The performers receive a standing ovation after the concert.

Musical Armenia Performers Dazzle at Carnegie Hall

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By Florence Avakian

NEW YORK — It was a concert not to be missed. Two very young and very talented musicians wowed a sold-out audience at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall with their musical gifts on Sunday, March 3, 20-year-old pianist Tigran Mardanyan, and 19-year-old composer and pianist Grigori Balasanyan, along with the Burbank String Quartet and trumpeter Tony Donatello.

Since the inception of the Musical Armenia series 42 years ago by the Eastern Prelacy, by then Prelate Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian, these creative and professional annual concerts have introduced many talented musicians, several of whom have advanced to international careers.

On March 3, Prelate Archbishop Anoushavan with the Musical Armenia Committee presented the 39th Musical Armenia concert with the prophetic words “music is in the immortal words of Vahan Tekeyan, ‘the earth from which the Armenian Church was raised stone-by-stone.’”

As pianist Tigran Mardanyan strode onto the stage, the capacity crowd greeted him with thunderous applause. He quietly paused for a minute in silence, then confidently presented Mozart’s three-movement Sonata No.4 in E-flat minor, a melodically beautiful and captivating classical composition.

He then followed it with Australian composer Carl Vine’s Five Bagatelles, a lyrical, somewhat jazzy, and intellectually engaging modern presentation, played with thoughtfulness.

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Cesar Franck’s three-movement Prelude, Chorale et Fugue, a lyrically romantic and emotional masterpiece was performed with all the splendor and gusto it deserved.

The strength of this pianist is in his thoughtful understanding of the music and interpreting it as it was intended, not moving his body back and forth with his emotions, as many performers are prone to do. His keyboard mastery was rewarded with a long standing ovation.

After intermission, the Burbank String Quartet with violinists Gaia Sbeghen and Celeste Di Men, violist Victoria Skinner and cellist Ricardo Sardiñas, master students at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, presented the world premiere of Grigori Balasanyan’s Transcendence in Turmoil: String Quartet No. 2.

Balasanyan has called the three-movement composition an “attempt to capture the emotional ups and downs I went through while living in America as my homeland Armenia went through a time of war and suffering.”

The string quartet, he said, “is a musical exploration of the nuanced and powerful feelings that flooded my heart.” It depicts “the feelings of anxiety, sadness and anger.”

This very personal tribute to his homeland with its very Armenian musical feelings reflected the emotions of many in the audience who may have been in similar circumstances.

Balasanyan then entered the stage to play his composition on the piano with trumpeter Tony Donatelle. Farewell Yerevan is an emotion-filled remembrance with personal memories of the beloved city he left behind. “The composition draws inspiration from the rich tapestry of Armenian folklore, ancient melodies, with their timeless beauty, as a poignant thread connecting the past with the present, resonating with the sound of Yerevan. The flugelhorn emerges as a poignant voice representing the personal connection between the composer and Yerevan,” he wrote for the piece.

The two-movement Armenian Rhapsody with Balasanyan playing solo piano reflected the composer’s powerful feelings and memories of Armenia’s lofty mountains, cultural monuments and masterpieces, and unique nature. As Balasanyan ended his composition, he sat quietly panting heavily, demonstrating the immense trauma that his departure from his beloved homeland had caused. He then rose to a thunderous ovation.

The often performed Toccata by Aram Khachaturian, well-known to music lovers, has strong elements of Armenian folklore, baroque influences, and melodic beauty. It displayed Balasanyan’s technical prowess and virtuosity, and brought on another ovation.

The concert concluded with an encore performed by Tigran Mardanyan, the lyrically beautiful Elegy by the eminent Armenian composer Arno Babajanyan. Mardanyan played this much loved and often performed piece with all the pathos, passion, and longing it deserved, the music again displaying the heartbreaking departure from their beloved homeland for the two young artists.

Following a long ovation for Mardanyan, all the evening’s performers lined up on stage for a standing thunderous ovation lasting several minutes, at which time Musical Armenia committee members presented beautiful flower bouquets to each artist.

A decades-long acclaimed and famed concert pianist and composer, Sahan Arzruni, who attended this outstanding concert, commented that both Tigran Mardanyan and Grigori Balasanyan showed “much potential.”

“They did a great job!,” Arzruni added.

Reception at the Prelacy after the Musical Armenia concert

Reception at Prelacy Headquarters

In welcoming the artists to the Prelacy reception, Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian called the concert “transforming, one of the absolutely best Musical Armenia Concerts.”

“It was a power of light and hope within darkness,” the Prelate said. Addressing the artists directly, he added, “We were proud to have you at Carnegie Hall in your serious search for your career. May God always lead you. Let us celebrate the powerful spirit of music and art.”

During the reception, replete with delicious Armenian delicacies, the two young artists expressed their feelings. Tigran Mardanyan called it “a huge responsibility.” He admitted feeling a little nervous before the concert, but once he started playing, he said, “My heart and mind were on the music.”

Grigori Balasanyan voiced that though he was “very nervous with this big honor at Carnegie Hall,” he said he was also thinking of his family and his homeland. “Everything I do is dedicated to my country, Armenia, my motherland, our history, our culture,” he said quietly yet visibly moved.

Two Outstanding Artists

Grigori Balasanyan, born 2004 in Yerevan, began composing music at age eight, and has been playing the piano since age five. He has a diploma in composition and piano studies from Yerevan’s Alexander Spendiaryan Specialized Music School. His performing repertoire includes his Armenian musical heritage and portrays modern issues of the world.

One of his most important projects was his first ballet, “The Hairless Porcupine, “based on a fairy tale written by Nouneh Sarkissian, which was recorded in 2019 by the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sergey Smbatyan. It was the first children’s ballet in Armenian music history albums.

Winner of many international and local composer competitions, he has two CD albums, multiple multimedia collaborations, and has composed several short film scores.

Currently, Grigori Balasanyan is a sophomore scholarship student at Boston Conservatory at Berklee. He is working on his first flute concerto. His first operatic chamber composition, Silent Tears, was premiered by the Horizon Ensemble in October 2023 in Boston’s Church of the Covenant.

Tigran Mardanyan, born in 2003 in Yerevan, studied at the Alexander Spendiaryan Specialized Music School and is the winner of several international competitions, including first prize in the international piano competitions in Spain, Italy, South Korea, and second prizes in France, Belgium, Poland, Russia.

His first prize was garnered at age 11 when he won the first prize in Yerevan in 2014, followed by another in 2017, and the Grand Prix in 2019. In the U.S., he won first prize at the “Viva Music” in 2020.

As the winner of the Boston Conservatory at Berklee 2021-2022 Concerto Competition, Mardanyan had the opportunity to perform Rachmaninoff’s First Piano Concerto with the Boston Conservatory at Worcester’s Mechanics Hall.

He also has had solo performances in New York City at the COAF Gala, at the World Bank and the U.S. Congress in Washington in 2017, in France in 2018 and 2019, in Moscow 2018 and in Beirut in 2018. He has given solo performances in Bad-Hersfeld in Germany, 2017.

The Musical Armenia Committee includes Julie Kedersha, Sophie Khachatryan, Annita Nerses, Varsenne Sarkissian, and Levon Tatevossian. Gregory Dosttur directed the art and design of the concert poster and flyer.

 

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