For the multitude of guests who ventured to the St. Vartan Cathedral Complex on the evening of Thursday, October 7, it was a festive homecoming: a resumption of the vital Armenian community life that had been curtailed in response to the pandemic.
Bishop Daniel Findikyan, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, presided over the reception honoring the newly appointed Music Director and Principal Conductor of the New York City Opera, Maestro Constantine Orbelian.
Some 100 attendees showed their delight in seeing each other, and celebrating Maestro Orbelian’s prominent new role in New York’s cultural landscape.
As the guest of honor entered Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium, he was greeted with hugs and words of welcome by many who have known him for years. Maestro Orbelian, who always exudes warmth and joviality, showed his happiness to be among fellow Armenians.
The renowned musician is a person who bridges different worlds with utter ease. Born in San Francisco to an Armenian father and a Ukrainian-Russian mother, he was drawn to music naturally, and started playing the piano at age three. He debuted with the San Francisco Symphony when he was 11, and later graduated from New York City’s famed Juilliard School of Music.
For more than 30 years he has been a prominent figure in the musical life of Russia and Eastern Europe, and from 2016 to 2020, he was director of the State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater in Yerevan. Orbelian’s career has included performances in the United States, Canada, and Central and South America; concerts and recordings with some of the world’s great singers; and four Grammy nominations.
The Divine Power of Music
The sumptuous October 7 reception at the Diocesan Center was jointly planned by master pianist Şahan Arzruni and art impresario Shoghag Hovanessian, who also underwrote the reception’s expenses. As guests settled into the program after being treated to delicious hors d’oeuvres, Şahan Arzruni took on the role of Master of Ceremonies with his usual grace and wit.
Bishop Daniel addressed the guests in Armenian and English, expressing his great joy that the Diocesan Center was the stage for “finally joining together again, in person, in this hall.”
“St. Vartan is your cathedral,” he assured the guests from throughout the community.
In congratulating Maestro Orbelian, Bishop Daniel eloquently noted that “in music, we become one with God. That’s especially true of the music of the Armenian Church, which is a stirring reminder of one’s faith in the Lord.” He then presented the guest of honor with a silver bowl crafted by artist Michael Aram.
Officials of the New York City Opera were also in attendance—among them its General Director Michael Capasso, who remarked that, “We found the right person at the right time,” and praised Orbelian for his “musicianship and elegance. He will take this legendary opera house to the next level of brilliance.”
Christopher Nazarian, the well-known bass singer from Australia who has been a soloist in the St. Vartan Cathedral Choir, delighted the audience with Zaccaria’s aria from Nabucco, followed by a powerful rendition of “Hayastan” by Gomidas, which elicited cheers from crowd.
Bringing the Best of Armenian Music to New York
In his appreciative remarks, Constantine Orbelian thanked all the organizers of the evening, and recalled that he brought many of his friends and colleagues to Armenia during his five years as music director and conductor of Yerevan’s State Opera House.
He stated that his current goal was to bring the best of Armenian music to New York, and he is especially intent on mounting a performance of the opera Anoush. This announcement brought a loud ovation. He added that “some of the most sought-after singers are Armenian.”
Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, a special guest of Bishop Daniel, offered remarks in Armenian and English, poetically stating that “the source of Maestro’s God-given gift is the land of Mount Ararat, the breeze of the Divine Voice making the covenant with Noah, and the centuries-old spirit of creativity, suffering, and longing for peace and prosperity by the Armenian nation.”
He prayed that “the beneficent Lord would grant Maestro Orbelian’s baton the power to promote serenity in the hearts of audiences, and orient them towards good works.”
Dignitaries attending the reception included Armenia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Mher Margarian; Honorary Consul of Armenia in the Midwest Oscar Tatosian; Metropolitan Opera Board of Directors Chair Ann Ziff; benefactors Harry and Suzanne Toufayan; and representatives from the AGBU and the AMAA.
Zaven Khanjian characterized Constantine Orbelian’s prominent role on the New York cultural scene as a kind of victory for Armenians, which will “continue to inspire us and move us forward.”
For Gaiane Danilian, the occasion was “a wonderful chance to see so many Armenians. Maestro Orbelian has given a new breath to the New York City Opera with his desire to bring operas from Armenia to New York.”
Dr. Tavit Najarian called the evening “remarkable. I am so proud that a man of such talent will grace the stage of one of the most respected opera houses. We look to him to conduct the Anoush opera in New York, and to make Armenia’s fantastic historical and cultural heritage available to American audiences.”
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By Florence Avakian
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