Magazine article Musical Opinion

Armenian Centenary Concert at St John's, Smith Square

Magazine article Musical Opinion

Armenian Centenary Concert at St John's, Smith Square

Article excerpt

The richness of Armenian culture and musical artistry was on display at a remarkable St John's Smith Square concert on November 1, with five outstanding Armenian soloists performing Armenian and Armenia-themed music, including Alan Hovhannes and a world premiere by Roland Roberts. The event, marking both the Centenary of the Armenian Genocide and the 24th Anniversary of Independence, attended by a large and enthusiastic audience, was held under the aegis of the international AGBU (Armenian General Benevolent Union), launched over a century ago to promote Armenian heritage. The Artistic Director, Sarkis Zakarian, soloist in a stirring account of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto, introduced the programme notes with a recently discovered 1896 letter from his great-grandfather to Ferdinand 1, King of Bulgaria, expressing gratitude for his act of 'great humanity and benevolence' in allowing safe haven to Armenian refugees from devastating Hamidian massacres.

With such a palpable connection to recent history, it was apt to start the evening with four Armenian works launched by two songs projected with telling beauty by the mezzo-soprano Anais Heghoyan. In the caressing lullaby Oror composed by Parsgh Ganatchian (18851967), her resonant, rich voice was accompanied by the supple strings of the AGBU London Chamber Orchestra (formed in 2014 by Zakarian under the patronage of Levon Chilingirian) under the baton of Brazilian Gustavo Ubeda. More colourful orchestration, albeit with a few RimskyKorsakovian anachronisms, ensued in a premiere of a song by Kristina Arakelyna, setting poetry by Georg Emin (1918-98) commemorating "the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide", with the composer, a composition student at the RAM, at the piano.

The composer Roland Roberts was present for the world premiere of his specially commissioned Epitaph, Dance and Hymn, an artfully-conceived work for violin and string orchestra which incorporates an Armenian hymn and formed a centrepiece of the evening. …

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