Rhode Island Wind Ensemble’s “Echoes of Ararat” concert a resounding success

The Rhode Island Wind Ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Robert Franzblau, performs with the guest Armenian musicians at “Echoes of Ararat” on Sunday, April 14, 2024 (Photo: GVK Images)

As soon as the first notes played at the “Echoes of Ararat” concert on Sunday, April 14, it was clear to the audience at the Armenian Evangelical Church (AEC) sanctuary in Cranston, Rhode Island that it would be an exceptional musical experience.

The concert was the brainchild of Dr. Robert Franzblau, conductor and music director of the Rhode Island Wind Ensemble (RIWE), and Esther Kalajian, a prominent member of the AEC community. Dr. Franzblau became familiar with Armenian music first as a young musician, then as a colleague of Kalajian’s son, Charles, and further through personal interest and research. 

Dr. Franzblau and Kalajian were committed to making the concert a reality, and the idea germinated throughout the pandemic shutdown. “Our ensemble did not meet or play a note of music together for 20 months – almost two years!” Franzblau told the Weekly. As part of the slow recovery from that time, they worked together to compile a meaningful program. Judging by the audience’s enthusiastic response, they succeeded.

Sponsored by the Ararat Association, an organization highly regarded for its philanthropy throughout the Rhode Island community, the concert was held in the AEC sanctuary. “The Armenian Evangelical Church was the first Armenian church in RI, founded in 1889, and served as a beacon for those seeking a new life,” Kalajian said in her opening remarks. “It is fitting that this concert occur in our church sanctuary, since Armenia was the first nation to accept Christianity in 301 A.D., and our culture has survived even with the horrific attempts to extinguish it.” Kalajian pointed out that with April being Genocide Awareness Month in the state, it was an especially appropriate time for this event to be held.

Harry Bedrossian (oud), Leon Janikian (clarinet), Charles Kalajian (percussion) and Ken Kalajian (guitar) opened the “Echoes of Ararat” concert

In addition to the wonderful musicians of the RI Wind Ensemble, Dr. Franzblau assembled a group of guest musicians who performed both separately and with the entire ensemble. Harry Bedrossian (oud), Leon Janikian (clarinet), Charles Kalajian (percussion) and Ken Kalajian (guitar) are popular and well-respected musicians in Rhode Island and beyond. Their contributions to the concert were noteworthy, first by opening the event with traditional Armenian pieces, including Bingeol and Dinata Dinata, recognized and appreciated by the audience, and second by performing Wind Chimes for 1915 with the wind ensemble.

A full Armenian Evangelical Church in Cranston, RI for the “Echoes of Ararat” concert on April 14, 2024 (Photo: GVK Images)

Wind Chimes for 1915 left audience members emotional and awestruck. I attended with family and friends, and we all had tears from the heartfelt performance of the piece. Ken Kalajian composed the piece, which was then arranged for wind ensemble by his son Charles’ close friend, Zach Friedland, who sadly passed away at a much-too-young age from illness. 

Before beginning the piece, Ken explained that it was “composed to honor the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and pay tribute to all who perished in that terrible time.” He went on to provide the following explanation of the music’s trajectory: “The piece begins in a solemn and sober mood, almost like a funeral march, for us to remember the victims of the Genocide. The second movement signifies the transition period, where the survivors rose through the ashes of the Genocide and made their way to find new homelands all over the world to start a new life. The third movement is a celebration of sorts for the great success and contributions that Armenians have made throughout the world after almost being totally annihilated.”

As I listened to the composition’s progression through the movements, my emotions followed the narrative, ending on a breathless note. From my observations of fellow attendees, I was not alone in that response, which led to a resounding standing ovation. Notably, throughout the concert, the acoustics and ambiance within the sanctuary lent themselves to a fulfilling musical experience.

“I was humbled to have the RI Wind Ensemble perform my piece, Wind Chimes for 1915, in my church sanctuary,” Kalajian said. “It was very emotional for me. I will never forget the talent of Zach Friedland, who in 2015, arranged the music to be played by a wind ensemble.”

Every piece in the program that followed was a tribute to Armenian music and composers, including the prolific Alan Hovhaness and Gomidas. As I observed the skilled RIWE musicians, it was clear they were enjoying the music they were playing and appreciated the audience response. Dr. Franzblau explained that the 50-member volunteer ensemble consists of both professional and avocational musicians who are dedicated to performing for the community.

Guest soloist soprano Joanne Mouradjian gave a heartfelt performance (Photo: GVK Images)

Dr. Franzblau also invited community member and soprano Joanne Mouradjian to add her beautiful vocal performance to the program. Mouradjian expressed that she was honored to perform her chosen selections to honor the memory of her genocide survivor grandparents. She was accompanied on piano by Ann Sears. Many of us in the audience recognized the songs, including Gakavi Yerk, Oror and Groong, and her lilting and heartfelt delivery evoked a wistful remembrance of a generation now sadly gone.

Dr. Franzblau, who recently retired from teaching and conducting music at the college level and is in his 15th year with RIWE, selected another rousing piece to close the program. He explained: “I came to know the beauty of Gomidas’s music through Armenian Dances by Alfred Reed. This beautifully-crafted setting of five traditional Armenian tunes has long been a favorite composition of many band musicians.” The ensemble’s rousing performance once again brought the audience to its feet.

While there was no fee for attendance, the organizers were accepting freewill donations to benefit the AMAA’s Khoren and Shooshanig Avedisian School in Armenia, ultimately raising almost $4,000 for the school.

As I mingled and spoke with guests after the performance, without exception they expressed deep appreciation to the organizers, and especially to Dr. Franzblau and RIWE for choosing to so beautifully perform Armenian music during this meaningful month.

“RIWE’s mission is to provide audiences of diverse ages and cultural backgrounds access to live music of the highest quality and to present the best in traditional wind band repertoire alongside music of underrepresented and historically disenfranchised communities,” Franzblau told the Weekly. “This concert came about as a result of two things: my friendship with Charlie Kalajian and my growing familiarity with and love for Armenian music.”

With the “Echoes of Ararat” concert, Dr. Franzblau and the RI Wind Ensemble achieved their mission.

Pauline Getzoyan

Pauline Getzoyan

Pauline Getzoyan is editor of the Armenian Weekly and an active member of the Rhode Island Armenian community. A longtime member of the Providence ARF and ARS, she also is a former member of the ARS Central Executive Board. An advocate for genocide education, Pauline is the chair of the RI Holocaust & Genocide Education Commission and co-chair of the RI branch of The Genocide Education Project. In addition, she has been an adjunct instructor of developmental reading and writing in the English department at the Community College of Rhode Island since 2005.

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