Over 400 Guests Gather in Paris to Honor Legendary Armenian Bard
A year of celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of Sayat Nova came to a close this past December with a sold-out concert event presented by AGBU France that featured world premieres, fresh young talent and memorable tributes to the Armenian bard whose legacy has endured for three centuries.
Over 400 guests gathered in Paris to honor the life and work of Sayat Nova, filling the city’s Salle Cortot – a national landmark and one of the country’s most prized concert halls – to capacity. Among them were AGBU Central Board member Aris Atamian, AGBU France District Chair Philippe Panossian, AGBU Europe and France District board members, His Eminence Archbishop Norvan Zakarian, Primate of the Armenian Diocese of France, representatives of the Armenian and Georgian embassies, Director of the Cultural Institute of Mexico in Paris Sara Valdes, as well as concert chair Richard Abdalian and the artistic director of the concert Christian Erbslöh-Papazian.
The event, which took place on Thursday, December 13, 2012, had been months in the making. In May, AGBU issued a call for applicants for its second Sayat Nova International Composition Competition, the winners of which were showcased at the concert. The first competition was organized in 2006 in Paris during one of AGBU’s Centennial celebrations. Both then and now, the jury of established musicians and experts was overwhelmed with the positive response. In 2012, submissions came in from 18 countries, a testament to Sayat Nova’s international appeal and AGBU’s global reach. Relying on only a few guidelines – that the piece utilize five Western classical instruments combined with the Armenian duduk, and that it quote a Sayat Nova text – each applicant arranged original compositions layering both traditional and modern elements. The panel, which was comprised of local artists held in high esteem internationally, was presided over by composer and Inspector at the French Ministry of Culture Laurent Chassain. He commented, “AGBU’s Sayat Nova International Composition Competition contributed so beautifully to the musical creation, while laying a bridge between expressions, cultures and traditions in relation with the rich Armenian culture.”
Other members of the jury panel included pianist and conductor Alain Altinoglu; composer and orchestra professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris Anthony Girard; composer and professor at the Haute Ecole de Musique of Geneva Michael Jarrell; composer and former director of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris Alain Louvier; composer and founder of the 2E2M ensemble Paul Mefano; and harpist Iris Torossian, as well as Sayat Nova scholar Elisabeth Mouradian. This year, the judges decided to award a second and third prize, which were presented, respectively, to composers Tomás Barreiro, a native of Mexico, and Ernest Dulgaryan, who is based in Yerevan.
Before the competition winners debuted their work, Mr. Panossian welcomed the crowd, pointing to Sayat Nova’s lasting influence and setting the theme for the first half of the program, which was dedicated entirely to the troubadour. Prior to presenting Barreiro and Dulgaryan with certificates, he remarked, “This international competition and concert underscores AGBU’s commitment to attracting and supporting young classical composers, bringing them closer to the traditional Armenian repertoire and helping to promote the musical heritage of tomorrow.” The audience watched that future take shape in the performances that came next, as emerging musicians presented pieces that paired the old with the new. The evening opened with two dudukists who performed Sayat Nova’s Ashkharoumes Akh Chim Kashi. They were followed by pianist Sofya Melikyan and AGBU Performing Arts Department Artistic Director Hayk Arsenyan, who shared the piano bench to play The Universe in a Nutshell, which was written by the Sayat Nova competition’s 2006 winner Artur Akshelyan and made its world premiere at the AGBU New York Special Events Committee (NYSEC) Performing Artists in Concert earlier that month. Lastly, French conductor Claude Brendel led an international ensemble of musicians from Armenia, Finland, France, and Serbia, who are all members of prestigious Parisian orchestras and together brought to life the winning pieces, Barreiro’s The Death of the Nightingale and Dulgaryan’s Whispers, both of which were met enthusiastic applause. The audience will be able to enjoy those pieces again and again, as CD recordings of the winners’ works were distributed to all guests.
