The Christmas holidays have long been a time of faith and renewal, a celebration of the passing of the old year and the coming of the new, and a time to gather with family and friends. This year’s Erevan Choral Society and Orchestra’s Christmas Holiday Concert, held on December 14, at Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church in Cambridge, enthusiastically embraced the tradition, commemorating familiar voices in part by bringing in new ones.
The concert celebrated a pair of historic anniversaries: the 145th anniversary of Gomidas (Komitas) Vartabed and the centenary of noted Armenian composer Aram Satunts. Priest, composer, founder of Armenian ethnomusicology, whose career was tragically shattered by the Armenian Genocide of 1915, Gomidas’ name is famous worldwide. Fittingly, for a musician who was both innovator and preserver of tradition, Gomidas was represented by two performers new to Erevan Choral. Accomplished recitalist soprano Kate Norigian, a former student of famed Italian soprano Renata Scotto, thrilled the audience with her stirring and lyrical renditions of two of Gomidas’s settings of Armenian folk melodies, “Dzidzernag” (“The Swallow”) and “Gakavig” (“The Partridge”). In addition, Norigian offered two more performances: Adolphe Adam’s “O Holy Night,” and a setting of “Aysor Don E Soorp Dznuntyan” (“Today is the Feast of the Nativity”) by Composer Konstantin Petrossian, director of the Erevan Choral Society. Following Norigian’s splendid performances, duduk player David Gevorkian entranced the audience with a rendition of Gomidas’ haunting melody “Chinar es.”
Less-known outside Armenian musical circles, Aram Satunts represented the generation that rebuilt Armenian music after the calamities of the early 20th century. A prolific composer of vocal and orchestral music, Satunts’ melody “Shnorhavor Nor Dari” (“Happy New Year”) was reprised by the chorus and orchestra. Also gracing the evening was Satunts’ son, noted contemporary composer Aram Satian, President since 2013 of the Armenian Union of Composers and a professor at the Komitas Conservatory in Yerevan. In addition to offering heartfelt remarks at the end of the evening, Satian was able to hear the US premiere performance of an aria, “Ave Maria,” from his popular opera Lilit, performed by the rising operatic soprano Narine Ojakhyan who first performed with Erevan Choral in 2013, in Cranston, Rhode Island. A graduate of the Komitas State Conservatory and the Royal Academy of Music in London, Ojakhyan also delighted the audience with the world premiere of Composer Petrossian’s “Iriknayin meghedee” (“Nocturne”), dedicated to the memory of the Erevan Choral Society founder, the Very Rev. Fr. Oshagan Minassian (d. 2008), and his mother, Diramayr Sirvart Minassian. Ojakhyan rounded out her performance with a crystalline and note-perfect rendition of the “Alleluia” from Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate, receiving great appreciation from those in attendance.
The balance of the concert featured a mix of familiar and newer repertoire, from such Christmas standards as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and settings of Armenian hymns such as “Khorhout Medz” to John Rutter’s “Star Carol” and “We Need a Little Christmas” from the musical Mame, with a touch of gravitas provided by the chorus “The Shepherds’ Farewell” from Berlioz’ oratorio The Childhood of Christ and the opening chorus from Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria.” As is traditional, the musical program concluded with the “Hallelujah” Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. In keeping with the evening’s theme of continuity and renewal, Fr. Vasken Kouzouian, pastor of Holy Trinity and longstanding and generous supporter of the Erevan Choral Society, delivered the opening welcome, while the final benediction was delivered by His Beatitude Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem. In his remarks, His Beatitude offered Christmas blessings from Bethlehem and the Holy Land, encouraging those assembled to visit and touch the holy places where Our Lord was born and rose from the Tomb.
All in all, the evening represented the best aspects of the season and its reminders of fellowship and good cheer: the generosity of parishioners, clergy and supporters, the talents and best efforts of the musicians, the inspiration and dedication of the composers, soloists, and director, and the promise of hope and renewal that make Christmas such an enduring and beloved time of the year.