By Florence Avakian
Electricity was in the air as more than 200 people streamed into Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) on June 26, 2015, to hear the acclaimed Huyser Music Ensemble.
Among the guests present were the St. Vartan Cathedral dean the Very Rev. Fr. Mamigon Kiledjian, the Rev. Fr. Mesrob Lakissian, and the Rev. Fr. Abraham Malkhasyan.
Nostalgia and remembrance were the themes of the evening, conveyed in the heartfelt opening song “Horovel,” arranged by the legendary Komitas. The singers came onto the stage one by one, including artistic director and guitarist Harout Barsoumian who arranged and orchestrated all the songs, musical director Karine Barsoumian, lead vocalists Maria Barsoumian and Diran Jebejian, and guitarist and vocalist Ara Yegoryan.
Warm memories and praises to Armenia’s capital city of Yerevan were present in several songs, including a composition by Raffi Altounian, a jazzy number by composer Arno Babajanian, and a ballad by Armen Mardakunian expressing the romantic message that Yerevan will always persist.
The performance continued with a soul-stirring “Asumen Te,” a song of longing by Khachatur Avetisyan with lyrics by Armenia’s revered poetess Silva Kaputikyan dedicated to her husband, poet Hovhanness Shiraz. It was sung passionately by Maria Barsoumian.
Diran Jebejian beautifully interpreted the love song “Arevig” by Konstantin Orbelyan. Instrumental solos were offered by violinist Diana Vasilyan (playing Aram Khachaturian’s lush and melodic “Waltz”), and pianist Harout Barsoumian (offering a dynamic “Ashkharums” by Sayat Nova).
Several compositions dedicated to the centennial of the Armenian Genocide took center stage. “Moot Jamer” (Dark Hours) with words by Vahan Tekeyan, and “Home” with music (two guitars, percussion and violin) for both pieces by Harout Barsoumian, honored the hero Soghomon Tehlirian, and were originally featured in the well-received play mounted in New York, “All Rise. The Court Is In Session.”
Also dedicated to the Genocide was the heartbreaking “Oureyir, Asdvadz?” (Where Were You, God?) with music and lyrics by Arthur Meschian, sung with great feeling by the group. The song also gave the profound message that God gives us hope and strength in the darkest hours. A different aspect of the milestone was seen in “Abrelou Abril,” with its message that even on this 100th anniversary, the scars of the Genocide are still raw.
The contemplative pieces continued with “Mardigi Yerk” (music by Ashot Satyan and words by G. Saryan), relating the hope of a freedom-fighter on the battlefield to see his mother and home. And “Caravan”-sung poignantly by Karine Barsoumian, with music and lyrics by Avedik Isahakyan-symbolized Armenians around the world marching together across the desert, hoping to see their home.
A special request from the audience changed the meditative mood with the modern, jazzy instrumental of “Cafe Mocha” by Jesse Cook.
The final selection, “Millions of Lives” by Karen Margaryan, received its world premiere at this event. A tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Genocide, it foretold the bright hope for future generations, and featured a group of youngsters coming on stage as living symbols.
A standing ovation by the audience resulted in several curtain calls, wherein the performers delivered an encore of patriotic songs which was greeted with thunderous cheering.
The Huyser Music Ensemble was created in 2010 under the auspices of St. Illuminator’s Armenian Cathedral in New York. Staying true to its name-“huyser” is the Armenian word for “hopes”-the group is “committed to serving as the beacon for staying true to the Armenian culture, and promoting the rich musical history of the Armenian nation.”
Though planned to take place on St. Vartan Cathedral plaza under the stars, the threat of rain had moved the concert indoors. To prepare for the change, the cathedral and ensemble crew worked feverishly for more than two hours to prepare the indoor stage; and their efforts resulted in a truly engaging and professional presentation.