NEW YORK—It is rare for an event to be dedicated to both gratitude and grief.
On Wednesday evening, September 20, at St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral, a sold-out classical music concert was held, originally planned and organized to celebrate the 32nd year of the second independence of Armenia.
However, the day before, on September 19, a massive military assault was carried out by Azerbaijan against the 120,000 starving Armenians on their ancestral holy land of Artsakh.
As a result, the Eastern Armenian Diocese, Primate Very Rev. Fr. Mesrop Parsamyan and the organizing committee decided that the proceeds from the concert will be given to the people of Artsakh through the Fund for Armenian Relief.
Clergy in attendance included Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, former Eastern Diocesan Primate and current Pontifical Legate of Western Europe and Representative of the Armenian Church to the Holy See; St. Vartan Cathedral Vicar Rev. Fr. Davit Karamyan; St. Nersess Dean Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian; and Very Rev. Fr. Parsamyan.
In his welcoming address, the Primate said that “tonight we are also carrying a heavy burden of painful news in our hearts. We woke up yesterday learning about yet another surprise attack on our ancestral land of Artsakh that has already resulted in the loss of many innocent lives, including children.”
Solemnly, the Primate stated, “I must be honest with you – the first thought that came to our mind was to cancel tonight’s concert. And yet, after some thoughtful consideration, we realized that it would not be the way of the Armenian people. With a strength of heart and faith in God, we have faced every evil and adversity one can imagine throughout our history – and yet we have endured with patience and resilience as a people of God, as a nation and as a civilization.”
Calling the concert “a testament to our strength, unwavering hope and the endurance of the Armenian civilization,” he declared, “no matter how many times the enemy tries to eliminate us from the face of this earth and erase our culture, heritage and faith, we will continue to fortify our faith, create goodness and share with people our rich cultural heritage.”
Prayer for Peace in Artsakh
The Primate led the concert attendees in a moment of silence “in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Artsakh, and in tribute to the losses of these past days and past years in our beloved homeland.”
Very Rev. Fr. Parsamyan prayed for God’s “divine mercy for the protection of our fellow brothers and sisters in Armenia as they faced attacks and unprovoked aggression against the peace-loving people of Nagorno-Karabakh. Loving God, listen to the voice of our supplications, and help the innocent civilians of our ancestral land Artsakh, who are under continuous bombardment and assaults by Azerbaijani forces.”
The Primate prayed for God’s protection, courage, resolve and strength for our homeland, and to increase the “wisdom among those who are at the helm of the state so they can wisely lead our people during these dangerous times for the Armenian nation.”
He closed with a prayer for the courageous souls who have died “in these brutal and genocidal attacks” and prayed for the “spirit of courage, unity, care and love for one another, and understanding so we can stand up for the truth and help each other during times of trial and tribulation, especially for our brothers and sisters in Armenia.”
The 45-piece MidAtlantic Philharmonic Orchestra was positioned in front of the altar with Maestro Jason Tramm, its acclaimed choral, symphonic and operatic conductor.
Award-winning pianist Kariné Poghosyan, who has had several sold-out recitals at Carnegie Hall and has a worldwide following with multiple glowing press reports, then entered wearing an elegant gold gown, her right wrist adorned with satin displaying the red, blue and orange colors of the Armenian flag.
Poghosyan began playing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor,” filling every crevice of the vast cathedral with the soulful and towering piano and orchestral masterpiece, with its different themes and thudding climax.
The pianist and conductor reflected the expressiveness and sentimentality of this epic work with their powerful virtuosity and emotional delivery. They were rewarded with a resounding standing ovation.
Aram Khachaturian’s “Piano Concerto in D-flat Major” followed, employing soulful Armenian folk melodies, unique harmonies and colorful orchestration. Again, the pianist, conductor and orchestra displayed their mastery resulting in another long standing ovation.
Poghosyan then presented an encore, the much-loved “Toccata” for solo piano by Khachaturian, displaying her artistry with skill, sweep and control, once again reflecting the composer’s Armenian roots through the piece’s folk melodies and rhythms.
Rev. Fr. Karamyan expressed appreciation to the generous benefactors of the event: Harry and Suzanne Toufayan, Vicki Shoghag Hovhanessian and John Mahdessian in memory of his father Noubar Mahdessian.
“Our music has always reflected the pain and hope of our people and nation,” Rev. Fr. Karamyan said.
Organizer of the concert and its committee, Vicki Shoghag Hovanessian, expressed appreciation to Very Rev. Fr. Parsamyan “for his vision in encouraging this cultural event,” and to Rev. Fr. Karamyan and the hardworking committee for their “invaluable help.”
Hovanessian then sadly reflected on the 10-month blockade and brutal attack on Artsakh and its people. “It is our prayer and resolute conviction that we will face these atrocities and difficulties with the resilient spirit of our nation.”
The organizing committee included co-chair Seta Pascalian Kantarjian and members Sossy Setrakian, Lily Sarkissian, Yn. Alla Terzyan Karamyan and Tamar Barsamian Degermenci.
Following the event, a solemn gathering of concert attendees took place on the St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral Plaza. Arts aficionado John Wolohojian reflected the feelings of many, saying the concert “was so important to show the timeless and heroic spirit of Armenia and Artsakh. And it is crucial to help the people in Artsakh as much as we can.”