Isabel Bayrakdarian and the UCSB String Quartet (left to right: Josefina Vergara, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Jonathan Moerschel, Jennifer Kloetzel, Jessica Guideri (Photo Credit: Onig Ghiulezian)

Bayrakdarian’s Heavenly Voice Pays Tribute to Armenian Republic, Yerevan Anniversaries


BURBANK, Calif. — The signature sounds of Armenian music composed over the course of centuries reverberated through the ornate edifice of the St. Leon Cathedral as award-winning operatic soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian sang rich cultural songs and sacred hymns in an emotionally moving and sophisticated performance in honor of the 100th anniversary of Armenia’s First Republic and the 2,800th anniversary of Yerevan Erebuni on Sunday, September 23.

Trademark songs by Komitas, Sayat Nova and Aram Khachaturian were brought to the forefront by the Grammy-nominated and world renowned Bayrakdarian, who performed with the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) String Quartet, featuring Josefina Vergara, violin, Jessica Guideri, violin, Jonathan Moerschel, viola, Jennifer Kloetzel, cello, in an event sponsored by the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America’s Zvartnots Cultural Committee, and under the auspices of Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate.


The carefully curated religious and cultural selections reflected a deeply layered history of Armenian music from different time periods and genres, including medieval sacred music, the 17th-century troubadour songs of Sayat Nova, the 19th century folk songs of Komitas Vartabed and the 20th century classical gusto of Khatchaturian. Each tasteful piece was presented with a spiritual soul that fulfilled the Armenian spirit of the standing-room-only audience. Wide in range — from the celebratory Kamancha by Sayat-Nova to the liturgical Soorp Asdvadz — the concert highlighted the beautiful complexities of Armenian music.

“I believe an artist’s identity plays a vital role in the orientation of their creative compass,” commented Bayrakdarian, associate professor of voice at UCSB. “For me, this direction is largely guided by the Armenian music that has nourished and sustained my soul from a young age.”

Operatic soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian (Photo Credit: Onig Ghiulezian

Along with musical pleasures, Bayrakdarian also created a space for reflection as the Armenian people celebrate the milestone anniversaries of the First Republic and the ancient city of Yerevan/Erebuni. Culling from various poignant points in the Armenian musical tradition, she presented an all-encompassing performance, underscoring the important role of religious hymns.

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“Armenian sacred music holds a very special place in my heart,” said Bayrakdarian, who has performed in opera houses and concert halls around the world and is the winner of four consecutive Juno Awards for Best Classical Album in her native Canada. “I truly feel a connection with God and the Divine through the expression of these ancient prayers and melodies that have survived many centuries and continue to hold mysteries of the past and whispers of the future.”

Through the compositions of Khatchaturian, to whom Bayrakdarian refers as “one of the musical titans of the 20th century,” inflections of Eastern and Central European as well as Middle Eastern influences came through in the pieces Daughter of the Fields and Feast Songs, punctuated by Yerevan, which Bayrakdarian said is an “unabashed celebration of the namesake capital.”

Invoking the diverse themes of spirituality, love and nationalism through his music, Bayrakdarian presented the works of Komitas, including Dear Maral/Akh Maral Jan and The Three Songs of Nature. The ordained priest and ethnomusicologist not only notated and developed the medieval hymns of the Armenian Church, he also traveled throughout the Armenian heartland in the 19th century, collecting and notating thousands of melodies from scores of villages, whose residents only had an oral tradition of passing on their music. In a fitting tribute to his yearning for the homeland, Bayrakdarian sang as an encore Groong, which she referred to as Armenia’s “unofficial anthem.”

Welcoming remarks were made by Dr. Simon K. Simonian, chairman of the Zvartnots Cultural Committee, who remarked that the Armenian Church has always led the Armenian people, most significantly when it remained stateless for 600 years, “gathering the children of our nation, guarding and preserving our cultural relics and traditional customs and transferring them from one generation to the next.”

Highlighting the integral role of the Armenian Church, he said that the “national institution” has always “actively participated throughout history in every major battle waged for the liberation of the homeland, from the battle of Avarayr to Sardarabad and to the liberation of Artsakh.”

Reflecting on Yerevan’s 2,800th anniversary, he noted that the city is even older than Rome and to this day remains a proud and picturesque capital, “waiting with wide-open arms for its children to come home.”

Derderian expressed gratitude to Bayrakdarian and the UCSB quartet for an “exceptional concert” that created “a new movement in our spirituality.”

“Through the love of art and music tonight, we were taken into eternity,” concluded Derderian. “I am sure tonight will remain forever etched in our minds.”



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