“Forget-Me-Not”: Sinfonia Toronto’s Commemorative Concert

“Forget-Me-Not”: Sinfonia Toronto’s Commemorative Concert –

 As Armenians throughout the world commemorate the centennial of the 1915 genocide through various events, musical concerts of the highest caliber have brought together internationally acclaimed artists – both Armenian and non-Armenian – to bear witness to the vibrant culture of a nation that refuses to die. Toronto has had its share of fine musical concerts as part of its commemorative programs, the last of which took place on Saturday, November 7, at the George Weston Recital Hall of the Toronto Centre for the Arts, under the artistic direction of Maestro Nurhan Arman, conductor of the Sinfonia Toronto string orchestra. Rightly titled “Forget-Me-Not” (after the delicate purple flower that became the official symbol of the genocide centennial), it was indeed an unforgettable concert: a true highlight in the cultural life of the Toronto Armenian community.

 The Forget-Me-Not Concert committee had been planning this evening for over a year, and came up with several symbolic details to make this memorial event as meaningful and impressive as possible. The beautifully designed program booklet contained an excerpt from the introductory essay by Alan Whitehorn, “The Armenian Genocide: The Essential Reference Guide”, complete with period photographs and a map of historic Armenia 1915-1923. A full page was dedicated to a detailed description of the symbolism of the Forget-Me-Not logo.

 In her introductory speech, Ms. Lynn Anoush Isnar reminded the audience that the Toronto Armenian community is fortunate to count two genocide survivors among its members: Mrs. Sirvard Kurdian, born in Erzurum in 1912, and Mrs. Eugenie Kokorian, born during the exile in 1915. Mrs. Kokorian, who was present that night, received the acknowledgement of the audience. The first row of seats was left empty and a minute of silence was observed in memory of the martyrs.

 The guest speaker of the day was award-winning actress Arsinée Khanjian who, in a very thoughtful and inspiring speech, discussed the importance of the genocide centennial for Armenians, Turks and the international communityi. In addition to her acting credits, Ms. Khanjian holds a master’s degree in Political Science, and is a member of the Corporate Board of the Zoryan Institute for international genocide and human rights studies.

 It was refreshing to see a musical program almost entirely consisting of works that were new to the Toronto audience. To quote the Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of Canada, “What makes this concert even more extraordinary is the platform it offers to showcase the musical works of the descendants of first generation Genocide survivors.” By doing so, the concert seemed to fulfil its objective to be “a musical tribute to the enduring spirit of a nation”. Maestro Nurhan Arman had carefully chosen the musical selections to express feelings of loss and longing, but also hope and joy.

 Edward Mirzoyan’s (1921-2012) “Poem Epitaph” for string ensemble was written in 1988 for the 10th anniversary of the death of his close friend and colleague Aram Khachaturian. Maestro Arman explained that in his opinion, this work is “one of the most deeply felt elegies composed in the 20th century”.

 The following work, “Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra” by Alexander Arutiunian (1920-2012), was also written in 1988, around the time of the powerful earthquake that devastated parts of Armenia and killed over 40,000 people. Sinfonia Toronto was joined by the talented violinist and rising star, Nuné Melikian, a top prize winner at various international competitions. Ms. Melikian played on a 1750 Carl Ferdinando Landolfi violin, given to her by Canada Council Music Instrument Bank. Her warm, velvety tone beautifully highlighted the intensity of the first and third movements, while her flawless technique and youthful energy did justice to the playful and capricious second movement as well as the bravura fourth movement.

 The second part of the concert opened with Tigran Mansurian’s (b.1939) “Canti Paralleli”, written between 2008 and 2012, first as a work for soprano and piano, and later as a soprano-piano-string orchestra version. These “parallel songs” consisted of four pairs of poems, each by one of four great Armenian poets (Baghdasar Dpir, Yeghishe Charents, Avetik Isahakyan and Vahan Teryan). Maestro Mansurian’s singular treatment of the poems and the voice are the fruit of an extensive research into various cultures (European Renaissance to Modern periods, Russian, Armenian). Internationally acclaimed soprano Hasmik Papian masterfully brought out the deep melancholy in these four pairs of songs with her rich, expressive and limpid voice, accompanied by Sinfonia Toronto and Michael Berkovsky at the piano.

 Vaché Sharafyan’s “Divertissement” indicated a change to a much lighter mood. Sharafyan (b. 1966), is considered as one of the most prominent living composers in Armenia, and has collaborated with renowned musicians like Yo Yo Ma, Yuri Bashmet and many others. The performed selection was the second movement of a string quintet that the composer had graciously arranged for string orchestra for this special occasion.

 If the novelty of the program was somewhat taxing for some audience members, they had a chance to indulge in the comfort of familiarity with the final work on the program, the ever-popular “Waltz” from Aram Khachaturian’s (1903-1978) “Masquerade Suite”, arranged for string ensemble by Nurhan Arman. This work was composed in 1941 shortly before the invasion of the USSR by Germany, and reflects the tension that gripped the composer because of the approaching war.

 No Armenian concert is complete without the inclusion of Komitas, the “father” of Armenian classical music, without whom, as Maestro Arman noted, “none of this music would have existed”. Indeed, the audience was treated to four encores, all works by Komitas. Ms. Melikian ended her performance with an unaccompanied and mesmerizing version of “Tsirani Tsar”. Ms. Papian’s “Krounk”, accompanied at the piano by Michael Berkovsky, brought the concert to an emotional high, drawing enthusiastic applause from the audience. Maestro Arman concluded the concert with the performance of two lively and popular works, “Habrban” and “Dance of Vagharshapat” arranged for string orchestra, bringing an ecstatic audience to its feet.

 The public greeted Maestro Arman, Sinfonia Toronto and the two outstanding soloists, violinist Nuné Melikian and soprano Hasmik Papian with a long standing ovation. Our sincerest congratulations go to all the performers as well as the organizing committee for their tremendous effort to make the Forget-Me-Not commemorative concert a uniquely inspiring and fulfilling experience that will remain engraved in our memories for a very long time.

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