By Florence Avakian
NEW YORK — It was a DHAP concert like no other. The annual Direct Help for Armenian People (DHAP) concert which has taken place at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall annually, was unique this year. The October 10th event was in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and it presented legendary composer from Armenia, Robert Amirkhanyan.
With the recital hall filled to capacity, the attendees were in for an evening that will soon not be forgotten. Robert Amirkhanyan, President of the Union of Composers and Musicologists in Armenia, and a Knight of the Order of St. Mesrob Mashdots, strode out onto the stage to thunderous applause and cheering, and drank in the acclaim for several minutes. Then, the afternoon evolved into part family-like celebration, part joyous memories, part humorous commentary, and ALL heart and beloved Amirkhanyan songs. It was an eruption of passion through the Amirkhanyan legacy of music.
The composer’s down-to-earth and warm personality was fused into every commentary and musical presentation, as he sat at the piano, conversing with the audience, and playing throughout the three-hour concert, (though he was suffering from a hurt shoulder). As latecomers came in, he humorously pointed them out, gently told people to quiet their cell phones, and even wished good health to someone who sneezed in the audience.
But it was his music which captivated all. Opening with his song, Yeraz Im Yergir (I Dream of My Country), he accompanied his playing with emotional remembrances, expressing genuine love for his Armenian homeland, bringing some in the audience to tears. Before, during and after each song, he often conversed, sometimes singing along with his own playing.
Among several of his well-known solos which also displayed his impassioned feelings were Nerir Indz (Forgive Me), Yes Vakhanum Em (I Am Afraid) and Tagh Andznakan (Goodby). To the surprise of all, he introduced his daughter, special guest Maria Amirkhanyan, an award-winning pianist, and currently an instructor at Gavilan College. She performed the tender Karnan Gatilner (Raindrops of Spring).
Several performers followed, presenting their unique vocal talents. Among them were sixteen year old Zovinar Aghavian who has sung in the New York metropolitan area from a very young age, and who is currently a soprano soloist in the St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral Choir; Kristina Asriyan, a multicultural actor/singer/dancer who has performed on TV and off Broadway; Eugenia Sarian who has been part of concerts at NY’s City Hall and Merkin Hall; and Anna Petrosyan who has studied with Robert Amirkhanyan at Yerevan’s Komitas Conservatory.
Two pre-teen sisters, Sareen and Arya Balian who have performed with the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center, played a demanding Potpourri for Flutes, with aplomb.
Especially charming were the 17 pint-sized members of the Arekag Chorus (the youngest member being only 5), conducted expertly by their artistic director Vagharshk Ohanyan. The concert-goers oohed and aahed to their joyous offerings of the popular songs, Donagan Hantess, Puy-Puy Mukik, and the spirited Ding-Dong.
Vagharshag Ohanyan, a principal soloist at the Armenian National Theatre who has performed at Avery Fisher Hall, Carnegie Hall, and as a soloist with the New York City Opera, sang a soul-searing Yerku Groong, which resulted in lengthy applause.
He joined award-winning soprano soloist Anoosh Barclay who has performed throughout the East coast and in Canada, in one of Amirkhanyan’s most loved compositions, Garmir Dzaghig Me Karuni (Red Flower of Spring). Their impassioned rendition just about brought down the house, as did one of Amirkhanyan’s best known and most beloved melodies Hayi Achker (Armenian Eyes) which was sung by all the concert participants, with even the audience chiming in.
Following a long and deserved standing ovation, Dr. Svetlana Amirkhanian introduced Dr. Tikran Samvelian, a top official at Armenia’s Mission to the United Nations. He presented special letters to the Amirkhanians and to all the young performers from Armenia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Zohrab Mnatsakanyan.
Dr. Amirkhanian who has been the Direct Help for Armenian People (DHAP) founder and organizer, and its tireless force along with Marina Bagdasarova, presented a crystal plaque to the acclaimed composer Amirkhanyan, saying “He’s not my relative, but he is my brother, and my soul.”
Among the benefactors of this year’s DHAP concert were Nazar and Artemis Nazarian, Ed and Carmen Gulbenkian, and Nairi and Sevag Balian.