Victoria Avetisyan

BOSTON — Victoria Avetisyan and Nuné Hakobyan are on a mission for the preservation and proliferation of the legacy of Armenian classical music and they are doing it through music: a concert on March 18 in Bedford.

The two women are members of an informal group known as “Yerkir Nairi” (Land of Nairi), after the poetic name for Armenia popularized through the poetry of Vahan Teryan and derived from Urartian times.

The group was founded after the 44-Day War in 2020 by Boston-area classical musicians from the Armenian community, most of whom were born and educated in Armenia. The group wanted to do something to help Armenia using their prolific talents, and by 2021 began to present concerts in the area.

The collective, which plans to form an official non-profit in the near future, has taken on the support of the Komitas State Conservatory in Yerevan as their cause. Their focus in particular is the library, whose holdings have not yet been digitized. They describe it as a mission of national importance for the Armenian people.

According to Avetisyan and Hakobyan, classical musicians of Armenian background are often asked to perform pieces, whether orchestral/instrumental or vocal, by Armenian composers alongside those of the great Western classical composers. If, however, the scores are not available, musicians far away will not be able to play them.

Nuné Hakobyan

Avetisyan is a mezzo-soprano who was born in Yerevan and received her master’s in vocal performance from Komitas State Conservatory. She began performing in the National Opera Theatre of Armenia and was then invited to join Boston University Opera Institute, where she received her artist’s diploma. She has performed all over the United States and Canada in major operatic roles, and resides in the Boston area, where she continues her operatic career and gives voice lessons.

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Hakobyan is a classically trained pianist, studied at the Sayat-Nova Music School and the Tchaikovsky Music School, holding a master’s degree in piano and an artist diploma in collaborative piano from Komitas State Conservatory. She and her family moved to the US in 1996, where she has worked as an accompanist at the Boston Conservatory and other notable schools and orchestras in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as well as teaching piano.

Both women stated that when they are asked to perform works of Armenian composers, the scores are very difficult to come by, aside from the most famous works of Komitas, Khachaturian, and so on. The wealth of Armenian Classical music is buried in archives and libraries, especially the library of the Komitas Conservatory (also known as the Armenian National Music Library.)

The Conservatory has many historical manuscripts, books, and scores (sheet music) which need to be organized and systematized, so that people all around the world can have access to them. “The library is in great need of digitization,” the women concluded.

Much of the repertoire of the great European classical composers is available online these days, through various databases, some of which are on a payment basis. The group’s dream is to see such a resource available for the works of Armenian composers to be made accessible to professional musicians not only of Armenian descent but throughout the world.

About a year ago, the women came up with the idea of the digitization project, and then they presented their proposal at the Armenians Forward Together forum, which took place at the Hotel Ibis in Yerevan this past August.

Exterior of the Komitas State Conservatory

The women noted that their expertise is in classical music by Armenian composers, rather than liturgical, folk, or various forms of Armenian party music. The classical style of music composed by professionals in the Armenian tradition and spirit is intended to be presented in a concert setting. The names of Komitas, Khachaturian, Babadjanian and others are well known to the Armenian community as the exponents of Armenian classical oeuvre, with Komitas being regarded by many as the forefather and source of the entire movement, who based it on his research into the purest forms of the songs of Armenian villagers.

Classical music was heavily promoted and subsidized by the Soviet government during the time that Armenia was part of the USSR, resulting in many master composers and a multitude of classically-trained musicians. Today, much of that legacy is falling to the wayside, according to the group.

Some of the works of these composers have never been published. For example, the Komitas Conservatory is in the possession of handwritten manuscript scores by Edgar Hovhannisyan (1930-1998), which have never seen the light of day.

Victoria Avetisyan and her husband, Yeghishe Manucharyan

Tsovinar Movsisyan, the Prorector of the Conservatory, is the one who discovered Hovhannisyan’s manuscripts, and is leading the process of digitization. Last summer, she was approached by IT specialists from the National Academy of Sciences who had the idea to start the process. The Conservatory has only one old computer and one printer. They now have one person hired as the technician to oversee the digitization process, as well as a web domain, but they need funds for better equipment. That’s where Yerkir Nairi comes in. Their goal is to raise funds to support the Conservatory in this work, firstly through buying two new computers and a professional scanner.

Yerkir Nairi’s fundraising concert will take place on March 18, at 6 p.m., at The First Parish in Bedford, 75 Great Road.

The concert will feature thirteen musicians from the Boston and greater New England area, most of whom are from Armenia and many of whom are graduates of the Komitas Conservatory. The musicians include: Victoria Avetisyan, mezzo-soprano; Yeghishe Manucharyan, tenor; Lilit Karapetian-Shougarian, piano; Sargis Karapetyan, violin; Nuné Hakobyan, piano; Levon Hovsepian, piano; Haig Hovsepian, violin; Ani Hovsepian, piano; Lilit Muradyan, viola; Armenuhi Hovakimian, violin; Arpine Azatyan, violin; Knarik Nerkararyan, soprano and Armen Ghazaryan, violin.

Various solo, quartet, and other group performances will be included in the concert. All of the pieces performed will by Armenian composers, Avetisyan and Hakobyan stressed, though the selection of repertoire will be “diverse.”

Part of their goal is to make the public more aware of the wealth of compositions created by Armenians in the Classical field.

Hakobyan stated that the group’s current primary focus is to promote the concert and that one of the benefits is that it will “bring together the musicians of this area.”  Little by little, Armenian musicians are starting to work together, she said, and all the musicians who are playing on March 18 are donating their time, so that all proceeds will go to the Music Library.

According to Hakobyan, “the idea came from Victoria, she is always approaching and saying, ‘why don’t we start this?’ And we emailed many musicians from Armenia, some of them are alumni of the conservatory. And most of them very happily agreed to donate their talents.”

Avetisyan stated that “we have a great music — Armenian music in all genres — and for me that is the inspiration to do this.”

Tamara Babaian, who is not a musician herself but is a great supporter of Yerkir Nairi and is helping the group to organize the March concert, stated that “Both Nune and Victoria are performing in the Boston area and throughout the US and internationally, and not only they but many of the musicians who will be performing are very well known in the community here, and they really enrich our cultural life here in Boston and we are really grateful for these opportunities to hear our music. It accompanies us in the saddest days of our lives, and also the happiest days of our lives.”

She also noted that the project to digitize the Conservatory’s library is very important from the perspective of cultural preservation and protection of these precious documents for future generations.

Hakobyan reiterated that “this [concert] is not folk or spiritual music. We are playing professional classical music, that is written by composers to be presented on the concert stage.” She continued that her future vision for the Yerkir Nairi group is to represent Armenian music, by sponsor lectures and discussions, teaching, educating, and holding concerts. She also envisions the group branching out into other areas of Armenian culture, such as architecture, art, painting, history, and so on. In keeping with the group’s vision, the concert poster has an image representing the patriarch of Armenian music in modern times, Komitas Vardapet.

Tickets can be purchased online here:

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