Music: East of Bach

His teacher didn't like the piano piece that the eight-year-old boy had written. Said she, puzzled and reproving: "There's no music like this." Little Alan Hovhaness, who knew better, replied triumphantly, "Bach did it that way."

Since then, Composer Hovhaness, now a tall, cadaverous 37, has left Bach behind and discovered what he calls a "pathway to the lost music of the ancient world." In Boston he writes music that might have been composed 2,000 years ago in his father's native Armenia.

This week, Manhattan concertgoers heard his latest oddity—a piece called Shatokh. Against a low rich moan of the violin, the...

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