NEW YORK, NY – Thousands tuned in to hear the sweet-sounding melodies that echoed in solidarity from New York to the homeland during the inaugural “Together for Armenia” digital concert, held virtually on Thursday, July 28. Led by master pianist Sahan Arzruni and featuring violinist Ani Kavafian, oudist Ara Dinkjian and opera singer Christopher Nazarian, the virtual effort benefited the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) and its humanitarian programs.

During a precarious time when the music industry has been altered and live concerts have shifted to the digital world as the pandemic stretches on, the passion for music – from musicians and audience members alike – has not diminished. Instead, musicians have turned to support causes, such as through the “Together for Armenia” concert series that aims to raise money to support the critical initiatives of FAR – an organization that provides aid to the most vulnerable in Armenia and Artsakh by effectively impacting issues from child protection to healthcare to education and to the elderly.

The inaugural concert featured works by Komitas, Bach, Gusan Ashot and Arno Babajanian and as the series continues, Arzruni plans to include Armenian sacred, folk, jazz, pop, as well as compositions from the standard repertoire.

“The audience is there to be entertained so I selected pieces that are familiar,” said Arzruni, an ethnomusicologist who offers commentary about the music in between sets. “The most important criteria is to maintain a very high standard.”

While the 30-minute concert was a seamless watch that delighted audiences, Arzruni acknowledged the diligent work behind the scenes. “The main challenge in organizing the concert was to have it all synchronized,” said Arzruni, who noted that each musician recorded separately, in a different locale, at a different time.

“When I played with Ani, for example, she was in her home and I was in mine playing Komitas’s Krunk, separately, but together.” He credited FAR’s technical team who arranged the recordings and editing with great efficacy and masterful skill.

The bi-monthly concert series, which will have a run of at least 12 performances over the next six months, will feature a mix of performers and musical genres while incorporating artists beyond the United States to provide an even more fulfilling experience for viewers.

“Judging from its premiere tribute to Armenia, FAR is mounting an engrossing series featuring celebrated musicians of the Armenian heritage who perform gems of Armenian music and other classics as we listen to engaging commentary by Sahan Arzruni,” said pianist Cheryl Seltzer.

The concert series provides a means for those who have been unable to consume quality culture, as musical venues remain shuttered and performances postponed, giving them access into these high caliber productions.

“Together for Armenia” is a wonderful respite from our current confinement and limited cultural options,” said administrator Margaret Janicek. “I felt transported by the musical performances to different places and expansive mindsets.”

A frequent traveler to Armenia, Arzruni chose to partner with FAR because he has seen first-hand the organization’s achievements and appreciates their positive working relationship. In coordination with FAR and the Armenian Ministry of Culture, Arzruni has embarked on educational trips to Armenia and Artsakh in recent years to teach students music throughout the provinces.

Established as a response to the devastating 1988 earthquake in Armenia, FAR has raised over 350 million dollars for 300 projects in the economic, education, relief, cultural and social spheres during the last three decades. It is currently meeting the pressing needs of the COVID-19 pandemic that tore thru Armenia by contributing to an emergency campaign. They are also helping on the ground and delivering 30,000 items of Personal Protective Equipment in Armenia and Artsakh. To further train healthcare professionals, FAR launched a webinar training, in partnership with Armenia’s National Institute of Health, where over 450 doctors participated and learned more details about the pandemic. The FAR team has also been assisting the province of Tavush following the July war with Azerbaijan.

“FAR is keen on being cost-effective and result-oriented,” said Garnik Nanagoulian, Executive Director. “We are very fulfilled when we see the stages of development of those we service, such as a child in our orphan program who flourishes and becomes the recipient of our educational scholarships.”

Nanagoulian said he hopes the concert series, which sends a “powerful message to the world,” will provide another channel for Armenians to support the homeland.

“It’s the music, the Armenian culture and the spirit of Armenia that comes together to help people in need and I’m very thankful to Sahan for his creativeness in launching this program,” said Nanagoulian.

Maintaining a strong bridge between the Diaspora and the homeland has long been a priority for Arzruni, who first traveled to Armenia in 1975 and continues to feel a deep connection to his roots. He is encouraged by the talent and skills of the next generation.

“Music is a wonderful discipline for the mind, soul and spirit,” said Arzruni. “Although it’s not practical to be a musician in the 21st century, if the flame of these students is strong enough, they will achieve their goals.”

Arzruni has an ambitious vision for the upcoming digital concerts and plans to include the youth of Armenia in the series to showcase their talents.

“Together for Armenia” presented the finest hour of internationally recognized musicians,” said Dr. Vartan Abdo, director of the Armenian Radio Hour of New Jersey. “It was a brave production, presented graciously and successfully, and we impatiently await the next concert.”

“Thank you Sahan and FAR for an outstanding program,” said engineer Vahan Tanal who watched the concert with his wife, Lisa. “What a pleasure to watch and listen to extraordinary Armenian performers from around the world and also be able to help Armenia during these difficult times.”

Looking towards the future, Nangoulian said that FAR is driven to engage in even more aspiring programming in order to change the culture of society in Armenia, from children with disabilities, to health and nutrition, to economic development – thanks to the unity of Armenians in the Diaspora and the homeland.

“The primary and essential reason we are doing the concert series is to fundraise,” said Arzruni.

“We hope people will be generous because we are presenting the best of Armenian artistry and the best of the Armenian artists.”

For more information on how to view the upcoming “Together for Armenia” concerts, please visit: https://www.farusa.org/together
-Taleen Babayan

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