An Evening of Music and Hope Honors Armenia’s Independence

The independence of Armenia 26 years ago was celebrated at New York’s St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral on Thursday, September 21, 2017, with a classical concert attended by esteemed diplomats and featuring young musical talents. The evening cast a positive outlook for the future of the homeland and the diaspora.

The event was organized by the Armenia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, and its Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, along with the participation of regional and national Armenian organizations.

To begin the celebration, a special Prayer of Thanksgiving for the Republic of Armenia was conducted by clergy from throughout the metro region, led by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian and Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan.

The special guest for the evening, Mr. Edward Nalbandian, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, congratulated everyone on Armenia’s National Independence Day, making special mention of the soldiers who defend the borders of the homeland and emphasizing that Armenians will continue to live on their native soil.

The St. Vartan Cathedral Choir sang under the direction of Maestro Khoren Mekanejian, with soloists Anoosh Barclay, Alvert Mayilian, Hasmik Mekanejian, Solange Merdinian, and Anahit Zakarian rendering the national anthems of the United States and Armenia. Florence Avakian accompanied on the organ.

The evening’s musical program featured young performers in a concert curated by renowned master pianist and ethnomusicologist Şahan Arzruni.

The concert included pieces by world composers, ranging from Khatchaturian to Tchaikovsky. These were expertly played by cellist Laura Navasarian, pianist Michael Kakossian Khoury, and violinist Simon Hagopian-Rogers—all New York natives in their young teen-age years.

In concluding remarks, Archbishop Barsamian offered congratulatory words that “we as a people around the world come together in unity to celebrate the 26th anniversary of Armenia’s independence.”

Archbishop Barsamian addressed his words to several hundred audience members in the cathedral as well as to viewers of a live internet broadcast of the concert. More than a 1,500 viewers tuned to watch the concert on the Livestream channel and Facebook page of the Eastern Diocese.

Reflecting on the musical talents of the young generation, Archbishop Barsamian said they are the ones who will carry forward the spirit of the Armenian martyrs and survivors.

“We bow our heads in front of our martyrs, parents, grandparents and survivors who had the dream of a free and independent Armenia,” he said. “We were fortunate to see that dream realized; and witnessing the talents of the young generation tonight is a source of inspiration for all of us.”

He offered respectful words of gratitude to the generous benefactors of the celebratory concert, Mr. and Mrs. Nazar and Artemis Nazarian.

A reception followed in Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium, where Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Armenia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, spoke of the birth of Armenia’s independence and the struggles it has faced over the last two and a half decades.

“Today is a symbolic day for all of us and we celebrate with the performance of brilliant talent,” said Ambassador Mnatsakanyan. “Today reminds us that Armenia is a source of joy; but it also reminds us that Armenia is a responsibility, and Armenia is hard work.”

Ambassador Mnatsakanyan spoke of the need to defend the nation’s borders and that “Armenia is for us all.”

An Extra Dose of Armenian Spirit

One of Armenia’s achievements throughout its history has been its cultural prowess, as displayed by the young talents performing that evening in the St. Vartan Cathedral sanctuary. Şahan Arzruni, winner of the Armenia’s “Movses Khorenatsi Medal” for exceptional achievement in cultural development, said he wants to pass on his musical knowledge and experiences to the gifted students because “they are the future of our people.”

“If I can infuse them with an extra dose of the Armenian spirit, for the preservation of our culture and my heritage, so much the better,” said Arzruni, who recently traveled through the provinces of Armenia and Artsakh to teach and perform music.

“The other day I read that the Armenian DNA has been around for 3,500 years. Let’s keep it going,” he said.

Cellist Laura Navasardian, a student at the Special Music School and Julliard Pre-College, said she was proud to be part of the Armenian Independence Day celebration and dreams of one day performing in her homeland, where her parents were born during the Soviet period. Having played Impromptu by Alexander Haratunian, she noted the importance of spreading Armenian music globally.

“Musicians are ambassadors of culture,” said Navasardian, who won first prize at the Cremona International Music Competition in Italy last year as well as the Grand Prize at the International Grande Music Competition in New York. “We have great Armenian composers who could be introduced to the world through Armenian musicians and it should be our pledge to our culture and to our country to do that.”

Playing the violin since the age of four, Simon Hagopian-Rogers said he was happy to help celebrate Armenian Independence Day, September 21—which coincidentally falls on his own birthday. Hagopian-Rogers, a student at the Special Music School and Julliard Pre-College selected Chante-Poème by Aram Khatchaturian to play—one of his favorite pieces.

“I always try to have an Armenian piece prepared for Armenian audiences, but the main thing is the quality of the music,” said Hagopian-Rogers, who made his debut at Carnegie Weill Hall and won first prize in the American Prodigy Competition. “I played Chante-Poème once in a competition in Europe and I could see the Russian judges knew the piece and they were happy to hear it since it is not played as much now.”

Performing works by Arno Babadjanian and Aram Khatchaturian, pianist and composer Michael Kakossian Khoury, who has played for the Armenian Armed Forces in Yerevan, said it was an honor to perform among other Armenian talents at a holy site like St. Vartan Cathedral, noting the “ambiance of togetherness and unity.”

“The concert brought out my Armenian roots more than any other event because of its meaning and location,” said Kakossian-Khoury, who has played the piano for seven years and has been a finalist in competitions at Carnegie Hall. “It felt great to identify as someone who can share the value and celebration of Armenian independence.”

In an interview, Ambassador Mnatsakanyan reiterated the significance of an independent Armenian land and the importance of strengthening the homeland through unity.

“Armenia is not just 29,000 square kilometers. It is more than that, and we must care about it,” he said. “We have demonstrated this power of being together on such an important and symbolic day. We have all these institutions that define our strong sense of identity; and we have statehood, which tops it all.”

—Taleen Babayan

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