A heartfelt Musical Armenia concert at Carnegie Hall

Musical Armenia

NEW YORK—It was a concert not to be missed. Two young and talented Armenian musicians wowed a sold-out audience at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall with their musical gifts – 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 annual concerts have introduced many talented rising musicians, several of whom have advanced to international careers. 

On the afternoon of Sunday, March 3, 2024 Prelate Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian 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.”    

Pianist Tigran Mardanyan

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

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

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 interpretation, without moving his body back and forth in emotion, as many performers are prone to do. His keyboard mastery was rewarded with a long standing ovation. 

Tigran Mardanyan

Composer and Pianist Grigori Balasanyan

After intermission, the Burbank String Quartet with violinists Gaia Sbeghen and Celeste Di Men, violist Victoria Skinner and cellist Ricardo Sardiñas, master’s 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 personal tribute to his homeland, with its Armenian musical feelings, reflected the emotions of many in the audience, who may have been in similar circumstances. 

The Burbank String Quartet

Balasanyan then entered the stage to play his composition on the piano with trumpeter Tony Donatelle. “Farewell Yerevan” is an emotional remembrance 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,” Balasanyan said. “The flugelhorn emerges as a poignant voice representing the personal connection between the composer and Yerevan.” 

“Armenian Rhapsody” on the piano reflected the composer’s powerful feelings and memories of Armenia’s lofty mountains, cultural monuments and unique nature. As Balasanyan ended his composition, he sat quietly, panting heavily, demonstrating the immense trauma that his departure from his beloved homeland has 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 and baroque influences. It displayed Balasanyan’s technical prowess and virtuosity and brought on another ovation. 

Grigori Balasanyan performing with trumpeter Tony Donatelle

The concert concluded with an encore performance by Mardanyan of the lyrically beautiful “Elegy” by Arno Babajanyan. Mardanyan played this much-loved and often performed piece with all the pathos, passion and longing it deserves, the music again displaying the artists’ heartbreak in departing from their beloved homeland.

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 flower bouquets to each artist.

The decades-long acclaimed and famed concert pianist and composer Sahan Arzruni, who attended this outstanding concert, commented that both Mardanyan and Balasanyan showed “much potential.” “They did a great job!” he praised.

Reception at Prelacy Headquarters

In welcoming the artists to the reception, Archbishop 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. Mardanyan called it “a huge responsibility.” He admitted feeling nervous before the concert, but once he started playing, he said, “My heart and mind were on the music.” 

Balasanyan voiced that though he was “very nervous with this big honor at Carnegie Hall,” he was 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. 

Musical Armenia reception at the Eastern Prelacy

Two Outstanding Artists

Balasanyan, born 2004 in Yerevan, began composing music at age eight and has played the piano since age five. He has a diploma in composition and piano studies from Yerevan’s Alexander Spendiaryan Specialized Music School. 

His first ballet, “The Hairless Porcupine,” based on a fairy tale written by Nouneh Sarkissian, was recorded in 2019 by the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sergey Smbatyan. Winner of many international and local composition competitions, he has produced two CD albums, multiple multimedia collaborations and several short film scores.

Currently, 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,” premiered with the Horizon Ensemble in October 2023 in Boston’s Church of the Covenant.

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 international piano competitions in Spain, Italy and South Korea, and second prizes in France, Belgium, Poland and Russia.

He won his first prize at age 11 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 performed Rachmaninoff’s First Piano Concerto with the Boston Conservatory at Worcester’s Mechanics Hall.

He has performed solo at the COAF Gala, the World Bank and U.S. Congress in 2017, in Germany in 2017, in France in 2018 and 2019, in Moscow 2018 and in Beirut in 2018. 

The Musical Armenia Committee comprises 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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