By Phyllis Hamo
The sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church of Pasadena, built in 1924, provided an ideal setting in size and acoustics for the Lark Musical Society production of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. The magnificent concert performed on March 4, 2017, during the first week of Lent, was directed by legendary Lark conductor Vatsche Barsoumian and dedicated, in partnership with the Armenian Missionary Association of America, to the victims of the wars in Syria and Artsakh.
For an hour-and-a-half, with no intermission, Maestro Barsoumian, whose directing arms could be compared with the outstretched wings of an eagle, skillfully conducted the Lark Chorus (nearly 100 strong), the Tziatzan Treble Choir, the Lark Grand and Chamber Orchestras, the resonating pipe organ, the voices of three accomplished soloists, and a children’s choir stationed in the church’s wrap-around balcony. Soprano Shoushik Barsoumian sang the Latin sections of the Requiem, Tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan and Baritone Edward Levy performed Wilfred Owen’s poems. Local music lovers, and AMAA members who had traveled across the country were in awe.
The audience was welcomed by Ken Kevorkian, chairman of the event, and by Andranik Andy Torosyan, Chairman of the Lark Board of Directors who praised the Lark choirs and musicians and encouraged everyone to “pray for everlasting peace.” Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian, Executive Director of the Armenian Evangelical World Council offered the invocation, petitioning prayers for “victims of war in Artsakh, Syria, Armenia, and throughout the Diaspora.” The breathtaking Requiem offered an emotional prayer for peace, just as meaningful today as it was when it was first performed more than a half century ago.
The Requiem was written by Britten for the 1962 consecration of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral, a building destroyed by bombs during the Battle of Britain in 1940. According to AMAA President Dr. Nazareth Darakjian, “Britten’s War Requiem is one of the biggest masterpieces that the 20th century has produced, inspired by one of the most tragic pages of human history.”
This creation of Britten, a lifelong pacifist, combined the Latin Requiem Mass with nine wartime poems written by British poet, Wilfred Owen, who became a pacifist while serving in WW I. Through his poetry, Owen denounced the wickedness of war. Sadly, he was killed in action during WW I in France at the young age of 25. He is quoted as saying, “All a poet can do is warn.”
During her pre-concert lecture, Doris Melkonian, who holds a Master of Arts degree in Musicology from UCLA, explained how difficult it was to compose a musical work that demonstrated the concept of death. She also denoted the layers of themes within the production. .
The Lark Musical Society has served the Greater Los Angeles Community for more than 20 years with an annual student enrollment of 200, ages 5 to 20, and continuous goals in musical performance, education, and publication. More than 1000 performances have featured the works of Komitas, Sayat Nova, Chukajian, Khachaturian, Mansurian, and other Armenian and Western Classical composers. The Lark Musical Society and AMAA have been collaborating with Annual Concerts since 1996.