VEM performing at the Montreal Tekeyan Center

WATERTOWN — Once again, the VEM Ensemble of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music was welcomed by hundreds of listeners in Detroit, Montreal and Boston this May in its second North American tour organized by the Tekeyan Cultural Association of the United States and Canada (TCA).

Three VEM members at Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Cambridge (photo Aram Arkun)

Each stop included community outreach sessions at local Armenian schools as well as full concerts held with local cosponsoring institutions and organizations. Dr. Melissa Bilal, associate director of the UCLA Armenian Music Program, also gave lectures in Detroit and Boston in conjunction with the VEM performances.

Dr. Melissa Bilal at MIT (photo Aram Arkun)

In its current configuration as a string quartet, the VEM members include Prof. Movses Pogossian on violin, master’s student Ela Kodžas on violin, master’s student Damon Zavala on viola, and UCLA alumnus Niall Tarō Ferguson on cello. The music they performed included works by Komitas, Aram Khachaturian, Tigran Mansurian, Dimitri Shostakovich, Arno Babajanyan, Edvard Mirzoyan, Goharik Gazarossian, Khosrovidukht and Johan Svendsen.

VEM cutting a welcome cake after the Boston concert (photo Aram Arkun)

Pogossian at each performance masterfully presented background information which made the pieces more accessible and piqued the interest of the audience. For example, he spoke about the personal friendship between the composers Edvard Mirzoyan and Dmitri Shostakovich, which led to the latter to compose his Adagio from String Quartet No. 10, Op. 118, while sojourning at the Dilijan Composers’ Resort on Mirzoyan’s invitation.

Three of the VEM Ensemble members performing at Detroit’s St. John Armenian Church

He also revealed that one of the VEM members, Niall, was not only a performer but also had arranged the lullaby Orim, Orim, collected by Mihran Toumajan, for VEM to perform.


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The May 9 Detroit concert was hosted and cosponsored by St. John Armenian Church in Southfield, with additional cosponsors the Cultural Society of Armenians from Istanbul and the AGBU Alex and Marie Manoogian School. TCA Detroit Chapter Chair Diana Alexanian was the master of ceremonies and St. John’s pastor Fr. Aren Jebejian made some moving closing remarks. A special element of the Detroit visit was the lecture given by Dr. Bilal at the same church on Sunday, May 7, titled “Unearthing Mihran Toumajan’s Life and Work.” This lecture, as well as the main concert, was dedicated to the memory of the beloved local Armenian-American educator Dickran Toumajan, who had passed away in 2022. A community outreach performance also took place at the local AGBU Alex and Marie Manoogian School on May 9.

VEM at the AGBU Alex and Marie Manoogian School of Southfield, MI


Boston’s primary concert was held and co-sponsored by Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Cambridge on May 11. A special section of the concert featured pianist Lilit Karapetian-Shougarian, with two pieces dedicated to the memory of her late husband, Ambassador Rouben Shougarian. TCA Executive Director Aram Arkun served as master of ceremonies along with Holy Trinity pastor Fr. Vasken Kouzouian.

Prof. Movses Pogossian at Holy Trinity Armenian Church of Cambridge (photo Aram Arkun)

VEM also performed at a reception for Armenian Mirror-Spectator supporters on May 9 at the Baikar Building in Watertown, which is the headquarters both of the Mirror-Spectator and of the Tekeyan Cultural Association. The group gave a demonstration on May 12 at St. Stephen Armenian Elementary School in Watertown, entrancing young listeners with Armenian classical music in an interactive format of music. Principal Houry Boyamian welcomed the musicians to the school and introduced them to the students.

Children trying to answer Prof. Movses Pogossian’s questions at St. Stephen’s Armenian School (photo Aram Arkun)

VEM also performed at MIT on May 12 as part of Dr. Bilal’s lecture titled “Intertwined Legacies: Gomidas Vartabed (1869-1935) and Koharik Gazarossian (1907-1967).” This was cosponsored by MIT Music and Theater Arts, MIT History and MIT Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research, as well as the Tekeyan Cultural Association. Professor Lerna Ekmekçioglu of MIT introduced Bilal.

VEM performing in an MIT classroom (photo Aram Arkun)


The main concert in Montreal took place at the Haroutiun and Sima Arzoumanian Hall of the Tekeyan Center in St. Laurent on May 13. TCA Montreal Chapter executive Harout Kouyoumjian recognized the notables in the audience, including Primate of the Armenian Church of Canada Bishop Apkar Hovakimyan, Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to Canada Anahit Harutyunyan, Fr. Komitas Mirzakhanyan, pastor of the Holy Cross Armenian Church of Laval, TCA President Dr. Arshavir Gundjian and Sona Lakhoyan Olivier, deputy of the National Assembly of Quebec. Samuel Keushkerian served as the master of ceremonies.

Amb. Anahit Harutyunyan, left, speaks with three of the VEM Ensemble members at the Montreal Tekeyan Center

On May 15, TCA Montreal Chapter Chair Noubar Babikian arranged the visit of VEM to the AGBU Alex Manoogian School of Montreal, where they were hosted by Principal Chahé Tanachian. Music Teacher Artur Margossian gave VEM a special treat by having his students sing a song accompanied by flutes and percussion before VEM made its own presentation.

VEM with students and staff of the AGBU Alex Manoogian School of Montreal and Montreal Tekeyan leaders


The reactions to VEM were overwhelmingly positive, just as during the 2019 tour sponsored by TCA. For example, Fr. Kouzouian declared at the Boston concert: “Yesterday, I received a phone call from Fr. Aren Jebejian, the pastor of the St. John’s Armenian Church in Detroit, where the VEM Ensemble just performed two nights ago and he said the following to me, ‘They are going to blow you away. They are phenomenal, the epitome of professionalism!’ And to that I will add, PERFECTION.  I think we all agree with his words.”

The VEM members in turn found the tour useful and enjoyable.

Kodžas declared: “Having the opportunity to perform for audiences ranging from school children to Armenia’s Ambassador in Canada was incredibly memorable and really left us with the impression of how important performing this music is to all members of the Armenian communities.”

Zavala observed: “It was truly touching the way that each community, though so far apart in miles, welcomed us! We thoroughly enjoyed getting to perform for and interact with such enthusiastic audiences. We all feel very privileged to have met pillars in each of the Armenian communities in Detroit, Boston and Montréal!”

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