The Armenian production Songs of Exile is coming up as part of the Kypria International Festival with performances in Nicosia and Larnaca this week. The seven-piece Naghash Ensemble will come together to present its music to Cyprus audiences.

The ensemble combines the earthy spirituality of Armenian folk song, new classical music, contemporary post-minimalism and the energy of jazz and rock. Three brilliant female vocalists and some of Armenia’s finest instrumentalists on duduk, oud, dhol and piano execute new music based on sacred texts by the medieval Armenian mystic poet and priest Mkrtich Naghash.

“The idea for The Naghash Ensemble came when I first heard Hasmik Baghdasaryan singing in Garni temple outside of Yerevan, Armenia,” says John Hodian, the ensemble’s pianist and composer. “She was singing medieval Armenian spiritual music and it was mesmerizing. The sound remained in my mind for days after and I was determined to write something that would use this sound in a new way.” He spent several years looking for the right text to set to music until he finally came across a fragment by the little-known Armenian medieval poet Naghash. “The words leapt off the page and into my soul and I knew I had found my text.”

Setting Naghash’s words to new music, Hodian followed his intuition: “It’s the natural product of someone who was raised listening to Armenian music in the home, studying European classical music in his youth, making a living as a jazz improviser but like all of us constantly surrounded by contemporary rock music.” The result has been described as “The Sound of Ancient Armenia reinvented for the 21st century,” by Armenia’s most renowned composer Tigran Mansurian.

Under the auspices of the Representative of the Armenian Community at the House of Representatives Vartkes Mahdessian, the Naghash Ensemble will take the stage first at the Nicosia Municipal Theatre on Thursday and the G. Lykourgos Larnaca Municipal Theatre on Friday.

The Kypria festival will continue with local and international performances around the island until mid-October. Arriving soon is the Italian urban performance/installation Steli set up in squares of Nicosia and Larnaca towards the middle of the month and a Cypriot adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.

Songs of exile

By the Armenian Naghash Ensemble. Part of Kypria International Festival. September 8. Nicosia Municipal Theatre, Nicosia. September 9. G. Lykourgos Larnaca Municipal Theatre, Larnaca. 8.30pm.