By Taleen Babayan
PASADENA, CA – The VEM Quartet of the University of California Los Angeles, performed for students of the AGBU Vatche & Tamar Manoukian High School on Friday, January 11, 2019, in an inspiring and educational program under the guidance of artistic director Professor Movses Pogossian.
The musical ensemble, comprised of all non-Armenian performers, played a range of classical music by renowned composers Aram Khatchatourian, Gomidas Vartabed, and Edvard Mirzoyan, including selections from the Gayane Ballet (Dance of the Rose Maidens and Lezginka) and Miniatures for the String Quartet (Shogher Jan and Gakavik).
In an effort to celebrate the culture and influence of Armenian music, this concert was part of VEM Quartet’s outreach service to the greater community. A graduate string quartet-in-residence at the prestigious UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, the VEM ensemble is comprised of diverse and gifted group members who offer quality music to the public, including violinists Ji Eun Hwang, Aiko Jimena Richter and Morgan O’Shaughnessey as well as cellist Jason Pegis and mezzo-soprano Danielle Segin.
In her welcoming remarks, Dr. Silva Karayan, Chair of the Board of Trustees Education Committee of the AGBU Vatche & Tamar Manoukian High School, noted the “special and unique occasion” of the VEM Quartet’s live performance that brings to life the vibrancy of Armenian music.
“We are proud and delighted to have the VEM Quartet perform for our students,” said Dr. Karayan. “The beauty of today’s program is that the performers, led by the award-winning Professor Pogossian, are all young and talented musicians of diverse backgrounds.”
Dr. Karayan emphasized the importance of a “well-rounded education for students” and the significance that music plays in this endeavor. She expressed gratitude to “generous benefactors” Vatche & Tamar Manoukian, who spearheaded the construction of the Performing Arts Center, which serves as a state-of-the-art venue for Armenian cultural performances, such as the VEM Quartet, to take place for the student body in order to expand their minds.
Introducing the afternoon’s program, Professor Pogossian said that the VEM Quartet is a “cultural extension” and the performers “admire and celebrate Armenian culture.”
“Through our performances we introduce Armenian music to different ethnicities and we encourage them to learn more about our culture,” said Professor Pogossian, who has been leading the Quartet since its inception five years ago.
Conveying a personal memory, he recalled the music of Gomidas Vartabed that would play continuously on April 24 at the eternal flame of Dzidzernagapert in Armenia. It was a recollection that stayed with him his entire life and that is now emanated through the VEM Quartet.
“It is very touching to me that my young colleagues at UCLA are feeling this pride in being Armenian,” he said.
The 150 students, from grade 9-12, listened intently during the hour-long performance and closely followed the program notes to learn the significance of each piece.
“The students were so attentive, captivated and inspired,” said Dr. Karayan, who is planning a return performance on campus for the VEM Quartet. “It was wonderful for students to experience quality entertainment and to be empowered and challenged as they saw in person non-Armenians appreciating and disseminating our culture.”
“Even though the musicians were not Armenian, they made the Armenian spirit in the music come alive and showed the audience that they were very interested in Armenian music and culture,” said Nanor Derbedrossian, a student at the AGBU Vatche & Tamar Manoukian High School, who herself is a piano player.
The VEM Quartet has a busy schedule ahead in the coming months as the group will embark in the Spring on an East Coast tour of Boston, Montreal and Detroit, and in June they will perform for the second time in Armenia. While in the homeland, VEM Quartet will fuse musical concerts and education through organized symposiums and workshops with UCLA’s Narekatsi Professor of Armenian Studies Peter Cowe at the American University of Armenia. Locally, the ensemble is preparing for upcoming performances at Abril Bookstore in Glendale, the Tekeyan Cultural Association in Altadena and the Hammer Museum in April to commemorate the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
“This is an excellent program that is growing,” said Pogossian in a post-concert interview. “I’m glad that one of the aspects is outreach so we can connect with Armenian communities and schools.”
He was impressed with how much the students were engaged in the concert as well as their “positive reaction to the music.” While the group currently plays classical music, Pogossian envisions that the ensemble will further evolve into Armenian folk, religious and pop music genres.
Pogossian plans to return to the AGBU Vatche & Tamar Manoukian High School in order to do a more in-depth presentation for students based on the music of contemporary Los Angeles based composer Artashes Kartalyan, Chair of Lark Conservatory’s Composition Department, who creates music based on the poetry of Vahan Tekeyan.
“It will be interesting for students to learn how a composer conceives and creates new pieces of music,” said Pogossian, a violinist who has performed with orchestras around the world, including the Brandenburger Symphoniker and the Halle Philharmonic in Germany, the Sudety Philharmonic in Poland, the Scandinavian Chamber Orchestra of New York, and the Toronto Sinfonia.
As the VEM Quartet’s longest performer, Segen said it has been “a joy from the very start” to become involved in the ensemble that was an “eye-opening experience” for her as she learned about the Armenian music and culture.
“Before, I would not have been able to place Armenia on a map, but now I have brought into my awareness such a rich culture and history of an incredible people,” said Segen, who holds a Master of Music degree from UCLA in Vocal Performance. “Being able to give that knowledge to others has been such a rewarding experience.”
Segen appreciates the opportunity to broaden her horizons and build knowledge of a new culture that “encourages us to be more thoughtful and kind to one another as people inhabiting the same earth.”
One of the highlights of participating in the VEM Quartet was the chance to travel to Armenia, which she discovered to have “a wealth of history, art, architecture, and culture.”
The trip allowed the group to forge bonds with Armenia and Segen looks forward to returning this summer, where she was touched by the warm hospitality of the people.
“We were welcomed by everyone with whom we had a chance to interact,” said Segen. “It was obvious to us how much the people of Yerevan appreciated that we, non-Armenians, were learning and performing these beautiful works by Armenian composers which we would never have come to know without this program.”