Promoting Armenian culture in Switzerland — Interview with Irina Mnatsakanian

Irina MnatsakanianShe is perhaps the youngest among the ambassador’s spouses in Geneva and she represents her country alongside her husband, the Ambassador of Armenia. However, she is also very active in promoting Armenian culture in Switzerland — whether modern or traditional, and particularly music of all kinds. We note that, among other things, she organized a huge exhibition of Armenian contemporary art in Geneva and few events, including a concert of classical music in the Palais des Nations.
In October 2006, she organized three concerts of a talented Armenia ethno jazz band, « Time Report » : one in the prestigious New Morning Jazz Club in Paris ; another one in Lyon’s Salle Molliere ; and finally one here in Geneva at the Au Chat Noir where Geneva’s jazz lovers had the unique opportunity of listening to contemporary Armenian jazz.
Q : What is your motivation ?
I strongly believe that art, culture and music are a considerable force and the best way of representing our country, that we have many talented and creative artists deserving to be represented internationally . It is fortunate that I know many of them personally, so I guess this was yet another motivation for becoming involved in such activity when I arrived here in Geneva. My musical background also contributed a great deal ; I am a graduate of the Yerevan State Conservatory. This was a way of combining my love for art, culture and music with a certain ability for organizing events.
Q : You have organized other major events. How did it all start ?
It all started in 2003, two or three months after my arrival in Geneva. The first event was a concert at the United Nations featuring a renowned violinist Sergey Khachatrian. In 2003-2004 we organized a big project entitled the Swiss-Armenian Cultural Exchanges Project, which consisted of four concerts given by Swiss and Armenian musicians. At that time the group was called Swiss Modern, which was later renamed Paul Klee Ensemble. This is a very talented ensemble consisting of several Swiss and one Armenian musician. The idea was to get the Swiss musicians to interpret Armenian music, which was an interesting approach as it gave an outsider’s view of your own traditions and heritage. We ended up having a tremendous performance. We started in Armenia in 2003, and then the same series of concerts were extended to Bern and Geneva in 2004.
Along with that, we organized a retrospective exhibition of the work of Sergei Paradjanov, a famous Georgian/Armenian film-maker , at the Musee des Arts de Grutli.
We actually tried to combine many things. The concerts were organized in such a manner that it was almost like a marathon, as each event was immediately followed by another in the counse of two days — the first concert started in the afternoon of day one, followed by a reception with Armenian brandy and delicacies . Then there was an evening concert. The next morning another concert. In the meantime there were poetry readings, etc. It had a huge impact !
In 2005, we organized an artistic event involving eleven Armenian artists, nine painters and two sculptures, with more than fifty works of art at the Bel-Air Fine Art Gallery in Geneva.
There is a tendency to organize multi-disciplinary events, because subconsciously we want to represent as many facets of Armenian culture as possible. At the same time, we try to co-ordinate them so that they bring together different aspects of Armenian culture. Because we were representing modern Armenian artists — the younger generation — we thought about accompanying it with some kind of musical event. My first thought was about jazz, so my collaboration with this group started back in 2005. I thought that it was an interesting way to show contemporary art which is strongly based on tradition — they draw their inspiration from it and then develop it. In that respect, the jazz concert and the art exhibition interlinked well with each other.
Q : I was very impressed that you organized several concerts – not to mention one in the prestigious New Morning Jazz Club in Paris. How did you manage that ?
Last year the group played in Lausanne, Fribourg and Geneva. In Lausanne they played in the famous Chorus jazz club and their success encouraged me to continue to work with them. I thought that they are certainly worth being known to as large a public as possible, and after doing some research I started negotiating with the New Morning Club in Paris. Of course, it sounded very ambitious. The worst thing that could happen was that they would say « no », but it was worth trying, so I got in touch with them at the end of 2005. After long negotiations, they finally gave me one day, and then I started building the rest of the project around that date.
Earlier I already had certain preliminary agreements with Le Chat Noir here in Geneva, and then I began to collaborate with the Armenian Diaspora in Lyon. In the end it worked out and we ended up having three concerts in three different places. Of course, it involved a lot of running around and travelling, and I was really concerned about the musicians because it was physically very tiring to travel and perform on the same day. However, it worked out beautifully.
It is always so overwhelming and gratifying when something you present is appreciated.

Q : What is your next project ?
I am already in touch with the management of the Verbier Festival. I really wish we could come to an agreement with them, I am also in touch with the management of the Cinq Continents Festival in Martigny. I also have friends who are really eager to see the group in London and in Italy. There are also other things to come, but I would rather wait with announcements at this point.

Leaving Mrs Ambassador, we can only wish her good luck in her future projects and hope that they will be as successful as the ones she has already organized.