Azerbaijan Music Day Celebrated in Shusha for the First Time
A performance of Hajibeyli’s Koroghlu in front of Shusha’s fortress walls.Image: Screenshot from National Music Day Concert video
September 18 was the birthday of the great Azerbaijani composer, conductor, and artistic all-rounder Uzeyir Hajibeyli (1885-1948). Also known by Soviet-era spellings as Hajibeyov or (to Russians) Gadjibekov, he is seen as the father of Azerbaijani operatic and orchestral composition and wrote the (different) national anthems used in both Soviet and independent Azerbaijan. In 1995, on his 110th anniversary, his birthday was declared to be Azerbaijan’s National Music Day. And since 2009, the day now also kicks off the roughly week-long Uzeyir Hajibeyli International Music Festival. This year the festival was seen as particularly special as a whole series of performances were staged for the first time in Shusha, the city where Hajibeyli had spent most of his youth. As we saw in the recent photo essay by Orkhan Azim, there remains much reconstruction to be done in Shusha after the 2020 Second Karabakh War and the two decades of neglect before that while under Armenian occupation. That meant that audiences were bound to be minimal at the best of times. However, in an original twist that was more fitting for the Covid-plagued moment, many concerts were held in the open air with the backdrops of various famous Shusha monuments (or their ruins, as so much has yet to be rebuilt).
Ruins of the Hajibeyli House Museum. Image: Orkhan Azim
Outside the ruins of the Hajibeyli House-Museum, well-known tenor Azer Zeynalov gave the composer’s romantic 1941 song Sənsiz (Without You) a new airing. It’s a musical setting of poetic lyrics taken from the works of the ‘Azerbaijani Shakespeare’ Nizami Ganjavi (1141-1209), whose 800th anniversary the composition was designed to commemorate.
Azer Zeynalov performing outside the former Hajibeyli house-museum in Shusha. Image: Screenshot from National Music Day Concert video
Elsewhere in Shusha, an 8-woman string ensemble was installed in front of the Khan Qizi spring playing Hajibeyli’s Arazbarı, written as a symphonic take on traditional mugham. Wearing somewhat incongruous dinner dress, a full choir performed an excerpt from Hajibeyli’s opera Leyli & Majnun in the ruined shell of Panah Khan’s former palace complex.
Tar concert outside the Mirza Sadiq house as part of Shusha’s Music Day celebrations.
And tar virtuoso Shahriyar Imanov gave an orchestrally backed tar performance in front of the ruins of a large three-storey 19th-century house that was once home to Mirza Sadiq (aka Sadiqjan). Shusha-born Sadijcan (1846-1902) was himself a great tarzan (as tar players are known) and the man widely credited with developing a distinctly Caucasian variant of that musical instrument.
Shahriyar Imanov performing in Shusha. Image: Screenshot from National Music Day Concert video
In September 2020, with remarkable prescience, Azerbaijani MP Tural Ganjaliyev predicted – indeed “promised” – that music day would be celebrated in Hajibeyli’s hometown “very soon.” However, who would have believed that the music would return the very next year?