By Lindsay Koob
I remember it like it was yesterday. As a small boy, if I or my siblings didn’t eat everything on our plates at dinnertime, my mom (now 91, bless her) had a stock mini-lecture: “The starving Armenians would be very thankful for what’s left on your plate.” And then she would tell us why. Even though she wasn’t born until four years after the horrific 1915 Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks, her parents had no doubt been shocked and moved by what was big global news, even then – and were inspired to preach potent moral lessons (and dinnertime decorum) to their own kids about it. I didn’t learn the full scope and circumstances of the catastrophe until much later in life – or the fact that Turkey, the guilty party, has never acknowledged their ugly role nor apologized for it. But, even though no Armenian blood runs in my veins, the memory of what happened there in 1915 remains part of my psyche.
A recent blog post from pop goddess Kim Kardashian, who is of Armenian descent, reminded me of the still-festering issue. The Armenians (to include their American progeny) – being one of our oldest global cultures – have a very long collective memory, and have never lost their sense of outrage that justice was never done nor guilt admitted. And – like the Jewish people and their holocaust a generation later – they won’t let the world forget it.
Here at Delos, Kardashian’s post brought to mind the fact that distinguished conductor Constantine Orbelian – one of our most prolific (and cherished) recording artists – is of proud Armenian-Russian stock, and we thought that you might find it interesting to explore his Armenian roots and relationships. We also have another connection: with Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness, much of whose spellbinding music is to be found on Delos CDs … but that’s a story for future blogging. Read on, and gain some understanding of Constantine’s fascinating noble ancestry, as well as some of the familial factors underlying his rise to prominence as one of the world’s most accomplished and admired maestros.
For starters, the Orbelians go back over a thousand years in Armenia. Long a distinguished and influential clan, the Orbelian princes and bishops became Armenia’s ruling family in the thirteenth century. You can examine their historic significance in a fascinating illustrated article about the Noravank monastery: the ancient Orbelian family seat. Coincidentally, the monastery was founded in 1204 by a bishop named Hovhanes: perhaps an ancestor to Delos’s other Armenian connection!
You can also read up on Constantine’s more modern family history and relationships. His father, Harry, arrived in America as a penniless immigrant after WWII – and you can enjoy the story of his rags-to-riches rise and international political-economic influence right here. The Orbelian family was both politically and musically prominent in Soviet-era Russia, too. Constantine’s grandfather was a top KGB officer who eventually fell victim to one of Stalin’s notorious purges – and his uncle, Konstantin, now a resident of Los Angeles, remained one of Russia’s most versatile performers and composers until 1992. Finally, you can read up on the family’s connection to Aram Khachaturian: the most famous of the Russian-Armenian composers. Constantine paid potent tribute to the master with his remarkable Khachaturian centennial-year (2003) album on Delos.
I urge you to take the time to look into the Orbelian family’s remarkable journey – you’ll be glad you did.