The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble was founded in 2008 by the Armenian musician Levon Eskenian with the aim of creating ethnographically authentic arrangements of the G.I. Gurdjieff/Thomas de Hartmann piano music. The ensemble features leading Eastern folk instrumentalists in Armenia playing duduk, blul/nay, saz, tar, kiamancha, oud, kanon, santur, dap/daf, tombak and dhol. Their repertoire mainly consists of G.I.Gurdjieff’s music, as well as some works by ashoughs’ (troubadours), and spiritual Armenian pieces, which further illustrate Gurdjieff’s musical influences.
Gurdjieff is known to many in the West as one of the major spiritual figures of the 20th century. His extraordinary musical repertoire was based on the music he heard during his journeys in Armenia, the Caucasus, the Middle East and many parts of Central Asia, India and North Africa, where he witnessed a myriad of folk and spiritual music, rituals and dance traditions.
This music consists of some 300 pieces and fragments for the piano, composed in the 1920’s in the manner of dictation from Gurdjieff to his pupil, Thomas de Hartmann, the Russian composer and pianist. It is important to note that Eastern musical traditions are strongly characterized by their own unique instruments and instrumental combinations and these indigenous Eastern instruments are capable of producing microtonal intervals, rhythms and other nuances that are essential parts of Eastern music.
Naturally, most of the instrumental music that Gurdjieff heard during his travels was performed on Eastern folk instruments. It is noteworthy to mention that he also amassed a collection of Eastern instruments (which resided at the Chateau du Prieuré at Fontainebleau) that he had intended to use for authentic performances of folk music and dances.
Through rigorous study of the instrumentation and performance practices of the musical traditions of each ethnic group, Levon Eskenian has chosen and arranged those pieces that have roots in Armenian, Greek, Arabic, Kurdish, Assyrian, and Caucasian folk and spiritual music for Eastern folk instruments.
We have learned from de Hartmann’s notes that Gurdjieff gave much importance to the perception of Eastern music and how it was played on authentic Eastern folk instruments. In 1919, Gurdjieff sent de Hartmann and his wife to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, where de Hartmann gave concerts of European music and of works by Armenian composer Komitas (The pillar of Armenian classical music,ethnomusicologist and decipherer of khaz–the Armenian music notation system). As de Hartmann describes, “Mount Ararat was wrapped in a shroud of mist—an unforgettable sight. To accompany this vision there was authentic Eastern music played on…the tar-a kind of stringed instrument. Through this trip to Erivan….Gurdjieff gave us the opportunity of listening to Eastern music and musicians, so that I could better understand how he wished his own music to be written and interpreted.”
The ECM Recording, awards and Concerts In 2011,the German record label ECM released the Gurdjieff Ensemble’s recording “Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff” to international acclaim and prestigious awards. The album won the Edison Award Jazz/World 2012 in the Netherlands, the National Music Award 2012 in Armenia and was selected as the album of the week by many radio stations such as the ABC in Australia the Q2 Classic Music Radio in the US and was editor’s choice as top of the world for Songlines magazine in the UK. Since the ECM release, the Gurdjieff Ensemble has presented concerts throughout Europe and Asia including performances at many prestigious festivals such as the Wege Durch Das Land in Germany; the Imago Dei in Austria; the Stansern Musiktage in Switzerland; the Fiestival in Belgium; and many concerts at famous venues such as the Frari Church in Venice, the Pushkin State Museum in Moscow, the Naregatsi Art Institute in Yerevan and others.