The Night was opened by Ilda Simonian, born in Istanbul, living in Amsterdam, her rise, in a beautiful dress, impresses the audience, and thanks to the introduction she gave, she showed herself a real guide through the mysterious land of mysticism, her words are curious about the performance, her melancholic and empathic performance of the Armenian songs, her beautiful voice and the intimate accompaniment of her pianist impressed, for many of those present the children’s song’Kele Kele – Come along “the highlight of the performance of Ilda Simonian and perhaps of the whole evening”.
Ilda Simonian’s repertoire includes various elements from the rich and ancient Armenian tradition. She performs folk songs, which are fixed in the Armenian consciousness and evoke a special kind of sympathy and recognition among the Armenians in her audience. But not only among them: her performance is also capable of moving people who are not familiar with the Armenian folk repertoire. Moreover, she draws on the exceptionally rich tradition of church hymns reaching as far back as the fifth century. The Armenian hymnarium has been established in the course of one thousand years through the dedication of the best poets and composers Armenia has seen. The way in which Ilda honours both these traditions is impressive even more so to those among her audience who are not only appreciative of the melodies and the singing, but who are also familiar with the language, the texts, and their background. The works of Komitas (1869-1935) his adaptations of folk songs as well as Armenian liturgical songs , and of the renowned poet, singer, and musician Sayat Nova (1712-1795) would be a challenge to any professional singer. Moreover, Ilda Simonian’s repertoire includes the work of modern composers like Melikian, and settings of poems by such well-known 19th- and 20th-century poets as Bedros Dourian and Silva Kapoutikian, which call for specific talents in the performer. Ilda Simonian has proved to be more than equal to each of these challenges.
Ilda is really one with her music. She was a revelation to me. She has a very distinctive style which I find appealing, because she inspires the music with her own soul and spirit. Next to the liturgical songs, Armenian music also comprises a folk repertoire, demanding a completely different technique. I have never seen someone perform with such passion. To see her build up this tension and pass it on to her audience was a very exciting thing to witness.
What struck me was the simplicity of the songs, which were presented straight, with great beauty and purity. I was moved in particular by the emotional content of the melodies, so sad and so full of hope at the same time. This combination of sadness and hopefulness in the songs I found very appealing.
“Although I do not understand Armenian and cannot follow literally what she is singing about, her rendering touched me in a special way. I think that does her credit. She takes you by the hand and explains what the songs are about. No doubt they are very poetic, but unfortunately I have to go without the details. Her performance made me realize once again that music is a universal language. She presented a beautiful oeuvre, and very obviously possesses the key to it.”
“The Armenian civilization is an ancient culture on the crossroads of East and West, of North and South. That same bridging function is evident in Armenian music, which reflects the three traditions of that society in the past. The liturgical hymns, the so-called sharagans, represent the Armenian Church, while the minstrels’ songs speak of the heroic deeds of the nobles, and the folk songs lend expression to the emotions of common people. Ilda Simonian interprets with great sensitivity the emotions which have been put to words and music in the traditional Armenian vocal genres. Her interpretations build a bridge between the Armenian and Dutch cultures.”
“She has such a beautiful, distinctive voice and such a powerful presence, that go so well with the melancholic, but very human character of Armenian music. For me, the harmony of that music evokes the sounds of ancient Gregorian chant, but also of Caucasian folk music. It makes me feel peaceful. Although it is devotional music and in spite of its melancholic character, it sounds cheerful. What I mean by that is that it is human, speaking of a reconciliation with life and man’s suffering. Maybe it is because of my love of folk music that I find the authenticity of her performance so appealing.”
“I have seen Ilda perform at various occasions; often at church meetings but also with Polo de Haas in the Beurs van Berlage and, naturally, at the official opening of Armenia: Medieval Miniatures from the Christian East, an exhibition presented by the Utrecht Catherijneconvent museum. When Ilda sings, it is with body, soul, and spirit. In her songs, but also in her body language, joy and grief find expression. The personal involvement which stands out in Ilda’s performance is characteristic of the Armenian people as such. Their joyfulness has time and again been oppressed by their sad history. The country’s geographical position has made it an easy target for invasions by surrounding peoples; only the mountains offered some protection. But the Armenians are a strong people and have managed to retain their identity in the face of oppression, genocide, and the diaspora. Melancholy is the theme which links us to our history. And if people who live in exile recognize it somewhere, it never fails to move them deeply.”