Pianist Sergei Babayan performing with the Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Eduard Topchjan (photo Jirair Hovsepian)

BOSTON — The Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra recently concluded its four-city tour of major halls in North America, with Boston’s Symphony Hall as its final stop on November 21, to great acclaim. The Boston concert was the only one sponsored by local Armenian American community organizations, with proceeds to aid the forcibly displaced people of Artsakh.

This was a rare appearance for this orchestra in Boston, as the last time it played here was in 1989. There was great excitement in the audience who packed the main floor and first balcony of the history Symphony Hall. As reviewer Susan Miron noted in the Boston Musical Intelligencer on November 25, “It was clear, even before the concert began, that the enthusiastic, nattily well-dressed, largely Armenian crowd that gathered Tuesday night at Symphony Hall anticipated an extraordinary evening of music and kinship. I almost felt like I was crashing a huge family reunion. It was the friendliest and most happily expectant crowd I’d seen at a concert in a long time.”

Pianist Sergei Babayan and conductor Eduard Topchjan with the Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra accepting the applause of an enthusiastic audience (photo Jirair Hovsepian)

The orchestra, conducted by Eduard Topchjan, observed Aram Khachaturian’s 120th anniversary of birth by opening with three selections from the composer’s Spartacus Ballet Suites, Variation of Aegnia and Bacchanalia, Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia, and Dance of Gaditanae – Victory of Spartacus. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s 150th anniversary was also commemorated through the performance of two works. First, as Miron observed, “The phenomenal Sergei Babayan delivered a sensitive, utterly thrilling performance of Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto (Opus 30), making short work of the sprawling concerto’s technical difficulties.” This was the New York-based pianist’s Boston debut as soloist with an orchestra, and he justified prior accolades bestowed upon him, including an “unstoppably volcanic force” (International Piano Magazine) or a “magician of the piano sound.” (Die Rheinpfalz).

As Miron gushed, “he came in and played magnificently, with perfectly executed dynamics and lyricism, his magisterial technique almost was thrilling as his tender musicality…”

In response to a thunderous ovation, Babayan returned to play as an encore a very different piece composed in a minimalist style by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.  Elegant and terse, “Für Alina,” (a dedication to a friend’s daughter) is rooted in Gregorian chant and uses simple overtone series of the “bell” sound as its basis. Mr. Babayan’s delivery of this hauntingly beautiful work added an almost spiritual dimension to the performance, evoking a sense of reflection and contemplation.

Close-up of pianist Sergei Babayan (photo Jirair Hovsepian)

After the intermission, the orchestra performed Rachmaninoff’s popular Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Opus 27, and, due to the lengthy applause, despite the late hour, concluded with an encore performance of the boisterous Khachaturian’s Waltz from the Masquerade Suite.

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Harry Rolnick at ConcertoNet.com, who heard the orchestra at New York’s Carnegie Hall prior week, wrote: “The Rachmaninoff Second Symphony is appealing for its soaring melodies, its lush textures and – inevitably – brassy loud finales. Eduard Topchjan caught it all with his fine orchestra. The tempos in the second and fourth movements were suitably exciting, and those final moments were blatantly gorgeous.”

The 16-page program booklet prepared for the Boston concert not only presented basic information about the orchestra and the program, but also informed the audience about the background of the humanitarian crisis created by the recent occupation of Artsakh by Azerbaijani forces. This did not go unnoticed. Miron, for example, mentioned the 120,000 refugees from Artsakh in her article, and sympathetically stated: “It takes a huge, committed community to organize and fundraise something as wonderful as this concert. Due to the generosity of the sponsors, all of the revenue from ticket sales supported the humanitarian needs of the people of Artsakh. I love a community that is there to help its own. This concert provided a perfect example of unity and solidarity.”

Indeed, the Boston benefit concert was a good example of what may be accomplished when all sectors of the Armenian community in an area come together for a common goal. It was planned under the leadership of the Pan Armenian Council of New England and YerazArt Foundation in partnership with the Armenian General Benevolent Union, Armenian Relief Society, Tekeyan Cultural Association and Friends of Armenian Culture Society, together with a wide spectrum of Armenian community parishes and organizations.
“We believe in the power of unity and the positive impact we can make together,” comments Dr. Shant Parseghian, concert chair and founder of the Pan Armenian Council of New England.

Not only was this goal achieved, and connections strengthened among various parts of the diverse Boston Armenian community, but thanks to generous donors and sponsoring organizations covering the basic costs of the event, the $175,000 raised  throughthe sale of tickets will be equally distributed among five trusted organizations which will, in turn, help the Artsakh refugees.

These organizations include the Armenian General Benevolent Union, established in 1906 to preserve and promote the Armenian identity and heritage, which enhances the Armenian experience and ensure its relevance in today’s world and in all of our lives through support of educational, cultural and humanitarian programs; the Armenian American Medical Association of Boston focused on coordinating donations for much needed medical supplies including medications, surgical instruments and wound care items; the Armenian Relief Society, founded in 1910, an independent, non-governmental, non-sectarian, philanthropic organization which serves the humanitarian needs of the Armenian people and seeks to preserve the cultural identity of the Armenian nation; the Fund for Armenian Relief, dedicated to honoring the past, empowering the present, and ensuring the future for people in Armenia and Artsakh; and the Tekeyan Cultural Association of the United States and Canada, which with its Artsakh Refugees Aid Program transparently is providing direct cash assistance to burn victims of the Artsakh fuel depot explosion, displaced teachers and intellectuals from Artsakh and their families, and in general to families in need among those displaced from Artsakh.

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