By Florence Avakian
NEW YORK — It was a stunning tribute in commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial when world class musicians performed in a Remembrance and Rebirth classical concert at New York’s Merkin Concert Hall, on Saturday, November 21. This event which was presented by the Tekeyan Cultural Association.
Three of the four featured artists — pianist and composer Karen Hakobyan, cellist Alexander Chaushian, and soprano Hasmik Papian — had been among the artists performing to great acclaim in a sold out concert during the three-day special Genocide Centennial Commemoration held in Washington, D.C. in May which had been attended by the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I, Armenia’s President Serge Sargisian, and US Vice President Joe Biden, among many national dignitaries.
The November 21 Merkin Hall performance began in grand virtuosic style with Karen Hakobyan displaying his brilliant technical ability, and rich expression in J.S. Bach’s demanding Baroque period, three-movement Piano Concerto in D-minor. Bach has been called “the most stupendously gifted person in the history of music” and Hakobyan certainly gave the composition the integrity it deserved.
Hakobyan was again center stage for his own composition, Rebirth-Adagio for Strings and Timpani, which received its world premiere at this performance. Providing strong supple support was the 23-member World Peace Sinfonietta Chamber Orchestra conducted by its dynamic music director, Arkady Leytush. Dedicated to this year’s Centennial commemoration, the work combined both mournful and intense energy, as well as the lyrical grace of a Komitas melody. It finally rushed to a climax, ending with a calm thoughtfulness possibly with hopes for a more peaceful future.
Two beloved Komitas favorites were joyously sung by soprano Hasmik Papian, accompanied by the orchestra. Garun a (It’s Spring), a meditation on the arrival of spring with snow still falling and Qele Qele (Come, Come).
With lyrical grace, Papian also performed the prayer-like song, the wordless Vocalise for Soprano and Strings composed by Arno Babadjanian. This heartfelt work ranks with the Vocalise of Rachmaninoff as one of most beautiful melodies composed for voice.
Providing a modern powerful interpretation to the Shakespearean poem, “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind,” Hakobyan’s Fantasia for Piano, Strings and Timpani displayed contrasting themes of harmony evolving toward the clashing of the piano and strings, and finally resolving with a powerful energy.
Works by three eminent Armenian composers were featured after intermission, Vache Sharafyan, Alexander Arutunian, and Edward Mirzoyan.
Waltz from Suite for Cello and String Orchestra by 49-year old Sharafyan, received its New York Premiere at this concert. The work embodies lovely sounds and flashing colors throughout its wistful and emotional phrases. Sharafyan is the official composer for the Silk Road Project, and his compositions are often performed by world famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble internationally.
Distinguished composer from Armenia Alexander Arutunian, who died at age 91 in 2012 and is buried in Yerevan’s venerable Komitas Pantheon, composed Impromptu for Cello and Orchestra when only 20 years of age. Originally written as a duet for cello and piano, it was brilliantly transformed into an orchestral composition through the special musical gifts of Leytush who conducted the work with great aplomb. Acclaimed cellist Alexander Chaushian played with lush, rich tonalities, searching musicianship, and great insight.
Edward Mirzoyan, an equally eminent composer of Armenia, like Arutunian, also died at age 91 in 2012, and is buried in Yerevan’s Komitas Pantheon. His monumental Symphony for Timpani and Strings is a four-movement powerhouse of emotional musical transitions from somber remembrances which build to a triumphant and hopeful finale.
The conclusion of this final major work brought on a standing ovation lasting several minutes as all the participating artists came on stage to deafening applause, and were showered with bouquets of flowers.
Dignitaries in attendance included the Prelate, and Vicar General of the Armenian Prelacy Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, and Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, respectively; NJ Holy Cross Church pastor, the Very Rev. Vasken Karayan representing Armenian Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian who was unable to attend due to illness, and Armenia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Zohrab Mnatsakanian.
Among the philanthropists present who made this event possible were Edward and Carmen Gulbenkian, Henri Dimidjian, and long-time Tekeyan Cultural Association supporter Artemis Nazarian.
Karen Hakobian, since debuting at Carnegie Hall at age 17, has appeared as a soloist in major concert venues in Armenia, Europe, South America and the United States. A winner of international piano competitions, he has performed on several radio stations. A CD of his composition “Reflections” was released in New York in 2014. He also serves as the Artistic Director of the World Peace Sinfonietta Chamber Orchestra.
Hasmik Papian has sung at state operas throughout Europe, the United States, in Moscow, the Far East and South America. At the world famous Metropolitan Opera in New York, she received acclaim for her portrayal of Bellini’s “Norma”, and Verdi’s “Aida”. Among the notable conductors she has sung with are Riccardo Muti, Placido Domingo, James Conlon, James Levine and Valeri Gergiev.
Chaushian has performed as a soloist throughout the world, and is the artistic director of the International Pharos Chamber Music Festival in Cyprus, and the Yerevan Music Festival in Armenia. He has collaborated with such eminent musicians as Yehudi Menuhuin, Yuri Bashmet, Julia Fischer and Levon Chilingirian. He has several highly acclaimed CDs on the BIS label, and during this season, he will be performing in Brazil, Europe and the Far East.
Leytush has conducted orchestras throughout the former Soviet Union, in Europe and the United States. He has made numerous transcriptions and orchestrations of music by legendary composers, including Bach, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Jobim and Ellington, among others. Critics have described him as “a conductor in the grand Russian tradition,” a choreographic energetic style he has made unique.