Open Music Fest In Armenia Starts On An Upbeat Note

Vincent Lima

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Friday July 31, 2009

Yerevan – Yerevan has an iconic opera house at its heart, but Aram
Gharabekian likes to take his National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia

In years past, the orchestra’s concerts at the first-century temple
of Garni and the seventh-century Zvartnots monument were quite the
hit. Now, he is going all-out (literally), spearheading a seven-week
Open Music Festival, which started out Thursday night, July 30.

The charming venue is an open-air movie theater hidden behind the
Moscow Cinema in central Yerevan.

Thanks to the generosity of Hovig Kurkjian, the amphitheater has
been equipped with a state-of-the-art sound system. Not everyone
in Armenia understands that top-notch equipment is nothing without
trained and skilled technicians to operate it. But, to their credit,
the organizers of the Open Music Fest appreciate that simple fact. The
sound system is being operated by sound consultant and engineer Guido
Kacher of Germany’s STAGETEC. The quality shows.

The program consists of 23 distinct concerts of Armenian, classical,
and world music. On August 7 it’s "Komitas 140"; three days later
its "From Vienna with Love." Jazz from Time Report will be featured
on August 18, while on September 12, clarinetist Michel Lethiec of
France will join the NCOA for "Gershwin & Friends."

The closing gala on Armenia’s Independence Day, September 21, will
feature Federico Mondelci from Italy on the saxophone and mezzo-soprano
Anna Maria Chiuri, also from Italy.

Opening concert

The opening concert started with fanfare performed by the Vahagn Dhol
Ensemble, directed by Araz Ordinian. The drummers are talented. Their
act often involves some theatrics with the dhols. That was not possible
at this venue, where space is at a premium.

The ensemble returned at the end to help generate a rousing finale.

The NCOA performed a joyful and playful medley titled "Khachaturiana,"
after which it was joined by mezzo soprano Anna Mailyan, who smilingly
performed three popular songs by Komitas and Altunian. The orchestra
then performed "Badinerie" by Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) and the
Presto from Mozart’s Symphony No. 24.

Aramo then joined the orchestra to perform an aria by J.S. Bach. In
the style of Bobby McFerrin, he used his voice as an instrument. The
words were purposely indistinct, but the sound was rich.

Time for some toys

Next on stage was a group of well-known artists to perform Haydn’s
Toy Symphony for toy trumpet, drum, cuckoo, nightingale, rattle, and
triangle. Actors Harutiun Movsisian and Raphael Kontanjyan, soprano
Araxia Davtian, and jazzist Martin Vardazarian had a lot of fun,
tuning their toy instruments and laughing with the audience.

After Khachaturian and Altunian, the orchestra paid tribute
to two prominent living composers, Tigran Mansurian and Edward
Mirzoian. Mansurian took a bow after they performed the Ragtime from
his ballet, The Snow Maiden. And Mirzoian took a bow after the debut
of a new choral piece he had written. A heavy and difficult piece
based on a classical Armenian text, it was performed by the wonderful
Hover Ensemble.

The 12-year-old Narek Kazazian dazzled the audience with a kanon
performance. He presented "Perpetuo Mobile" by Khachatur Avetisian

Then, Mario Stefano Pietrodarchi, straight from Italy, took the stage
with his bandoneon and accordion. In an uplifting performance of
Astor Piazzolla’s work, he was joined by the chamber orchestra and
earned a huge ovation.

As it was close to 11 p.m., it was time for the children to come to
the stage. The Armenian Little Singers always bring joy to audiences
with their upbeat performances, and this evening was no exception. The
44-member group started out with something in English, "In the Mood"
by Joe Garland. Their artistic director and principal conductor,
Tigran Hekekian, shared the stage with Mr. Gharabekian, as the evening
headed for the grand finale.

The Vahagn Dhol Ensemble was back. The audience of perhaps 800,
conducted by Mr. Gharabekian, joined in with rhythmic clapping, as
the children, the drummers, and the orchestra performed Strauss’s
"Radetzky March."

After enjoying a fun-filled and technically flawless concert in the
moonlight in the heart of Yerevan – with the mayor of the Armenian
capital in one of the front rows – it seemed entirely fitting to
wrap up the evening with a rousing performance of "Yerevan-Erebuni"
(music by Edgar Oganessian, words by Paruir Sevak).

It was a great start to a promising festival.