ARLINGTON, Mass. – Treasures of Armenian Classical Music will be featured at a concert sponsored by the Armenian Cultural Foundation (ACF), co-sponsored by the Amaras Art Alliance, on Sunday, June 11, at 4 p.m.
Pianist Naira Babayan and cellist Christina Gullans will perform works by Koharik Ghazarossian, Sayat-Nova, Gagik Hovounts, Avet Terteryan, Komitas Vartapet, Edvard Baghdasaryan and Alexander Harutyunyan.
The concert is part of ACF’s Mirak Chamber Music Series, established in 2017 in memory of John P. Mirak (1907-2000), an entrepreneur, philanthropist, community leader, benefactor for decades and late president of the ACF.
The Mirak Chamber Music Series aims to place the world’s finest classical music at the center of cultural life of the Boston Armenian community and the town of Arlington in particular. In line with the Foundation’s mission, to focus “on the history of Armenian music in the diaspora and on the role of Armenian women in the nation’s history,” the series showcases works by international and Armenian composers, with an emphasis on introducing works by Armenian women composers in Armenia and the Diaspora. On occasion, the series will also feature and promote young, promising performers and groups as well as premieres of newly written works.
This concert is presented as a tribute to Arsen Sayan (1928-2018), founder and conductor of the KNAR-ANI Choral Groups of Philadelphia and Washington.
Recognized for her exceptional talent and artistic approach to musical interpretation, Dr. Babayan received her early education in music from Tchaikovsky Music School. She holds degrees in piano performance from the Komitas State Conservatory of Yerevan, as well as a Master of Arts from the Gnessin Academy of Music in Moscow, where she studied under the tutelage of Professor Maria Gambaryan. She also holds a doctorate from the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia.
With over 25 years of experience, Dr. Babayan has performed in solo and chamber recitals worldwide: the Aram Khachaturian Concert Hall, Komitas State Conservatory Concert Hall and the Ministry of Friendship and Cultural Relations with Diaspora Concert Hall in Yerevan; the Royal Concert Hall of the American University in Dubai and Sharjah, UAE; and the San Lazzaro-Hall of Mirrors in Venice, Italy. She was a guest performer and won first prize at the 2005 Moscow Music Festival, performing a program of works by Rachmaninoff and Scriabin.
Dr. Babayan is widely recognized as a foremost interpreter of Armenian folkloric and classical repertoires. According to Oleg Mitrofanov, the General Manager of the AMADEI Moscow Music Theatre, “Naira’s exceptional talent and artistic approach to musical interpretation make her a clear stand out among many others, particularly her expressiveness, unique style and technical virtuosity. She is an Armenian Treasure!”
A former member of the Boston String Quartet, Gullans helped establish the quartet’s longstanding commitment to music education through the establishment of mentoring relationships with dozens of secondary schools and colleges throughout the country.
As an orchestral musician, Gullens has performed as a member of Lorin Maazel’s Castleton Festival Orchestra and as the principal cellist for Joseph Vincent’s World Orchestra, where she was honored as Ambassador of Peace from the Fundación Cultura de Paz in Madrid, Spain. She recently began collaborating with visual artists and living composers, creating rich and immersive art experiences dedicated to environmental awareness.
Gullens’ playing has been heard in top concert halls around the world, ranging from Carnegie Hall, the National Auditorium in Madrid, Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Jordan Hall and National Centre for Performing Arts in Beijing. She has also been heard on National Public Radio and telecasts throughout the United States, Europe and China.
In 2020, Gullens was featured on Across the Ages, an album of works written by the Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness, released by Albany Records. Inspired by ancient Armenian, Japanese and Indian musical elements, the collection displays Hovhaness’ ability to synthesize different musical traditions. Utilizing the cello’s rich and expressive nature, this music reflects timeless connections the current generation has to past civilizations, to nature, and to each other. The CD has been praised as a much-needed and overdue addition to American cello discography.
Acknowledged for his purposeful direction and passionate direction, stubborn perseverance, careful preparation of concert programs, and meticulous attention to selection of music, combined to reflect in all elements the Armenian spirit and character, Sayan is a purist in the art of directing and in the authentic interpretation of Armenian music.
Born in Aleppo, Syria (1928) of Daron parentage, Sayan received his early education at the local Mkhitarist School. He continued his education at the Armenian Theological Seminary in Antelias (Beirut), Lebanon. In 1948, upon completing his studies at the Seminary, Sayan returned to Syria, where he taught Armenian language, history and music in various institutions. During the tenure of the late Catholicos Zareh I, he undertook the direction of the 50-voice male choir of the Mother Cathedral of Aleppo. In 1950, he expanded his activities and organized the 90-voice Shoghakan Chorus, which he conducted for seven years.
After moving to the United States in 1957, Sayan served for a number of years as choirmaster at St. Gregory Illuminator Armenian Church in Philadelphia. In 1960, he founded the 70-plus member KNAR intercommunal Armenian Choral Group in Philadelphia, aimed at promoting pan-Armenian activities. Over the years KNAR became the spiritual anchor for the first and future cooperative efforts.
Hailed as the “Indefatigable Apostle of the Armenian Song” for the close to five decades that followed, a purist with unequal devotion and uncompromising dedication and attention to details, Sayan disseminated the treasures of Armenian musical culture through meticulously designed concerts (85) and radio and television broadcasts to Armenian and American audiences in New York, New Jersey, Washington, Richmond, Virginia, and in particular, Philadelphia, and as the musical-cultural director and chief producer of the VOA Armenian Service for 25 years (1970-1995).
In 1963, Sayan was accepted at the Komitas State Conservatory of Music in Yerevan to pursue his studies, majoring in choral direction. He graduated in 1966 with first-class honors and a dissertation titled “Armenian Religious Music of the Middle Ages.” Years later, Sayan headed the conservatory’s final examination committee for graduating conductors (1998, 2000, 2002, 2003). In 1997, he also established a scholarship fund for students of the Komitas Conservatory.
As part of his humanitarian initiatives, Sayan sponsored the complete renovation of Argavand Music School in Ararat Province, Armenia, named after him. Today, the school continues to thrive thanks to the generous funding of philanthropist, Armenian musicologist, educator and social worker Maestro Sayan. His widow Catherine continues to fund a scholarship through the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) for students who wish to study at the school. Three new scholarships dedicated to Sayan will be awarded to students with the highest grades.
The ACF houses the Arsen Sayan Collection (No.12), a treasury of major Diaspora Armenian music. Meticulously compiled and organized, the Collection is comprised of an extensive library of books, music scores, recordings of the KNAR-ANI choirs’ performances, several binders chronicling decades of activities, newspaper clippings, program notes and correspondence with composers, musicians, educators, public and cultural figures, writers, poets, scholars and national leaders. Lastly, included is a collection of memorabilia, commendations, certificates of appreciation and photographs.
Proceeds from the concert will be donated to the Romanos Melikian Music School in Yerevan on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of its founding (1923-2023).
Tickets ($20 adults, children under 12 free) can be obtained by contacting the ACF office (781-646-3090). Seating is limited. The concert will be followed by a reception.