Celebrate Armenia’s Independence

By Florence Avakian

On Wednesday evening, September 21, 2016, a gala celebration of art and music will take place at the St. Vartan Cathedral Complex in honor of the 25 years of Armenia’s independence. Presiding at the event will be Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern). The honored guest will be Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian. Fifteen Armenian fraternal organizations are participating in this singular ceremony, under the chairmanship of Sandra Shahinian, a community activist and a member of the Diocesan Board of Trustees.

An art exhibit featuring 25 outstanding artists is titled “25 Years, 25 Artists: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Independence of Armenia.” Curated by longtime collector and gallery owner Vicki Shoghag Hovanessian, the exhibit will start at 6 p.m. It will be followed at 7:30 p.m. by a prayer service in St. Vartan Cathedral, and a concert organized by master pianist Sahan Arzruni.

The central premise of the art exhibit, according to curator Vicki Hovanessian, “is to demonstrate through classical, modern, and contemporary works of art, the substantial progress that Armenian culture has made over the past quarter of a century within its present homeland, abroad, and in the United States.”

The works of the 25 artists that will be displayed were loaned through the estates of the participating artists, and private collectors, including Andreas Roubian, Sandra Shahinian Leitner, Raffy and Vicki Hovanessian, Hagop Vartivarian and the Tekian family.

Nazar and Artemis Nazarian, who not only loaned their private artwork for the exhibit, also donated generously in support and sponsorship of the artists’ exhibition.


Equally outstanding are the musical participants who will be sharing their talents. Acclaimed pianist and ethnomusicologist Sahan Arzruni has organized the concert, and also will be performing.

He calls each of the artists “first class.” He first heard cellist Laura Navasardian, a prodigy at 12 years old, at a Young Armenian Talent concert, and was “awestruck.” Since age seven, she has studied in Italy during the summers, and this year worked in Germany with world famous cellist Souren Bagratuni.

Laura will perform Alexander Harutyunyan’s “Impromptu,” as well as the “Moses Variations” by Paganini, playing the latter on one string only. Arzruni related that the composer had arranged the work that was originally written for four strings on the violin to one. Apparently, during a concert, Paganini had snapped two of the strings, then pulled out the third string, thus performing on only one.

Award-winning 24-year-old clarinetist Narek Arutyunian won the Young Concert Artists’ competition in 2010 when Arzruni first met him. Though Narek and his family moved from his birthplace of Gyumri to Moscow when he was only three, he speaks Armenian fluently. A 2015 graduate of the famed Juilliard School, he will perform Khachaturian’s “Nocturne,” and Olinchik’s “Spanish Caprice.

Tenor Yeghishe Manucharian has performed both operatic and concert repertoire on world famous stages. He debuted at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 2011 in Rossini’s Armida. At the September 21 concert, he will be singing an all-Komitas program, including “Groung,” “Andouni,” and “Hayastan.”

Supporting all these artists on the piano will be Sahan Arzruni who will also perform “Invocation,” his own arrangement of Yekmalian’s “Hayr Mer.” He will also play Khachaturian’s “Sonatina.” This year, he received the prestigious “Movses Khorenatzi” presidential medal, the highest civilian honor Armenia bestows on artists.


“Historically, there is a close parallel between Armenian music and painting,” revealed Arzruni in a conversation on Sunday. “There is a strong correlation between the medieval sharagans and the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages, for example. They both have liturgical content and are aesthetically undiluted.”

And artist Martiros Saryan played “a role similar to that of Komitas,” he continued. “Both were fountainheads of 20th-century Armenian culture.” Saryan, he related, was born in Rostov-on-Don (Nor Nakhichevan), and followed art at an early age, attending the Moscow School of Art. His early paintings had the influence of the great French artists Cezanne and Matisse. At the beginning of the 20th century, Saryan moved to Yerevan, establishing a painting school, and traveled extensively in Egypt, Iran, and the Ottoman Empire.

Works by Saryan and Komitas will be featured in the September 21 art exhibit and concert. The exhibit will also display works by Sarkis Hamalbashian (Vasdagavor), Ararat Sarkissian (Vasdagavor), Arthur Sarkissian, Ashot Bayandour, Rouben Grigorian, Arevig Arevshatian, Vahan Rumelian, Moko, and Hamlet Hovsepian.

Curator Vicki Shoghag Hovanessian says “the central premise of the exhibition is to salute the giants of the past Armenian classical artists. However, it is also to salute the giants among the present contemporary artists, whose art demonstrates the substantial progress Armenian culture has made within Armenia and the diaspora, despite all the hardships. Artists of Armenia have a diamond-like resilience.”

The art exhibit opens at 6 p.m. in Guild Hall of the Diocesan Center. At 7:30 p.m. a prayer service will take place in St. Vartan Cathedral, to be followed immediately by the concert. A short program will conclude the evening, before attendees can adjourn for a reception. The event is free and open to the public.

The prayer service and concert will be broadcast live from the cathedral sanctuary, on the Eastern Diocese’s Livestream channel. The program starts at 7:30 p.m. (CLICK HERE to access Livestream.)

A large number of Armenian organizations are participating with the Eastern Diocese in the celebratory event on September 21, include Armenia’s Permanent U.N. Mission, the AGBU, Armenian Missionary Association of America, Armenia Fund USA, Armenian Relief Society, Knights & Daughters of Vartan, Tekeyan Cultural Association, Armenian Assembly of America, Fund for Armenian Relief, Armenian American Health Professionals Organization, Armenian Engineers & Scientists of America, Armenian National Committee of America-N.Y. Region, Constantinople Armenian Relief Society, Hamazkayin Armenian Educational & Cultural Society, Essayan-Getronagan Alumni, and Tbrevank Alumni.

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