Genocide Centennial Concert Offers a Feast of History, Talent, and Pride

By Florence Avakian

The Music Center at Strathmore, located just outside of Washington, D.C., was sold out weeks in advance for the artistic celebration of Armenian music—part of the National Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial that took place May 7-9, 2015.

The Strathmore concert hall noted for its excellent acoustics filled to capacity on Friday evening, May 8, as some 2,000 listeners were led on “A Journey Through 100 Years of Armenian Music.” World famous vocal and instrumental artists performed traditional as well as contemporary works in honor of the Genocide centennial.

His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, and His Holiness Aram I, the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, presided over the evening.

The National Committee for the Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial (a joint effort of the Dioceses and Prelacies of the Armenian churches of America, on the east and west coasts) organized the concert, and its leaders-Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, and Archbishop Vicken Aykazian—were all present.

National Commemoration committee chair Dr. Noubar Afeyan offered welcoming remarks to the eager audience.

The core of the program was built around the well-known, heartfelt village songs of the great Komitas Vartabed—whose music was called “the undisguised heartbeat of the Armenian people” in musicologist Şahan Arzruni’s perceptive program notes.

With great emotion and soulful interpretation, Dele Yaman, a song of yearning and love, was offered by artists celebrated in the Armenian community for decades: Onnik Dinkjian (voice), Ara Dinkjian (oud), and David Gevorkian and Martin Haratunian (duduk).

The renowned HOVER State Chamber Choir of Armenia, with 25 female and male singers, conducted by its founder Dr. Sona Hovhannisyan, reflected their versatility as they continued with several Komitas songs, singing a cappella with choreographed graceful arm movements, bell cymbals, and sonorous tonality. Especially moving was their rendition of Gali Yerg (Labor song), delivered with verve and passion, and Lusnakn Anoush (Sweet Moon), and Karoun a (It’s Spring), both sung with exquisite sensitivity and lush harmony.

The Trio Movements 1 and 2 of Aram Khachaturian, “Armenia’s musical ambassador to the world,” was filled with opulent melodies, rhythms and colors. Often performed on international stages, the pieces were played by violinist Ida Kavafian, clarinetist Narek Arutyunian, and master pianist Şahan Arzruni.

The modernistic, spirited Trio (Finale) by composer Arno Babajanian, with its disquieting melodies and surging rhythms reminiscent of Shoshtakovich, was memorably performed by violinist (and founder of the Chilingirian Quartet) Levon Chilingirian, cellist Alexander Chaushian, and pianist Karen Hakobyan.

As the concert had begun with the master, Komitas, the first section ended with a Komitas song cycle, with such favorites as Dzirani Dzar (Apricot Tree), the heartbreakingly beautiful Koon Yeghir (Lullaby), and Yerginkn ambel e / Antsrevn yegav (Cloudy sky…It’s raining). The songs, arranged by pianist Serouj Kradjian, were performed with delightful verve by exalted operatic soloist Isabel Bayrakdarian.  She was accompanied by a quintet of Levon Chilingirian and solo recitalist Ara Gregorian (violins), Ida Kavafian (viola), Alexander Chaushian (cello), and composer Serouj Kradjian (piano).

Center Stage

After intermission, the Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra took center stage, providing an inspired program conducted by the youthful, dynamic Maestro Edward Topchjian. Founded 90 years ago by Arshak Adamian and Alexander Spendiaryan, the orchestra has performed all over Europe and the Far East.

The opera and concert diva Hasmik Papian sang with the orchestra, choir, and soloists, performing the solemn Domine Jesu Christe, and Agnus Dei of the Requiem by one of Armenia’s leading composers, Tigran Mansurian.

Papian’s rendition of Arno Babajanian’s heartbreakingly beautiful and emotional Vocalise (a song without words), and Parsegh Ganatchian’s Oror brought many in the audience to tears. These unforgettable selections are beloved staples of the Armenian musical tradition.

Alan Hovhannes was represented by selected movements of the St. Vartan Symphony No.9 with its haunting melodies. It has been called the “jewel of his Armenian period,” commemorating the heroism of St. Vartan Mamigonian.

The musical images displayed in Khachaturian’s Spartacus suite played on the world’s most celebrated stages countless times, evoked the strength and vigor of the historic hero’s rebellion against the Roman Empire, bringing on thunderous applause.

To the surprise of many, the concert concluded with a highly emotional rendition of the often sung Giligia, arranged with great aplomb by Ara Sarkissian. The orchestra and singers, joined by all the concert soloists, together brought the lovely program to a powerful and emotional conclusion.

Writing in the program notes, musicologist Şahan Arzruni envisioned the “tree” of Armenian musical tradition, with Komitas representing the “sprawling roots”; Khachaturian the “burly trunk”; Hovhaness the “pliant branches”; and Babadjanyan, Mansurian, and others the “verdant leaves.” It’s an appropriately beautiful image to convey the impact of the concert, its compositions and its artists, who truly delivered an event of great talent, emotion, and pride.

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