TORONTO–The International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (IIGHRS), a division of the Zoryan Institute, recently announced its sponsorship of the Remembrance Concert Tour dedicated to the victims of all genocides. The tour features the music of Gomidas Vartabed (1869-1935) and stars Isabel Bayrakdarian, who has captivated audiences worldwide with her beautiful and moving soprano voice.
Why is the IIGHRS sponsoring such a concert tour? Perhaps Bayrakdarian expressed it best when she said, “Their objective is to raise awareness of genocide, this gross violation of human rights, through the concert tour’s profound theme of remembrance.” As the grandchild of a survivor, Bayrakdarian’s work with Zoryan’s IIGHRS is a natural partnership.
“We believe in using every opportunity and medium to educate the public at large about this heinous crime,” said George Shirinian, the institute’s executive director. “And in this case, it is through the musical genius of Gomidas and Isabel’s interpretation of it. Defending truth and human rights is everybody’s business. We must all do our part,” he added.
“Gomidas, who collected, purified, and preserved the essence of Armenian music, had his life and music interrupted by the Armenian Genocide,” explained Greg Sarkissian, president of the Zoryan Institute. “Only God knows how many other musical and artistic geniuses have been lost to humanity due to the many genocides in the past seven decades alone–Cambodia, the Jewish Holocaust, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, and now Darfur. It is therefore imperative that we use this venue to bring about the awareness of and the sensitivity for this universal trauma. It is equally important that the survivors of genocide and their descendants, whatever their ethnicity, generously support our institute for such a large undertaking–stretching from New York to San Francisco, from Vancouver to Toronto–not only by attending the concert itself, but also by helping the institute underwrite the enormous costs involved.”
“The program of the concert tour is woven around the orchestral arrangemen’s of Gomidas’ folk songs and relates to the music and culture of all persecuted nations,” explained Bayrakdarian. “There are other gems included in this unique program, such as Maurice Ravel’s %u218Kaddish,’ a prayer which is one of the masterpieces of Jewish liturgy, %u218Three Pieces in the Olden Style’ by Henryk Gorecki, best known for his stunning %u218Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ depicting misery and death in a Gestapo cell, and Nikos Skalkottas’ undiscovered %u218Greek Dances.’”
As pianist Serouj Kradjian noted, “On April 24, 1915, Gomidas Vartabed was one of 300 Armenian intellectuals arrested and deported in the first stage of the Armenian Genocide masterminded by the Ottoman government, during the course of which some one-and-a-half million Armenia’s perished. Due to the efforts of U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Gomidas was one of the few to return alive, only to find that he had lost everything–friends, students, and most of his life’s work. He succumbed to intense physical and mental anguish, became a ghost of his former vigorous self, and never composed or sang again. He died in a mental institution near Paris on Oct. 22, 1935. Gomidas purified Armenian music of all foreign influences and gave it back to its people, laying the foundations of a national music culture. This explains his rightful recognition as the %u218father of Armenian classical music.’”
Through Serouj and Isabel’s journey of discovery with Gomidas, they learned that one doesn’t have to be Armenian to be touched by his work. There is a mystical and a universally soul-stirring quality to his songs, with an air of blissful sadness and child-like simplicity that captures and moves the listener regardless of nationality, race, or religion.
The North American tour dates and venues are: Oct. 4–San Francisco Performances (Herbst Theatre); Oct. 5–Philharmonic Society of Orange County, Calif. (Renee & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall); Oct. 7–Vancouver Symphony (Orpheum Theatre); Oct. 17–Toronto (Roy Thomson Hall); Oct. 19–Boston Celebrity Series (Jordan Hall); Oct. 20–New York City (Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall).