AGBU’s Musical Armenia Program Launches Young Artists’ Careers

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NEW YORK — In just one year, the AGBU Musical Armenia Program (MAP), which was launched last summer to connect talented young artists with their cultural heritage, has given participants even more: career opportunities.

With MAP’s support, Shaghig Amy Kazandjian, a recent college graduate from Canada and a French horn player, has landed a spot in the Yerevan State Opera and Ballet orchestra. The contract will keep Kazandjian in Yerevan through the upcoming fall season, where she’s building on the weeks of intensive training that all MAP participants enjoyed.

Kazandjian, who joined the Yerevan State Opera and Ballet in two summer concerts, wasn’t the only MAP student to take the public stage in Armenia during the program, which ran from July 15 to August 4.

Percussionist and composer Andrea Godoshian, who hails from Michigan, played alongside celebrated jazz musician Armen “Chico” Tutunjian and his band in a live show-and each of MAP’s seven participants have their sights set on performing in the 2014 Renaissance International Music Festival in Gumri after receiving a personal invitation from the festival’s director, pianist Karine Avdalyan.

Avdalyan was one of the many renowned artists with whom the students met as they practiced playing the French horn, harp, percussions, viola, violin and singing and composing. Several performers taught back-to-back MAP seminars, including mezzo-soprano Anna Mayilyan and music historians Gagik Ginosyan, Mher Navoyan, Araxy Saryan and Arthur Shakhnazaryan. Each offered instrumental and vocal lessons in addition to lectures, which spanned genres and years, such as those on 19th-century Armenian classical music, Armenian jazz and folk music, medieval spiritual music and 18th century Armenian minstrel music. For the MAP artists, who call Bulgaria, Canada and the United States home, it was an experience they could only find in Armenia.

When the MAP participants weren’t training with professionals, they were collaborating with some of Armenia’s youngest artists. On a special trip to the Talin Music School with members of the global group El Sistema Armenia, they joined students in an interactive class focused on Komitas’ work. The MAP students themselves were following in the footsteps of the legendary musician, who travelled across the country gathering and recording different songs and before leaving they gave a joint concert with the school’s youth. AGBU Performing Arts Department Artistic Director Hayk Arsenyan commented on the significance of the visit, stating, “During the time we spent at the Talin school, we got to the heart of the MAP mission: to bring Armenians from around the world closer to the country’s culture and arts. Watching the students collaborate, it became clear we accomplished that goal. They were inspired by everything they learned from the children of Talin and are sure to take the experience with them when they return home and move forward in their careers.”

If the trip to Talin introduced the MAP group to Armenia’s future generation of artists, museums tours helped them better understand the country’s musical history. MAP brought the students to the house-museums of cultural icons Aram Khachaturian, Sergei Paradjanov, Alexander Spendiarian and Hovhannes Tumanyan for an intimate look at their lives and work. At Yerevan’s Charentz Museum of Literature and Art, where PAD Director Arsenyan led a lecture on Armenian composers of the Ottoman Empire, they also had the opportunity to see firsthand the manuscripts and instruments owned by Armenia’s earliest musicians, including Sayat Nova and Jivani. MAP participant Stephan Atamian of New York commented, “I realized throughout the summer that some of the only documentation we have of our musical heritage is archived in Armenia’s wonderful museums. At the same time, I realized that it is up to us Armenian artists to bring those pieces to life as only music can.”

At the final MAP gala concert on Sunday, August 4, in the salon of Khachaturian’s house-museum, the participants gave new life to pieces that dated from as early as the fourth century. They also showcased their own work. Before an audience of tourists and fellow musicians, the entire MAP ensemble, together with their instructors, performed an original piece composed by student Andrea Godoshian especially for the event. It was one of the highlights of an evening that was made complete when student and vocalist Eliz Gagosian joined Mayilyan’s a cappella trio.

The final gala concert marked the end of a summer of learning and creating. But for the students, it was only the beginning. As Shaghig Kazandjian shared, “Through MAP, I was able to discover Armenia and embrace my culture, history and identity in ways I never could have imagined. I learned so much about my musical heritage and I can’t wait to continue to immerse myself in Armenian music in the months to come. I’m so excited to join the orchestra of the Yerevan State Opera and Ballet, a once in a lifetime opportunity that I know I will look back on years from now as one of the highlights of my career-thanks to AGBU.”

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