BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
On Sunday morning, my sister-in-law called and said she had one extra ticket for Ruben Matevosyan’s sold out concert at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium that evening. I told her that I could use the ticket.
It’s fair to say that Maestro (as they call him) Ruben Matevosyan has been one of the most popular and respected folklore singers of Armenia for the last four decades. Recently, he was in the news when on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Republic of Armenia’s independence he, alongside of the legendary singer Ofelia Hambardzumyan, received the “Sourp Mesrob Mashtots” medal for his exceeding merit and great service to Armenian song and culture.
Thinking back to my childhood, I remember that before Matevosyan, Hovannes Badalyan was the star folksinger. We Iranian-Armenians especially liked Badalyan because he had migrated from Iran to the Soviet Union. I guess we felt a kinship with him, and of course he had a golden voice too.
In Tehran, among Armenian households it was common in the evenings to gather around the radio and listen to the broadcast from Yerevan. Our parents were delighted that they could hear Radio Yerevan and become familiar with Armenian songs and the latest cultural trends.
As kids we weren’t so interested in listening the Radio Yerevan, but our parents’ fascination told us volumes. I’m not sure how 50 or even 60 years ago we got radio reception from the Soviet Union, but we did.
I particularly remember one New Year’s Eve, probably in the late 1950s, when my parents were out and we kids gathered around the radio and listened to a play broadcast from Radio Yerevan.
Although the play is blurred in my mind, I can still recall its revolutionary theme. In those years, radio dramas were very popular. With no visual component, the oratory and sound effects were so powerful that they stirred a lot of emotions. I couldn’t say, now, how such a revolutionary theme was allowed in those days to be broadcast by Radio Yerevan.
The play was about a fight between a group of young Armenians and government officials. Now that I search deep in my mind, this might be the only radio drama I can still recall from that era. At the climax of the play officials capture the protagonist, a young woman, and escort her into a streetcar, and we hear her shouting, “Yes, Dashnaktzakanem.” I can still hear her voice from the streetcar, screaming that she is a Dashnak. And that’s how the play ended or at least that’s the way I remember it ending.
Back to Matevosyan… A sold out concert truly meant sold out. Built in 1932, the historic Pasadena Civic Auditorium has a total of 3,029 seats. ARTN Shant TV, which organized the lovely 70th birthday celebration for Matevosyan, told me that indeed, all 3,029 seats were sold.
I picked up my mother-in-law and her friend and drove from Glendale to Pasadena, a short 10-minute drive. To avoid the regular Sunday afternoon traffic on Colorado Street, I exited at Fair Oaks and took side streets. Soon I realized that everyone seemed to have my route in mind. The line to make a left onto Green Street was 3 blocks long, maybe a 15 to 20-minute wait. I got another bright idea; I continued straight on Marengo, crossed Green Street and entered the parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel right behind the Civic Auditorium. I was happy to beat the crowd.
Ruben Matevosyan established his place as one of the most popular Armenian singers during his twenties. Today at 70, he is considered the greatest master of Armenian songs. The concert was an unprecedented tribute to him as a legendary singer from abroad in “odar aperoom” – on foreign shores.
The concert was peppered with duets of Matevosyan singing with younger singers such as Alla Levonyan, Armand Hovannesyan and Hovannes Shahbazian. Some songs were accompanied by dance ensembles and we also heard a few solo performances on traditional Armenian instruments. Each performance was followed by a rousing applause and at the end of the concert there was an enthusiastic standing ovation.
It is heartwarming to see the outpouring of support for Armenian arts and culture in “odar aperoom”. A few days before the concert, on Friday December 2nd, there was a screening of Suzanne Khardalian’s “Grandma’s Tattoos.” The crowd gathered at the Glendale Main Library for this event was again at capacity. In fact, the organizers had to turn away about 100 people.
The outbursts of enthusiasm I see on these “foreign shores,” certainly indicates that Diaspora is firmly standing behind the Armenian cause. And I hope the outpouring of the support will continue and even grow bigger.
Catherine Yesayan is a contributor to Asbarez. You may reach her at [email protected] or read her stories on her blog.