RIP: Violinist Anahid Ajemian dies at 92
Anahid Ajemian, Violinist and New-Music Champion, Dies at 92
Anahid Ajemian, a violinist known as an ardent champion of new music, died on June 13 at her home in Manhattan. She was 92.
Her family confirmed the death.
A founding member of the Composers String Quartet, Ms. Ajemian also had an active career as a soloist. Praised by critics for the sensitivity, lyricism and tonal control of her playing, she was known for bringing to a wide listenership music by composers including John Cage, Kurt Weill, Carlos Surinach and her fellow Armenian-American Alan Hovhaness.
Ms. Ajemian recorded extensively and gave the United States or world premieres of many new works, a number of which — among them Ben Weber’s Sonata da Camera and Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Violin With Percussion Orchestra — were written expressly for her. She also performed frequently with her elder sister, the pianist Maro Ajemian.
The daughter of Armenian immigrants, Leon Ajemian, a physician, and the former Siroun Erganian, a pianist, Anahid Marguerite Ajemian was born in Manhattan on Jan. 26, 1924.
She took up the violin as a child, taking lessons at the Institute of Musical Art, a forerunner of the Juilliard School. At the Juilliard Graduate School, where she later studied, her teachers included the eminent Belgian violinist Édouard Dethier.
In 1946, Ms. Ajemian was a winner of the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation competition, a prestigious musical honor that included a debut recital at Town Hall in New York that year.
Reviewing the recital, which included works by Bach, Beethoven, Debussy and Bartok, The New York Times said that Ms. Ajemian “played with fine taste and fine perception.”
With her sister, Ms. Ajemian gave premieres of Hovhaness’s Suite for Violin, Piano and Percussion; Henry Cowell’s Set of Five for Violin, Piano and Percussion; Ernst Krenek’s Double Concerto; and many other works.
For years the sisters lived on opposite coasts — Maro in California and Anahid in New York — with each practicing duos to the accompaniment of a tape, recorded by the other and slipped into the mail.
They continued their careers through great loss: In 1950, their parents were among the 58 people aboard a Northwest Airlines flight that disappeared over Lake Michigan en route from New York to Seattle. The accident was then the worst commercial aviation disaster in United States history. Despite extensive searching, the wreckage of the flight has never been found.
With the violinist Matthew Raimondi, the violist Bernard Zaslav and the cellist Seymour Barab, Ms. Ajemian founded the Composers String Quartet in the mid-1960s. Their debut concert, at Carnegie Recital Hall in 1965, featured works by Milton Babbitt, Henry Weinberg, Ruth Crawford Seeger (stepmother of the folk singer Pete Seeger) and Stephen D. Fisher.
Reviewing the performance in The Times, Raymond Ericson wrote: “The quartet clearly deserves its name. Composers are lucky to have it around.”
The ensemble, which continued performing worldwide through the 1990s, was in residence at the New England Conservatory and later at Columbia University; Ms. Ajemian was a longtime member of the Columbia faculty.
With her husband, George Avakian, a celebrated record producer whom she married in 1948, Ms. Ajemian inaugurated Music for Moderns, a critically esteemed contemporary concert series at Town Hall, in 1957.
Maro Ajemian died in 1978. Anahid Ajemian’s survivors include her husband; two daughters, Maro Avakian and Anahid Avakian Gregg; a son, Greg; and two grandchildren.
A compilation CD titled “Visionary Violinist: The Art of Anahid Ajemian,” including the music of Hovhaness, Cowell, Charles Ives and Wallingford Riegger, is scheduled to be released by the Other Minds label next year.
Despite her acclaim, Ms. Ajemian was of a generation in which even the world’s most accomplished women were characterized by the news media in terms of marriage, motherhood and the innermost contents of their closets.
The Times transgressed thus in a 1975 article about Ms. Ajemian that centered on her wardrobe. Asked about her favorite concert attire, she gave an answer that, while diplomatic, spoke quiet volumes about her concern for that subject amid the urgent imperative of bringing contemporary music to the public.
The outfit was a “chifonny thing,” Ms. Ajemian replied, by “some designer.”