The Suni Project: Music Preservation

Grikor Mirzaian Suni (1876-1939)

1723 Wells | Ann Arbor, MI 48104-3601 USA | (734) 996-1949 | info@suniproject.org

Concert Programs

Armenian Music of Grikor Mirzaian Suni (1876-1939)

Grikor Mirzaian Suni (1876-1939) is one of the founders of modern Armenian music. Born east of Lake Sevan in Getabek village, he was raised in the eastern reaches of Historic Armenia, in Shushi (Karabakh). Suni’s music is beautiful, soulful, lively classical art music based in Armenian folk music of his own collecting, and includes vocal solos and duets, 4-part choral works, orchestral suites, and instrumental pieces. His music is unique, and at the same time “Armenian”, and like the music of Bach is polyphonic, contrapuntal, and versatile, wonderful on any instruments.

From a long line of ashough singers, Mirzaian (Suni) worked with all the Armenian masters of his time, a close associate of Komitas (Gomidas) in Etchmiadzin. At the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music in the Russian capital, Mirzaian Suni studied composition with Rimsky-Korsakov. Graduating from the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music, Suni resumed collecting songs of Armenians during his wide travels in the Caucasus, Anatolia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, and India. World War, revolution, and the Genocide of the Ottoman Armenians caused Suni to flee to the US in 1923, where he first conducted church choirs, then Armenian folk choruses, soloists and orchestras, in New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia (where he settled in 1925), and supported Armenia from afar. When he criticized Stalin in 1937 his music was banned in Armenia, which is why his name is not as known now as it was earlier. Suni’s son Gourgen (George) Suny (1910 Erz’room-1985 Philadelphia) picked up his father’s baton in 1939 in Philadelphia, conducting Suni Choruses with orchestra, sometimes as Song and Dance Ensemble Concerts, to carry on presenting this treasured Armenian cultural musical heritage. Continuing in sharing this music are his granddaughters and daughter-in-law.

Performers in this concert are two great granddaughters of the composer Grikor Mirzaian Suni, and their mother, with the singers tenor Rubik Mailian, and soprano Anahit Toumajan. Rubik Mailian, born in Tehran, is Music Director and soloist of St. John Armenian Church of Southfield, Michigan, and teaches choral music at the AGBU Alex and Marie Manoogian Armenian school in Southfield. He is an alumnus of St. Nerses Seminary, holds a Master of Music degree (University of Houston), and Master of Arts in Theological Studies (St. Vladimir’s Seminary, NY).

Anahit Toumajan, born and educated in Armenia (Armenian Philology degree, Yerevan State University, masters in Armenian Literature), teaches Armenian language, history, Armenian songs at the AGBU Alex and Marie Manoogian Armenian Day School in Southfield, Michigan, and loves singing Armenian folk songs. Since 1998, Sevan Siranoush Suni (b. 1982) and Anoush Tamar Suni (b. 1987), violinist sisters, have been performing, separately and together, Armenian music of their great grandfather. Sevan began violin studies and classical violin performances at age 4, and Anoush at age 2. Anoush also plays oud, and sings with her oud, sometimes in Middle Eastern music ensembles. Anoush has studied with oud masters in Yemen and in Egypt, and hopes to study in Armenia next year. Sevan plays in the Stanford University Symphony Orchestra. In spring 2009 Sevan will complete her Stanford University Ph.D in population genetics, ecology and evolution, department of Biological Sciences, and Anoush will complete her B.A. in Middle Eastern Studies at Pomona College. Both will pursue further study.

Armena Marderosian (Suny), pianist wife of Grikor Suni’s grandson University of Michigan Professor Ronald Grigor Suny, studied piano at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (Ohio), Suzuki Method in Japan, and is a teacher trainer of Suzuki Piano method. Married into the Suny family, Ms. Marderosian heard the beautiful music of Grikor Mirzaian Suni, then learned that in 1924 her own mother Vanouhi Kazanjian at age 16 had sung in the Suni Chorus in Boston.

To make recordings of this unique and wonderful music, Ms. Marderosian started The Suni Project: Music Preservation, nonprofit 501(c)3. With help of the AGBU, Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, and other donors, the first CD was produced in 1997, “Armenian Songs of Grikor Mirzaian Suni (1876-1939): Vocal Solos and Duets” with singers Maro Partamian, Elisabeth Pehlivanian, Henrik Mihranian, and Suni’s own son Gourgen (George) Suny, singing on his 84th birthday, 9 months before his passing, with pianist Armena Marderosian. The Suni Project has two other CDs: remastered “Grikor Mirzaian Suni (1876-1939): Archival Concert Recordings” from Suni Chorus concerts 1935, 1940, 1971…and “Seda Suny 1986 Voice of America Interview Recital”. Listen free on the website www.suniproject.org. Read Suni’s (1919?) history of Armenian music published in Armenia 2005 with his autobiography, in Armenian and in English translation: “Armenian Music by Grigor Suni” also on the website, the creation of which was a grant from NEW Center, Nonprofit Enterprise at Work. Recordings will be available at this concert.