The Lark Musical Society concert featuring the works of Johannes Brahms

Lark Pays Tribute to Agbabian with Brahms Concert

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PASADENA, Calif. — A monumental and moving concert by the Lark Musical Society, featuring Johannes Brahms magnum opus, took place on Saturday, March 2, at the Ambassador Auditorium, under the auspices of the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) and dedicated to the memory of Dr. Mihran Agbabian.

Conducted by the Vatsche Barsoumian, the program, titled “A Promise of Hope,” centered around Brahms’s German Requiem, a 19th century classical masterpiece and was performed by the Lark Mastersingers, the Lark Orchestra and soloists Garineh Avakian (mezzo-soprano), Suzanne Waters (soprano), and Edward Levy (baritone). The composition, written in German, was composed by Brahms between 1865 and 1868 at the ripe age of 30, and was a critical work that launched his professional career as an influential composer.

The theme of hope and comfort for the living was relevantly timed with the advent of Easter as the libretto conveyed passages from the Bible’s old and new testaments, compiled by Brahms himself. The religious atmosphere heightened the spiritual ambiance of the evening as Gwen Gibson, pastor of the HRock Church, which holds services in the Ambassador Auditorium, opened the program’s remarks.

“This is our home and it is our delight to share the stage with Lark Musical Society,” said Gibson of the Ambassador Auditorium, referred to as the “Carnegie Hall of the West.” “As a multi-generational and multi-ethnic church, it is our pleasure to host this performance.”

Kenneth Kevorkian, chairman of the organizing committee, expressed gratitude for the audience’s attendance, while reflecting on the recent passing of Agbabian. As co-founder of the American University of Armenia, Agbabian was a dedicated individual who generously gave to the Armenian people, from the homeland — establishing its first Western style academic institution — all the way to California, where he effectively participated and impacted myriad cultural, religious and humanitarian organizations.

“We are saddened by the loss of our former board member,” said Kevorkian. “He was a guiding inspiration for all of us and we dedicate tonight’s concert to him and his memory.”

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He thanked the Lark Musical Society and highlighted its accomplishments and advancements over the last three decades under the direction of its humble founder, Vatsche Barousmian, “a man who never wants to be recognized.”

Following the opening prayer delivered by Reverend Vatche Ekmekjian, pastor of the Immanuel Armenian Congregational Church, the audience was enlivened by the sacred pieces of Brahms’s “German Requiem,” as well as the German composer’s two other well-known pieces, “Song of Fate” and “Alto Rhapsody,” that also seek to capture the human spirit. A pre-concert lecture by Doris Melkonian, who holds a Master of Arts in Musicology from UCLA, shed light on the inner workings of the compositions as well as Brahms’s deep interest in Martin Luther’s German Bible, which translated the holy scriptures into the vernacular and its influence on the young pianist and composer.

Throughout the seven movements, which ranged from dramatic moments to softer ones, Brahms thread alternating verses from the Bible that touched upon death, life and life after death. The catalyst of the creation was the eternal rest of his mother and may have also been rooted in the passing of his mentor, composer Robert Schumann, nine years earlier.

“It is an incarnation of the promise of eternal life that is the anchor of our faith in the living Lord, Jesus Christ,” said Barsoumian, who is the founder and director of the Lark Musical Society. “As brass hits brass and fire engulfs fire in the Middle East and as man’s inhumanity to man once again unfolds in abundance, we are again reminded of how trivial is all earthly glory and how pitiful is man in his pursuit of withering earthly pleasures.”

Soloist Suzanne Waters (soprano)

The Lark Musical Society was established 30 years ago when Barsoumian invited a group of Armenian-American musicians, teachers and community leaders to connect their community with superior artistic programs and performances. The vision of its initial mission has flourished over the years and the organization now consists of educational opportunities, concert series, choirs, publications and a conservatory, in addition to its large-scale performances, which in the past have included Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, Anton Bruckner’s tripartite Te Deum, and Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. The joint AMAA/Lark Musical Society concert has become an annual tradition.

Attracting talented musicians of all backgrounds, the Lark Musical Society, which has staged more than 300 concerts for the general public, maintains meaningful ties with its performers, in particular Dr. Garineh Avakian, Assistant Professor in Voice and Choral Music at Pierce College, who performed “Alto Rhapsody” as a soloist, hitting every emotional note.

“Being the first graduate of the Lark Conservatory, it was a great honor to be asked by Baron Vatsche to perform in such a setting,” said the award-winning Avakian, whose students and colleagues from Pierce College attended the performance. “Singing Brahms is both soothing and strengthening and it was a pleasure to give back to a community that has helped raise, educate and support me throughout my years of study.”

The stirring performances of the chorus, soloists and orchestra took the audience on a soulful journey that concluded in a peaceful and transcendental manner.

“Our committee gracefully dedicates this performance to all who have lived and witnessed the faith that so magnificently transforms their being,” said Kevorkian, a member of the Board of Directors for the AMAA, a non-profit charitable organization that serves as the missionary arm of the Armenian Evangelical churches worldwide. “This concert was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had and as the music permeated my body and soul, I felt as if I was going to heaven on the wings of an angel.”

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