LOS ANGELES—Over 250 concertgoers gathered at the Barnsdall Theater in Hollywood, Los Angeles to enjoy the oud artistry of legendary oud master John Berberian and innovative next generation oud talent Antranig Kzirian. The evening presented guests with a unique concept of art music, classical compositions, stories and traditions of Armenian folk, interpreted on the oud with the added seasoning of generational transfer between Berberian and Kzirian. The concert’s program consisted of performance pieces accompanied by artists’ remarks, which symbolized the elements of oral tradition imbued in the Armenian interpretation of oud and the American Armenian experience. Given the crisis in Artsakh, the concert also supported the ongoing relief efforts being coordinated by the Armenian Relief Society.
“On October 8, I had the pleasure of performing in concert with ‘The Oud Player’, Antranig Kzirian. This was a duo-oud performance presented in L.A. to a capacity audience of music enthusiasts, an ‘east meets west’ production that was received with overwhelming enthusiasm and applause,” stated Berberian. “It was also a joy to see my longtime friends and music colleagues, not to mention the warm reception and generous hospitality of my hosts, Lianna and Antranig Kzirian. All in all, a fun-filled and memorable weekend. Thank you to all for coming out to hear our music. Perhaps we can do it again sometime soon.”
Berberian and Kzirian performed together once before many years ago on November 11, 2006 at a Philadelphia AYF anniversary dance, where Kzirian slid over to guitar, which was his first instrument, in honor of Berberian’s presence on the oud with Kzirian’s kef band “Aravod.” After their early collaboration, Kzirian and Berberian stayed in touch, culminating in Kzirian visiting Berberian in 2019 for an extended period of intensive oud study, which the two had planned for years to finally undertake.
“When we spent time together back in 2019, eventually manifesting in a concert together as an oud duet always felt like the organic next step. It was such a pleasure to perform with John – he’s one of the most influential and pioneering oud players,” stated Kzirian. “To be able to share the stage with such a luminary and one of our true links to Oudi Hrant Kenkulian was extraordinarily special.”
Following the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian tradition of oud mastery during the Ottoman period not only survived but thrived in the eastern United States and Fresno areas during the 20th century. Berberian and Kzirian are members of a sacred network of passionate musicians committed to staving off further endangerment of Armenian oud playing. Their lifelong objective has been to continue to breathe new life into the instrument and further its horizons.
“I think that John and I share a similar vigor for innovation and experimentation,” noted Kzirian. “That way, the instrument continues to expand its boundaries – although we are simply expressing the notes and melodies which are already there in the musical ether, we are, quite importantly, adding our voices and emotion and thus recreating and reimagining the music in new ways – and this is critical to the growth of Armenian oud playing into the future.”
To serve their goals of taking the oud into the future, Berberian and Kzirian have recorded various albums of both folk and fusion experimentation in new styles, and both musicians dedicate time for teaching the instrument to, and performing with, younger generations of musicians.
Though over a generation apart, Berberian and Kzirian locked in unison for an exciting and educational journey of Armenian oud, which left attendees chanting for repeated encores. As fate would have it, the date of the concert was 10/8, which happens to be one of the unique time signatures as a rhythm of traditional Armenian music, and the performers fittingly included a composition in 10/8 meter to mark the occasion.
The visual of the stage was impeccably enhanced by noted Armenian rug collector and enthusiast Hrach Kozibeyokian, featuring majestic rugs dating back to 1890 (Marash) and 1909 (Artsakh). The mood and atmosphere of the visual perfectly matched the tone and sonic sensory experience provided by the master oud players. Guests were also treated to thoroughly detailed program descriptions explaining composer and song histories and narratives, which helped inform the audience of the important contributions of Armenian composers of the Ottoman era. The program uniquely included the epochal contributions of music titans Kemani Tatyos Ekserciyan and Kemani Sebuh Simonyan, among various others, and also demonstrated the cultural complexity of the Armenian oud school.
“These are some of the composers we listened to as Armenian oud players over many years, and it’s important to remember their contributions and achievements to continue to preserve our tradition – and for that to inspire us as we continue our journey,” said Kzirian.
About the Musicians
John Berberian is acclaimed as one of this generation’s most treasured Armenian folk musicians. His inimitable style has brought him fame and popularity and a well-deserved title of legendary oud master. Countless fans have grown up on Berberian’s music over his distinguished career as a recording artist and stage performer. Berberian exploded into the ethnic music world in his early 20s as the featured artist in a series of highly successful recordings with such major companies as MGM, RCA Roulette, Verve and Mainstream records. A graduate of Columbia University, Berberian has been awarded several prestigious master/apprentice grants to teach and mentor aspiring Armenian oud students. He has been the featured artist in major concert halls such as Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall and New York City’s Town Hall and has been invited to lecture and demonstrate the oud at various colleges and universities throughout the country, including two highly successful concert tours throughout South America. Berberian’s music has no cultural boundaries as he has successfully incorporated the oud into the western music cultures of jazz, rock and folk. Berberian’s Middle Eastern Rock album on the Verve label in the late 1960s defined generations of world music enthusiasts and is known as one of the first Middle Eastern fusion albums. This innovative recording, 50 years after its introduction, is still in demand and highly regarded. In addition to Berberian’s passion to perpetuate Armenian music, he is also a respected and active member of the Armenian community, serving as a longtime member of the church choir, board of trustees and currently as an ordained deacon.
Antranig Kzirian is a foremost practitioner of the ancient, fretless pear-shaped string instrument which has been critical to the development and identity of Armenian music. As a versatile performer interpreting and creating music in various styles, Kzirian blends rock, classical, jazz and folk idioms for breathtaking reimaginations of vintage works, while providing unique and extravagant soundscapes as a songwriter, featured in his projects VI⋅ZA, String Harmonies and Kef Time LA. Balancing experimentation and advancement with respect for the legacy of historical Armenian oud mastery, Kzirian studied oud with distinguished musicians Ara DerMarderosian, Ara Dinkjian, John Bilezikjian and John Berberian. Kzirian’s performance and recording credits extend to Rosa Linn, Serj Tankian of System of a Down, Capital Cities and numerous others, including working directly with producers/songwriters Warren Huart and Rick Nowels. As a soloist, Kzirian’s performance collection album nOUD was recently released to critical acclaim, featuring a variety of original, traditional, classical, folk and jazz compositions highlighting the dynamic versatility and artistry of the oud. Kzirian has toured internationally with VI⋅ZA, taking the stage at the world’s preeminent festivals Sziget, Aftershock and Download, among others. He also co-founded TAQS.IM, a world music software and mobile app company dedicated to providing education and cutting-edge production technology in the realm of modal music and in the furtherance of music education teaches oud at UCLA. Kzirian is a first-call oud artist who maintains an active performance and teaching schedule and was recently a featured artist @ LAIST.com for LA Weekly. In addition to his music interests, Kzirian has remained an active member of the Armenian community wherever he has called home.