Pianist Sahan Arzruni

Spectacular Concert in Celebration of St. Vartan Cathedral 50th Anniversary


By Florence Avakian

NEW YORK — The anniversary of any event is noteworthy, but when it is an institution that envelops a whole community of people, then it is monumental. The 50th anniversary of the Diocese of the Armenian Church (eastern) is such a happening. And it will be celebrated in grand style on the weekend of Saturday, May 5, and Sunday May 6, with the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II presiding.

One of the memorable events of this momentous occasion will be a spectacular concert on the evening of May 5, in St. Vartan Cathedral, organized by pianist Sahan Arzruni, who was asked by the Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian to plan the event.

Arzruni recently reminisced, with memories flooding in of the building’s erection in the 1960s. “I remember the double-intersecting arches during the construction, as well as the pyramidal dome, consisting of the drum and the cone — two unique features distinct to Armenian church architecture,” he said.

St. Vartan Cathedral “is a replica of the seventh-century Saint Hripsime Church in Echmiadzin, named for St. Hripsime, one of the first martyrs of the Armenian Church, along with abbess Gayane and 35 other nuns,” he explained. “Hripsime was a Roman noble woman who fled to Armenia to escape the amorous advances of the Roman emperor, Diocletian.”

St. Hripsime Church in Armenia, whose design is replicated at St. Vartan Cathedral

Especially beautiful, Hripsime was also pursued by Armenian King Drtad. When she refused her advances also, she was punished by being roasted alive, he said.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Arzruni’s memories also include that of Catholicos Vasken I coming to New York, and elevating to the rank of archbishop in 1968 the-then Primate of the eastern Diocese, Bishop Torkom Manoogian, who had played a pivotal role in the construction of St Vartan Cathedral, the first in North America.

According to Arzruni, during the inaugural service on April 28, 1968, the local Komitas choir had sung. An off-shoot of the original choir, established in 1910 by Komitas, the New York branch was formed by Isahak Aprahamyan, Onnig Hepsen and Dr. Arthur Misyan in 1958. Often Arzruni played the organ, for he had been the regular organist of the original Komitas choir in Istanbul from 1961 to 1964 before coming to New York

Plans for Special Concert

This special concert that has been planned for Saturday evening, May 5 will entail a program of sacred Armenian music. The acclaimed soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian who is noted for her interpretive authenticity of sharagans (a.k.a. Armenian canonical hymns)will sing without accompaniment a number of them, Arzruni detailed.

“The first composers from the eighth century were women – Sahakdukht, Khosrovidukht. In fact, they were the first women composers ever in the common era,” Arzruni revealed, adding that therefore “it is appropriate to have a woman chanter.”

Following the sharagans, there will be an instrumental work, Prayer of St. Gregory by Alan Hovhaness, an excerpt from his “Etchmiadzin” opera. This special arrangement will be performed by Haig Mardirosian, organist and Dean Emeritus of Temple University, along with young clarinetist Narek Arutyunian.

Hayren, by well-known composer Tigran Mansourian, will follow performed by Sato Moughalian on the alto flute, with Arzruni accompanying on the piano. Hayren is a medieval poetic form — couplets with a single coherent theme — perfected by Nahapet Kouchak, one of the first Armenian ashoughs.

Organist Haig Mardirosian will then perform a suite by Alan Hovhannes titled Sanahin, who was deeply influenced by his memories of a visit to the 10th-the century monastery of the same name.

The concert will conclude with excerpts from the Komitas Divine Liturgy conducted by Prof. Hovhannes Mirzoyan who will be arriving from Armenia to conduct a 16-member professional male choir.

Starting this concert will be an ensemble of 120 children singing the Yegmalian Hayr Mer, and the Hayrabedagan Maghtank dedicated to the Vehapar. The children will come from three local Armenian schools – Holy Martyrs, Brooklyn, and the Hovnanian Schools.

Following the concert, a reception will take place to which all are invited.








Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: