Cellist Christina Gullans and pianist Naira Babayan perform. (David Elizian photo)

Gullans, Babayan Impress with Concert Dedicated to Arsen Sayan in Arlington


By Dr. Jeffrey Howard

ARLINGTON, Mass. — On Sunday, June 11, eager concertgoers enjoyed a lovely program by cellist Christina Gullans and pianist Naira Babayan.

Organized by the Armenian Cultural Foundation (ACF) and co-sponsored by the Amaras Art Alliance, this diverse and inspiring concert was part of the Mirak Chamber Music Series and was given in tribute to the late Arsen Sayan (1928-2018), founder of the KNAR intercommunal Armenian Choral Group in Philadelphia and former musical-cultural director and chief producer of the VOA Armenian Service.

Babayan and Gullans brought an interesting and challenging program to the audience this day. After opening remarks by Ara Ghazarians, curator of the ACF, the program began with the Album Bien Tempéré by Ghazarossian and continued with works by Sayat-Nova, Hovounts, Komitas, Baghdasarian and Harutyunyan.

The largest work on the program both in length and difficulty was the Sonata for Cello and Piano by Avet Terteryan. Written in 1954, this is a complex and demanding work. Energizing and dramatic, this piece demonstrates a huge range of both emotional and technical skills for both instruments.

Gullans produced a wonderfully lyrical sound throughout the piece. The many dramatic and haunting melodies came across with grace and emotional maturity. Ms. Babayan as well handled the many technical challenges with ease and clear musical direction. There is indeed a profound and undeniable power in this piece that all were able to appreciate and enjoy.

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Gullans displayed a nuanced and sincere understanding of the Armenian folk style throughout the program. She has a true affinity for this music and her interpretations were deeply felt and artistically satisfying. The Nocturne by Baghdasarian and the Impromptu by Harutyunyan were particularly emotive and enjoyable.

Cellist Christina Gullans and pianist Naira Babayan after the performance (David Elizian photo)

In addition to the duo pieces on the program, Babayan also performed a set of solo piano works all from the rich folk songs originally notated by Komitas. Pieces like Garuna and Krunk truly pull at the heartstrings of all Armenian people. She performed these pieces with grace, control, and inspiration throughout.

It should be noted that the program also featured the paintings of Ani Babayan, connecting physical artwork with the traditional melodies of Armenian folk music in a most effective manner.

The one encore performed by this duo was the Ey Dou Jahel song written originally by Reuben Gregorian. When considered as a whole, this was indeed an exciting afternoon that featured historical references, beautiful artwork, cultural insights, and creative musicianship.

(Dr. Jeffrey Howard is Associate Professor of Violin at Towson University. He is a member of the Baltimore Trio, the Kassian-Howard Duo, and is a regular substitute member of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.)


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