WATERTOWN — The VEM Ensemble of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music inspired and moved large audiences in the hundreds in Detroit, Montreal and Boston as it completed the first part of its spring 2019 North American tour organized by the Tekeyan Cultural Association of the United States and Canada (TCA). Each stop included community outreach sessions at local Armenian schools as well as a primary performance. Each stop included a premiere of the Tekeyan Triptych, composed specially for VEM by Artashes Kartalyan as the result of a grant from the Tekeyan Cultural Association.
The Vem Ensemble, established in 2013 by violinist and UCLA Prof. Movses Pogossian, consists of the graduate student Vem Quartet, in residence at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, plus a talented and experienced mezzo-soprano. Vem means “rock” in Armenian, symbolizing the strength and power of this ensemble to bring to life music written by prominent and emerging Armenian composers. The quartet is the cornerstone of the newly created Armenian Music Program at UCLA. UCLA lends instruments to several of the musicians. It is noteworthy that Ji Eun Hwang’s violin is the “Duke of Alcantara” Stradivarius, a 287-year-old instrument that at one point was owned by Napoleon Bonaparte!
In addition to Triptych, performances usually included pieces from Aram Khachaturian: Valse, from the “Masquerade Suite”; Dance of the Rose Maidens from the “Gayane” ballet; and Lezginka, from the same ballet. Gomidas (Komitas), born Soghomon Soghomonian, was represented by a number of favorites, arranged by Sergey Aslamazyan as Miniatures for String Quartet: Al Ayloughs (My Red Shawl), Karun A (It Is Spring), Ambel A (It Has Become Cloudy), Chinar Es (You Are A Poplar Tree), and Gakavig (Partridge). There were several melancholy pieces, including Geghuni Chitjian’s Manushakin (To the Violet), Edvard Mirzoyan’s They Say, and Tigran Mansurian’s Testament. Alan Hovhaness’s Yar Nazani (Dear Loved One) is a story of love. The work of one non-Armenian classical composer was included—Franz Schubert’s Quartettsatz, D 703.
In the Detroit suburb of Southfield, the TCA Greater Detroit Chapter together with St. John Armenian Church Music Guild hosted the VEM performance on the evening of March 27 at the St. John Church Recreation Center (see accompanying article by Harry A. Kezelian III). This was the first performance of VEM in Michigan, which happens to be a place dear to Prof. Movses Pogossian, as he lived here formerly. Most significantly, this was the world premiere of the Tekeyan Triptych.
St. John pastor Fr. Aren Jebejian spoke words of welcome after which Pogossian presented the background of VEM Ensemble. He gratefully spoke about the assistance of TCA Central Board president Edmond Y. Azadian. He presented the varied backgrounds of the members of the ensemble, none of whom are Armenian. Violinist Ji Eun Hwang is from Korea while second violinist Aiko Jimena Richter is from Baltimore. Violist Morgan O’Shaughnessy, who has his own website, is from northern California but works as a professional musician in Los Angeles, and cellist Jason Pegis studied in Montreal’s McGill University before coming to UCLA for a doctoral program. Mezzo-soprano Danielle Segen, who travels the world from her base in Los Angeles, amazed the audience with her excellent Armenian pronunciation and expressive singing. For brief biographies, see the Mirror-Spectator of March 2.