Talented Musicians Dazzle at Armenian Night at Pops


By Nancy Kalajian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

BOSTON — Two talented Armenian musical talents — pianist Armen Babakhanian and conductor Aram Demirjian — took center stage recently at the 59th annual Armenian Night at the Pops held at Symphony Hall.

The Friends of Armenian Culture Society (FACS), as in previous decades, is again to be congratulated for encouraging the musical arts through Armenian talent and bringing it in high style to be shared with the greater Boston community.

The evening’s programming was a curious mélange of live, largely popular music and three intermittent diverse videos played on a large screen. Keith Lockhart conducted most of the musical pieces, and warmly welcomed the Armenian community and audience to this special 125th Anniversary Celebration of the Boston Pops. Lockhart, the Boston Pops’ 20th conductor, described the history of the Boston Pops and shared that Arthur Fiedler was the 18th Pops Conductor as well as its first American-born conductor. A video tribute accompanied by the Pops, presented in memory of Fiedler’s 50 years with the Pops, delighted the audience with such reminiscences as the late conductor wearing a fire hat and enthusiastically conducting at the Esplanade’s Hatch Shell in Boston.

Guest conductor Demirjian, in his 20s, impressed the audience when he very capably conducted Bernstein’s Overture to Candide.

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Standing ovations acknowledged Babakhanian’s brilliant piano performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Khachaturian’s Allegro Brilliante, from Piano Concerto in D-flat, Opus 38. Babakhanian played with expressive movements and connected well to the audience and orchestra.

In a familiar nod to previous Armenian Nights, Lockhart conducted Yekmalian-Gregorian’s Hayr Mer; this often is most touching for Armenians in the audience who stand in respect to their revered prayer.

In observance of the 125th celebration, the program honored John Williams, composer and the 19th Pops Conductor. Selections from “Star Wars” and “ET,” composed by John Williams, were performed; lighting effects reminiscent of flying saucers, reflecting on the walls and people in Symphony Hall, added to the drama of this segment of the program.

Daniel Bernard Roumain, a Haitian musician, performed with the Pops for the world premiere of his new composition Woodbox Violin Concerto, a dynamic piece with tinges of jazz, blues and ethnic flare that was commissioned by the Boston Pops. A memo-

rable video showed Roumain visiting schools and inspiring young students studying music.

A unique feature, late in the evening, was an interactive video with animation of the Beatles Rock Band Sing-Along. Reminiscent of Mitch Miller’s sing-alongs, the audience had the chance to sing along with the Beatles’ classics such as A Little Help from My Friends and Yellow Submarine. Stars and Stripes Forever, with the unveiling of a huge US flag, capped a truly enchanting evening.

As in previous FACS events, the Armenian talent held the audience spellbound and shared a stellar background. Babakhanian is a prize-winning pianist who has participatted at some of the world’s most prestigious competitions, including the Leeds, Van Cliburn and Guardian Dublin. He has appeared as a soloist with the city of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Sir Simon Rattle, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC, Dallas Symphony, Saint Petersburg Philharmonic and Moscow Philharmonic. Babakhanian’s performances have also been broadcast on the BBC and PBS television networks. Born in Armenia, he is currently the artistic director of the Cadence Ensemble. He received his musical education at the Komitas State Conservatory in Yerevan and is artist-in-residence there. In the upcoming 2010-11 season, Babakhanian will appear in numerous solo and chamber music performances in the US and overseas.

Guest conductor Demirjian has been active in many Armenian musical organizations in the Greater Boston area. As a Harvard undergraduate, he served for two seasons as Music Director of the Harvard Bach Society Orchestra and earned a joint degree in music and government. In 2009, he was chosen to conduct in a concert engagement with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams as part of a colloquium on the composer’s The Wound Dresser. Then he was also invited to guest conduct Yo-Yo Ma and members of the Silk Road Ensemble. As one of only three conductors enrolled in the inaugural class in the master’s in orchestral conducting program at the New England Conservatory, Demirjian has indeed had a busy year. This summer will find the enthusiastic young talent as a Conducting Fellow at the well-respected Aspen Music Festival.

The annual post-concert reception held in Higginson Hall provided a great forum for FACS supporters and guests to meet the evenings’ guest musicians. Ara Arakelian, president of FACS, introduced them to great applause and Demirjian and Babakhanian spoke briefly in appreciative support of FACS and the community. Jim Kalustian spoke about the Armenian Heritage Foundation and the unprecedented community-wide support, from FACS and numerous other organizations and individuals, for the upcoming Armenian Heritage Park in Boston. Lucy Der Manuelian gave a heartfelt tribute to Dr. Keran Chobanian for his decades-long strategic work with FACS and his travels with the Orchestra as their physician.

Later, Demirjian shared his admiration for the orchestra. “The orchestra is incredibly focused. It was a pleasure to work with them…they are incredible collaborators.”

Babakhanian was similarly impressed with the orchestra, audience, hall and “beautiful sound of the piano…it was a wonderful experience for me, being on stage for a wonderful audience.” He spoke of the importance of playing with heart.

Many conversations at the reception, from locals to out-of-town visitors, seemed to revolve around the evening’s program. “I always thoroughly enjoy Armenian Night at the Pops. The pianist tonight was outstanding,” shared Agnes Killabian of Rhode Island. “I love when they ask the audience to stand for the Hayr Mer. I get goose bumps. I’m proud and happy to hear the Lord’s Prayer in Armenian.”

Alice Avanian of Belmont felt “Rhapsody in Blue was amazing; the energy, drama, the way Mr. Babakhanian played brought it to life.”

Even Argentina was represented in Boston by traveler Nina Papazian, who considered this “a wonderful event. We should do the same thing in Buenos Aires!”

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