BOSTON, Mass. (A.W.)—The 59th Annual Armenian Night at the Pops was celebrated at Symphony Hall to a sold-out audience on June 19. The program conducted by Keith Lockhart and guest conductor Aram Demirjian was one of several of the series commemorating the 125th anniversary of the Boston Pops.
As in previous years, a portion of the program was arranged by FACS (Friends of Armenian Culture Society) and featured a guest performer, pianist Armen Babakhanian.
The evening’s concert opened with Keith Lockhart conducting the “National Emblem” March by Bagley. The baton was then passed to Demirjian, 25, who skillfully and brilliantly conducted Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide.”
The program continued with a return of Lockhart and a video tribute to Arthur Fiedler as the orchestra played, sometimes synchronized to Mr. Fiedler conducting on the screen. This was especially entertaining and amusing while playing Anderson’s “The Typewriter.”
Babakhanian performed Gershwin’s popular and exquisite “Rhapsody in Blue,” followed by Khachaturian’s Allegro Brilliante, Piano Concerto in D-flat major, Op. 38. Both pieces were received by a well-deserved standing ovation.
As part of the FACS tradition, Lockhart conducted Yekmalian’s “Hayr Mer.”
In observance of the 125th celebration, the program honored former Pops director John Williams by playing his theme compositions from “Star Wars” and “ET.”
The evening’s concert concluded with a sing-along of Beatles music and the dropping of the U.S. flag with the classic “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Babakhanian’s brilliant performance was to be expected, but the special treat for many that night was the appearance of conductor Aram Demirjian. Many saw the young man perform for the first time despite his many local concerts at Harvard and at the New England Conservatory, where he is currently pursuing a master’s in orchestral conducting.
Demirjian was born and raised in the Boston area. He is a graduate of Lexington High School where he was involved with many musical programs (including a choral group that toured Armenia). Demirjian has strong roots in the Armenian community’s arts milieu. As a young boy, he and his sister sang in the independent Armenian Children’s Chorus of Greater Boston (founded by his mother, director Karen Demirjian). Several of his alumni chorale friends were present at the Pops that night. Last week, Demirjian was invited to emcee the 15th anniversary performance of the Abaka School of Performing Arts (founded by director Apo Ashjian), of which he is an alumnus. He has received well-deserved funding for his studies from the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU).
Aram Demirjian has performed extensively as a conductor of orchestras, operas, and contemporary ensembles. As an undergraduate at Harvard, he served for two seasons as music director of the famed Harvard Bach Society Orchestra (BacSoc) and earned a joint degree in music and government. In 2009, he was chosen to conduct in a concert engagement with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams as part of a colloquium on the composer’s “The Wound Dresser.” Later that year, Demirjian’s achievements earned him an invitation to guest conduct Yo-Yo Ma and members of the Silk Road Ensemble. In March 2009, he was selected by conductor Hugh Wolff as one of only three conductors to be part of the inaugural class in the master’s in orchestral conducting program at the New England Conservatory. This summer, Demirjian will be a Conducting Fellow at the Aspen Music Festival, studying under distinguished conductors where many orchestra managers, music critics, and other music executives come each summer to spotlight the brightest emerging talent.
When asked about his experience conducting the Boston Pops, Demirjian remarked, “The Boston Pops are a world-class orchestra and Keith Lockhart leads them with consummate professionalism and fluidity. Their talent as instrumentalists speaks for itself, but their amazing ability as collaborators, performing sometimes with as many as three or four guest artists, such as myself, in the course of only one evening, is unmatched by most professional orchestras. Conducting them was an immense pleasure.”
“I am so grateful to FACS for organizing Armenian Night at the Pops and for its help in securing my appearance on the program,” he added. “The Armenian community needs organizations like FACS, whose sole purpose is to promote Armenian art and culture. It is my firm belief that the arts are our best method of passing on our traditions and our history to younger generations and for increasing the visibility of Armenian culture in the non-Armenian community.”
Armen Babakhanian is a prize-winning pianist from some of the world’s most prestigious competitions, including the Leeds and Van Cliburn. He has captured the imagination of audiences and critics alike through the intensity and honesty of his performances. He has given recital in the United States, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and Spain. He has appeared as soloist with the city of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Sir Simon Rattle, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Irish National Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., Dallas Symphony, Saint Petersburg Philharmonic, and Moscow Philharmonic, among others. Babakhanian has been recorded under different labels and several of his performances have been broadcast on the BBC and PBS television networks. His recording of the Tchaikovsky piano sonata was acclaimed in the European press. In addition to his performing career, Babakhanian has taught numerous master classes in the United States and Europe. He has also served as a jury member for several international competitions. He was born in Armenia and is currently the artistic director of the Cadence Ensemble as well as artist-in-residence at the Komitas State Conservatory in Yerevan, where he also received his musical education. In the 2010-11 season, Babakhanian will appear in solo and chamber music performances in the U.S., UK, Greece, Japan, China, Austria, Slovenia, and Italy.
The post-concert reception was attended by many FACS patrons who had an opportunity to socialize and meet the guest musicians. Ara Arakelian, the president of FACS, welcomed the attendees. Tufts professor and researcher Lucy DerManuelian gave an unscheduled impromptu speech in tribute of FACS’s founder and former doctor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Dr. Keran Chobanian. DerManuelian spoke of his love of music and the special efforts it took for him to attend concerts in Boston when he was a young student. Ida Boodakian, who is an annual guest at the Armenian Night, commented on Demirjian’s performance as “remarkable.” She told him that she had conducted “Stars and Stripes” with the Pops in 1993 to a standing ovation.