During the 1940s Hovhaness furthered his study of the Armenian culture, playing organ at an Armenian church and learning the Armenian language, and took a further interest in the Eastern philosophies. The growing success of his music in the 1950s led to several important grants and commissions; a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1951 allowed him to move to New York. After composing Ardent Song (1954), a ballet score for Martha Graham, Hovhaness toured the Far East. Still shunned by the mainstream musical establishment of the time, he continued to receive recognition from without, including Guggenheim Fellowships in 1953, 1954, and 1958. A commission from the Houston Symphony, the Symphony No. 2 ("Mysterious Mountain"; 1955) provided Hovhaness his first popular success. The work was auspiciously premiered by Leopold Stokowski, and the redoubtable Fritz Reiner made a highly regarded recording of it with the Chicago Symphony.
After receiving a Fulbright Fellowship in 1959, Hovhaness again toured the East and was the first Western composer invited to participate in the music festival in Madras, India. He was also received warmly in Japan, where he made television appearances and conducted his music with the Tokyo Symphony. During a return to Asia in 1962 on a Rockefeller Grant, Hovhaness studied the ancient court music of Japan and Korea.
The aural result of the composer's immersion in Eastern culture is a musical language invested with a sense of mysticism and spirituality. Among his voluminous catalogue, Hovhaness' colorful orchestral works have maintained the greatest popularity among audiences; notable examples include the Symphony No. 17 ("Symphony for Metal Orchestra"; 1963); And God Created Great Whales (1970), which incorporates recordings of actual whale "songs," and the Symphony No. 50 ("Mount St. Helen's"; 1982).