his work with Ludovico Einaudi. It was 1998 when Djivan, who by that time had already been working with Ponderosa Music & Art for three years, was invited to perform on the stage of spiritual music festival “La Musica dei Cieli”. Here is the account of Ludovico’s encounter with Djivan Gasparyan, in the composer’s own words, from a 2009 interview:

With Gasparyan, it was love at first sight. I remember being impressed with his sound, and with the scales and ways of Armenian music itself. I found something in it that I felt belonged to me (…) I listened to one of Gasparyan’s pieces and found out he was going to perform in Milan, so I had a chat with him after his concert. I asked him when he was going to be back in Italy, and the following time we met to record together.

A fruitful collaboration was born from this chance encounter, leading to the release of studio album Eden Roc in 1999 and to a joint performance in one of the most prestigious venues in the world: the Royal Albert Hall in London, in 2007.

Djivan established deep professional ties with Ponderosa, a collaboration spanning twenty-five years which led him to take part in dozens of festivals and concerts, both in Italy and abroad.

As Titti Santini, Ponderosa Music & Art’s managing director, recalls:

He was an incredibly kind person. I remember a long car trip we took together during which, despite not having any language in common (for he spoke no English and no Italian) we spent the whole time laughing and joking, understanding each other through gestures. Whenever he came to Milan he went shopping for “big and tall” clothes, and always brought us a bottle of his own vodka, whose label bore a stylized drawing of him playing the duduk. People of Armenian background I met all around the world, regardless of their age or social status, immediately lit up when they heard his name. He was known and respected by everyone.”

Djivan passed away on July 6th 2021, leaving a priceless inheritance behind: in 2005, the duduk was declared part of UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage of humanity. A 3200-year-old instrument which was rescued, popularized and made contemporary by Djivan himself, who used it to make his mark on human history with his talent, kindness and passion.

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