Armenia: Cadence Music Centre

The collapse of the Soviet Union left Armenia’s arts infrastructure in ruins. The Cadence Music Centre played a key role in its rebirth, says founder Nika Babayan

Armenia declared its independence in 1990, becoming the first non-Baltic republic to secede from the Soviet Union. The country’s independence was officially recognised the following year, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Widespread social and economic upheaval followed – and Armenia’s cultural landscape was not exempt.

‘We had no idea how to go on,’ says Nika Babayan, founder and president of the Cadence Music Centre in Yerevan. ‘Even the Ministry of Culture had no idea how to work in those circumstances, given that the previous financial system had been concentrated on Moscow. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was no cultural subsidy and there were no arts professionals to manage artists. After our independence we didn’t know how to communicate with professionals abroad, how to promote our artists – no one had any idea what sponsorship was, for instance. At that time, establishing a real cultural scene was vital.’

Cadence Music Centre was instrumental in paving the way for Armenia’s current cultural infrastructure. Founded in 1995, the music centre is a non-governmental not-for-profit organisation that promotes Armenian performers abroad, and also stages performances across the country.

In its early days, Cadence was a truly multi-functional outfit. Under Babayan’s leadership, the company founded four arts festivals and several music competitions. It launched a record label and released more than 140 CDs of music by leading Armenian orchestras, chamber ensembles, instrumentalists and vocalists. The company also established the Cadence Music Ensemble (pictured), and took on the management of a number of Armenian musicians – not to mention offered courses for budding artist managers. The energetic all-encompassing approach was aimed at reviving Armenia’s cultural scene, and granting it longevity by nurturing young talent.

‘We were managing artists, selling concerts, bringing artists from abroad, sending them abroad, and so on,’ says Babayan. ‘Sometimes we were doing everything! But I think for that period it was necessary; there was no other way for us to move forward at that time. Now of course it wouldn’t be possible to work that way.’

Yet the music centre’s current activities remain impressive: in 2010 Cadence staged an Armenian cultural year in Slovenia that included concerts, exhibitions, and film festivals. The cultural year – which was supported by the Armenian ambassador to Britain, Armen Sarkissian – was closed with a concert by the Cadence Music Ensemble.

Such large-scale projects come in addition to the music centre’s day-to-day work – managing artists and producing records. Touring is crucial; Cadence recently took the National Ballet of Armenia to Qatar, and next year will take Cadence Music Ensemble to the US. The Middle East is an important market for the music centre; it has previously collaborated with the celebrated Lebanese singer Fairuz.

With such a concentrated effort on fostering Armenia’s homegrown music scene, what has been the effect on the country’s audiences? ‘We have a good audience for classical music,’ says Babayan. ‘The most astonishing thing is that we have a lot of young people at concerts. Of course we do have to work hard to achieve this. We work with young people in schools – for me that’s one of the most important aspects of a musical infrastructure. It’s important to provide proper music education and to cultivate good listeners for classical music.’

What’s also crucial for Babayan is staging performances in venues across Armenia. ‘We’re doing a lot of events in small villages,’ he says. ‘In Armenia everything is concentrated in Yerevan unfortunately, and a lot of smaller cities don’t have the opportunity to attend concerts. We have to bring really good artists with high standards, ensembles and orchestras to the regions.’

The centre collaborates with the country’s Ministry of Culture on many of its projects. ‘In the early years of the music centre, I was almost saying that the best situation would be if the state didn’t make obstacles for us, we’d be happy,’ Babayan says with a laugh. ‘But in the past five to six years, our relationship with the Ministry has been very strong. We have a very sympathetic culture minster [Hasmik Poghosyan]. Fortunately she is very positive about classical music; she understands how important it is.’