In the most complete silence of Saint-Roch arose a melody, as the voice of a clarinet suddenly occupies the whole space. Then it came closer and passed by to the slow step of the soloist who walked forward through the centre aisle, from the church door to the choir. How beautiful and tranquil was Kinan Azmeh.

First the silent musicians waited, then came the stormy welcome by the strings on which floated the clarinet song, like a raft on the sea. The clarinet was not alone. A dialogue took place with the violin. And the story began. Both their voices were torn apart, and harrowing. One second they were mixed up, and escaped from one another – the next, then added up, then danced together. From the violins keeping the pace, came the vision of white dervishes. As they whirl and whirl, a vortex was forming, sucking everything up, dragging everything down. Then arose a lonely voice, one made of strings, of simplicity, like a being appearing in unclear light. Then more strings, and a whole choir of 613 souls. Maybe the choir of all the people slaughtered that night, whoever they are, wherever they are, from either side. “Forgiving, not forgetting” said the introductory speech. “Hope of reconciliation”, too. Written to commemorate the lives of the 613 Azerbaijani civilians who were killed on 26 February 1992, in the Azerbaijani town of Khojaly, Nagorno-Karabakh, which was occupied by Armenian forces supported by the 366th Regiment of the Soviet Army, Khojaly 613 was performed as the opening work of a concert organized by The European Azerbaijan Society, on 24 February.

An expressive, moving, deep, melodious and evocative piece of music, Pierre Thilloy’s work goes beyond the event which inspired it and carries within itself the universality of evil, the disbelief at such horror, and a particular form of hope, like that of true visionaries. A visionary of hearing, Pierre Thilloy sweeps us up into the eye of a bird, or into a black drone above the universal theatre of absurd wars. Five nagging musical notes express either an appearance or an extinction. There are colours in the sky, screeching flames and an acceleration, disorder, an army on the march, advancing inexorably. The first movement ended on a very high note. Like hope, or like the sadness about hoping. Then the strings growled again, and the music became more descriptive, reminiscent of a panoramic parade on a vast and quiet landscape. We could hear a few words, like Nagorno-Karabakh, the syllables of which sounded like the boots of a marching army. Batallions on parade. Chaos. Disorder. Silence. The music continued in a long crossfade ending, again, on a very high note, reminiscent of faint hope.

Memories of past lives again, lives of before, or lives that go on. We get pictures of upper valleys and forests. Of life in general and lives in particular. The violin sang tunes of Azeri music, as Sabina Rakcheyeva’s bow danced on the taut wires. The cello chanted a repetitive pattern. Nagorno Karabakh. Hardly could we sense the need to escape or run away that disharmony, a screaming clarinet and noisy strings stroke back. The lonely violin sang against a background of a clarinet which threw a high and continuous note – like the wind – telling sad and terrible stories, as Kinan Azmeh managed to draw incredible and terrifying sounds from the instrument; moments of calm terror picked up by the violin. More sarabande dance and frenzy before the soloists fell silent. One last cry of an invisible clarinet, the call of an abandoned soul, and it all ended on a last very high and tenuous whistling, and a very shrill note of dark light.

The chamber version of the orchestral piece Khojaly 613 premièred last year at St. John’s, Smith Square, in London. This version keeps the same evocative power of the constantly-renewed horrors on planet Earth, there and here, once and now. And as the composer promised, this concerto in three movements with cadenza, restraint and with no pathos whatsoever was indeed a “message to the heart”.

Elisabeth Schneiter, ResMusica (translated from the French: http://bit.ly/thilloy)