Illuminating Thoughts: Serouj Kradjian on Hell's Fury: The Hollywood Songbook.

​Juno Award-winning pianist Serouj Kradjian shares illuminating thoughts on his creative process, favourite Luminato memory, and why he believes the life of Hanns Eisler feels so current and poignant today.

Feb 13, 2019 | BY: Serouj Kradjian

Tell us about your journey as part of Hell’s Fury, The Hollywood Song. How long has this work been in development and what has been your involvement throughout? 
It was back in 2011, when Soundstreams AD Lawrence Cherney talked to me about Tim Albery’s idea of staging Hanns Eisler’s Hollywood Songbook for the Luminato Festival. The two of us met Tim, and discussed further, but this interesting project didn’t go ahead in 2013 as planned. Fast forward to summer 2018: Here we are with Tim and Russell Braun, working on the songs, one by one, and Tim weaving the storyline through these songs, and Lawrence, present at every rehearsal, intently following this intense process. It feels like we’re finally ready for this multifaceted project, and this project is ready for us!

How does the title Hell’s Fury, The Hollywood Songbook relate to the work? 
SK: It’s as if Eisler, through these songs, tells us his life story, his trials and tribulations, during the pre-Nazi Germany period, his escape and self-imposed exile, his busy and glamorous period in the States, unfortunate run-in with McCarthyism and being exiled yet again to his homeland.

Pianist Serouj Kradjian sitting on the piano looking away from the camera.

If you had to summarize the story of Hell’s Fury in 5 words, what would they be? 
SK: Never take life for granted.

The life of Hanns Eisler is a fascinating journey from city to city, country to country, and even between both sides of the iron curtain. What attracts you the most about his story?
SK: His survival instincts, and even in the most difficult moments, finding refuge in what he’s most passionate about: music. And creating such beautiful songs!

How does the piece relate to what’s going on in the world right now with refugees, political turmoil and what seems to be the rise of a new Cold War? 
SK: The political characters might have changed and ideologies as well. But the issues having such dire effects on humanity, haven’t. 

What are some of the biggest challenges/setbacks you faced working on this project?
SK: To be very honest, I have not experienced any challenges or setbacks. The creative process with Tim and Russell to make this a unique presentation, where theatre and music are so closely and successfully juxtaposed, has been fascinating.

Do you have a favourite line or (musical) section from Hell’s Fury?
SK: An meinen Kleinen Radio Apparat (To my Little Radio). With Bertolt Brecht’s poignant words and Eisler’s music, is probably the most beautiful music ever written about a radio.

You little box I carried on that trip
Concerned to save your works from getting broken
Last thing at night, once more as dawn appears
Shouting their victories and my worst fears:
Promise at least you won't go dead again!

Was there a specific artwork/music work/artist that inspired you to become an artist?
SK: Franz Liszt.

Do you have any rituals/routines that you do before or when you’re creating? Any weird objects or superstitions that help you be your best creative self? 
SK: Taking a long walk with my paper notebook is something I do at every opportunity I get.

What is the first big composition that you published? Is there anything you’d change about it?
SK: It was Twenty Five Armenian folksongs by Father Komitas for voice and orchestra. The recording on Nonesuch got nominated for a Grammy ten years ago, but these songs are still a work in progress in my mind. Especially this year, when we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Komitas, in October, with a special concert in Toronto’s Koerner Hall.

Have you attended/participated in Luminato before? What’s your favourite Luminato memory?
SK: This is my Luminato debut. I am a Joni Mitchell fan, and I will never forget Joni: A Portrait in Song, that Luminato presented years ago.

What’s your favourite spot in the world?
: The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. On one side the stunning panoramic view of Los Angeles, and on the other side, the Hollywood sign: both symbols of reasonable and unreasonable aspirations, great achievements and broken dreams.

Which other Luminato 2019 shows are you excited to see? 
SKMasquerade. The fantastic music Aram Khachaturian composed as incidental music for Lermontov’s play, was actually commissioned and premiered by the Vakhtangov Theatre in 1941! 

Luminato and Soundstreams present Hell's Fury, The Hollywood Songbook on June 19-23, 2019 at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre.

Photo credit: Bo Huang

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