The second half of the program continued to put traditional Armenian music in a global context, with pieces played, in large part, by AGBU scholarship recipients, many of whom hail from Armenia and have trained in some of Europe’s finest institutions with support from AGBU. Saxophonist Hayrapet Arakelyan, pianist Hayk Arsenyan, baritonist Hovhannes Asatryan, pianist Christian Erbslöh-Papazian, pianist Sofya Melikyan, mezzo soprano Karine Ohanyan, violinist Ani Poghosyan, pianist Jean-Christophe Sarkissian and pianist Ursula von Lerber are just a select few of the hundreds of emerging artists who have benefitted over the years from the AGBU Performing Arts Fellowship Program, which is administered by the AGBU Scholarship Program. In each performance, the artists commemorated some of the best known names in classical music, among them the late Edvard Mirzoyan. Five of the group’s pianists, along with saxophonist Arakelyan, joined together for Aram Khachaturian’s famous Saber Dance, which received a standing ovation, and the entire ensemble closed the evening with an encore of Edgar Hovhannissian’s beloved Yerevan Erebuni.
Though the official anniversary of Sayat Nova’s birth has come to an end, it is only the beginning for competition winner Tomás Barreiro. In December 2013, as part of his prize, he will appear onstage at Carnegie Hall for the next NYSEC Performing Artists in Concert to premiere The Death of the Nightingale. The highly anticipated work will take an unconventional approach, incorporating recordings from the recent AGBU concert with soundtracks from the subways of Mexico City, New York and Paris and a live ensemble of dudukists, pianists and other instrumentalists. AGBU Performing Arts Department Director Hayk Arsenyan, a composer, pianist and member of the French Union of Composers in Paris, who was a consultant to the competition jury bearing the Carnegie Hall Special Prize, commented on Barreiro’s success; “The Death of the Nightingale immediately stood out because of its compositional techniques and dreamlike quality. Hearing it live, with its reflections of Armenian culture and its Mexican sonorities, fulfilled – and exceeded – all of my expectations. It was my pleasure to present Barreiro with the special prize to have his work presented in Carnegie Hall in New York.” For Barreiro, the experience in Paris was one of the highlights of his career. As he described, “I was honored to hear my work performed for the very first time before such a large audience and some of the most respected figures in the field. With AGBU’s support I look forward to continuing to create my next piece, and am thrilled to have the opportunity to share it at Carnegie Hall, where every artist dreams of being showcased.”
The AGBU France concert was organized under the auspices of the Armenian Embassy in Paris and in association with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Clamart Conservatory, the Cultural Institute of Mexico in Paris, the Mayor’s Office of the 17th Arrondissement, the Mexican Students’ House, Nouvelles d’Arménie Magazine and Saberatours were event partners.
Both the Sayat Nova Competition and its concert are a biennial event that fall under the AGBU Artists label, which promotes the values of creation, excellence, artistic talent and heritage. The 2012 Sayat Nova competition and its concert were organized by AGBU Europe Board Member Richard Abdalian, pianist and initiator of the Sayat Nova competition Christian Erbslöh-Papazian and AGBU Europe Project Manager Zarouhi Odabashian. To learn more, visit http://sayatnova.agbueurope.org. For more information on AGBU concerts, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For decades, AGBU scholarships have been awarded to qualified, talented students of Armenian descent studying in the performing arts who have demonstrated excellence in their chosen fields. These awards enable recipients to reach their potential, laying the foundation for their future, as they celebrate their heritage and identity. Those who would like to make a contribution to the AGBU Performing Arts Fellowship Program to help sustain and support the enhancement of future Armenian musicians may contact AGBU by phone (212) 319-6383 or email email@example.com.
The Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) is the world’s largest non-profit
organization devoted to upholding the Armenian heritage through educational,
cultural and humanitarian programs. Each year, AGBU is committed to making
a difference in the lives of 500,000 people across Armenia, Artsakh and the
Armenian diaspora. Since 1906, AGBU has remained true to one overarching
goal: to create a foundation for the prosperity of all Armenians.
To learn more visit www.agbu.org.