September 14, 2022

AGBU Artsakh Chamber Orchestra Tours Europe After Surviving War and Pandemic

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    Artsakh Chamber Orchestra performing at Studio 1 Flagey in Brussels .
    Artsakh Chamber Orchestra performing at Studio 1 Flagey in Brussels .
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    Solo cellist Sevak Avanesyan performing with ACO.
    Solo cellist Sevak Avanesyan performing with ACO.
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    The standing ovation at the end of the performance.
    The standing ovation at the end of the performance.

Earlier this September, 22 Armenian musicians and their Maestro Gevorg Muradian of the AGBU-sponsored Artsakh Chamber Orchestra set off to show the world that they were back on track two years since the outbreak of the 2020 Artsakh War. Little did they know that two weeks after their successful European tour, their compatriots in border towns within Armenia would wake up to a similar fate that they did in Artsakh on the morning of September 27, 2020. Again, Azeri forces unleashed another widespread attack on cities and villages across the line of demarcation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, resulting in over 100 deaths of Armenian service members defending Armenia's territorial integrity. 

This irony now gives more meaning to the Orchestra's mission to remind the international community of the indomitability of the Armenian spirit and the music that had been silenced during those 44-days of tragedy, chaos, and loss two years earlier. 

"In the aftermath of war and political turmoil, our goal is simply to prove to the world that the people of Artsakh are resilient, courageous, and have the will to resurrect from the ashes,” stated Muradian. Adding to that sentiment, Belgium-based solo cellist Sevak Avanesyan, who performed with the Orchestra on their European tour, noted how important these international performances were to the morale of the musicians. “These opportunities to showcase their talent abroad means more than you can imagine. With their immense potential, they really are our best ambassadors to showcase the deep-rooted Armenian culture, which is alive and vibrant despite all the post-war threats and challenges.”

Interestingly, Avanesyan performed inside the Ghazanchetsots (Christ of the Holy Savior) Cathedral of Shushi shortly after it was partially destroyed by enemy missiles during the height of the 44-day war, which ended in a ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia on November 9, 2020 in which the legendary cultural city of Shushi was put under Azeri control.

Appearing in Lyon and Marseille in France and Brussels in Belgium, the Orchestra performed works by Armenian classical and contemporary composers such as Komitas, Aram Khachaturian, Arno Babajanian, Tigran Mansurian, and others—filling halls to capacity and receiving standing ovations

French Tour

The opening concert on September 2 in Lyon coincided with Artsakh Independence Day and was sponsored by the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Following the event, Laurent Wauquiez, the president of the Regional Council of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and member of the liberal-conservative political party expressed his strong support for Armenia and Artsakh on his Facebook page, stating: “There is a strong, inspiring symbolism behind welcoming musicians of the national orchestra here, in our region, on this day of celebrating the declaration of independence of Artsakh[...] As the Artsakh National Orchestra is here tonight, the voice of Armenia and the civilization it holds will never extinguish.”

Thanking Mr. Wauquiez for his support and for upholding European values with firm actions rather than with mere words, AGBU Armenia President Vasken Yacoubian remarked: “The proud and resilient people of Artsakh not only live on their ancestral land but continue to strive to uphold our identity, traditions, faith, and culture. AGBU is very proud of its steadfast support for the Artsakh Chamber Orchestra for nearly two decades with the aim to support the cultural life and musicians in Artsakh.”

Artsakh’s Minister of Territorial Administration and Infrastructures Hayk Khanumyan was also present and expressed his sentiments in French, saying that the will and right of Artsakh’s people to live and survive on their own land should be respected.

A similarly exuberant audience response was received in Marseille at the Abbey of Saint-Victor, where the concert was sponsored and coordinated by AGBU France.

Belgium Performance

On September 6, the Brussels concert showcased the same works as in France. It was organized by AGBU France in partnership with Hye Doun Center and took place at the renowned concert hall of Studio 1 Flagey, a venue celebrated for its magnificent architecture and sound capacity. The audience response affirmed that the esteemed reputation of the Artsakh Chamber Orchestra among international music lovers remained intact, despite its absence from the European stage. Speakers included: Celine Gulekjian of AGBU Europe and Ambassador and Head of Mission of Armenia to the EU Anna Aghadjanian. Among the distinguished guests was Head of Mission of Armenia to NATO Arman Israelian.

About the Orchestra

Established in 2004, after the first Artsakh war, the Artsakh Chamber Orchestra was organized as a counterpoint to and respite from the massive destruction and violence that engulfed the once peaceful indigenous Armenian communities of Artsakh. Muradian and a group of 12 musicians, some of whom relocated to Artsakh from Armenia, were determined to revive and preserve classical music in Artsakh and ensure the preservation of its cultural legacy. Over the past 18 years, the Orchestra has earned regional and international acclaim with invitations to tour Norway (2012), Russia (2013), the United States (2015), and recently China. It is the only musical company in Artsakh focused on the classical genre. Its musicians also teach at an affiliated musical school for youth to prepare a new generation to sustain the Orchestra as a national treasure of Artsakh and among Armenians worldwide.

To learn more about the Artsakh Chamber Orchestra, visit here. A profile from the AGBU Impact video series is also available here.