Review: Serj Tankian

CHRISTOPHER MOORE
Last updated 15:18 30/03/2014

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Serj Tankian’s sole New Zealand concert in Christchurch was intriguing, provocative and riveting stuff; an event which proved that innovative music can demolish established musical boundaries.

In every sense, this was an epic production which presented the CSO with the challenge of extending itself well beyond its comfort zone to perform on an equal footing with a man and his music possessing such explosive energy. 

If the gamble failed, the performance could have sunk without trace – especially when confronted by a responsive and vocal audience largely composed of dedicated Tankian fans.   

The Armenian-American musician, composer, poet and singer has walked an interesting road since the days as lead singer with the rock band System of a Down. Today Tankian’s compositions carry the essence of jazz, electronic, classical and cabaret music to create something which defies precise definition. Post-Modernist Romanticism perhaps? 

Saturday’s concert focused on the Elect the Dead symphony, orchestrated by New Zealand composer John Psathas and Orca, Tankian’s most recent work.  The first, arguably more song cycle than symphony, relies on a soloist with a truly dramatic vocal range to succeed.  Tankian’s voice could never be described as pretty but it’s unforgettable and it refused to be dominated by the orchestra. Together the CSO and Tankian gave a gripping raw, lyrical and dark hued performance. 

I confess to being less smitten by the Orca Symphony which carried more than a hint of a cinema soundtrack. That was before the arrival of the fourth movement featuring a traditional Armenian oboe, the Duduk, played with soulful eloquence by Vardan Grigoryan. Personally, this was the most extraordinary moment in an evening of extraordinary musical revelations.

Serj Tankian and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra. The Orca and Elect the Dead Symphony.

Tour: Saturday March 29, the CBS Arena, Christchurch. 

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