NEW YORK — St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York was the stage for a spectacular evening of soulful music, creative artistry, and spiritual uplift on the evening of January 13.
The candlelight concert, titled “At the Crossroads,” went forward as part of the Eastern Diocese’s ongoing celebration of the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the Armenian Church in America.
Several hundred audience members braved a frosty January evening to enter a cathedral enclosed by a network of scaffolding, as it undergoes an extensive restoration of its exterior.
But what they found inside was a novel and unique visual experience, as the familiar sanctuary was transformed by arrays of candles and special lighting, creating a mood that was at once mystical and warmly inviting.
The program itself featured the internationally-renowned projection artistry of Kevork Mourad, along with performances by a roster of superb vocal and instrumental artists. Together, they delivered a concert that reconceived traditional elements of Armenian culture in a memorably unique manner.
As Mr. Mourad painted on a digital canvas, his visuals came to life on a large projection screen situated at the front of the sanctuary. In front of the screens, embraced by the glow of candles, the performing artists appeared individually and in small ensembles, offering beautiful renditions of classic Armenian musical works.
The projected Armenian landscapes, khatchkars, churches, and organic forms created by Kevork Mourad seemed to respond to the music, magnifying it, in a masterful performance that left spectators visually and acoustically captivated. The total effect transported the audience through a journey exploring Armenian identity, survival, and renewal.
The sublime musical talents on display included sopranos Hasmik Asatryan, Anoosh Barclay, and Anahit Zakaryan; mezzo sopranos Hasmik Mekanejian and Solange Merdinian; pianist Hayk Arsenyan, cellist Ani Kalayjian, violist Sami Merdinian, duduk soloist Mher Mnatsakanyan, and organist Ari Terjanian.
Maestro Khoren Mekanejian conducted the artists throughout the program, which featured sacred works by Komitas, St. Nerses Shnorhali, St. Gregory of Narek, as well as compositions by Yekmalyan, Khachaturian, Babajanian, Chookhajyan, Hovhannisyan, Dolukhanyan, Arutunian, Emimyan, and Maestro Mekanejian himself.
The concert itself and its memorable format were the vision of the Diocese’s 125th Anniversary Committee, co-chaired by Bryan and Maria Stepanian, with artistic planning by Solange Merdinian and Seta Paskalian-Kantardjian. It went forward under the generous sponsorship of the Dadourian Foundation.
Following the event, 125th Anniversary co-chairs Bryan and Maria Stepanian (who hail from the St. Gregory the Enlightener parish in White Plains, NY) described the concert as “a powerful combination of sacred, classical, and folk music, that left the audience wanting more. All of the artists lifted our spirits, and reminded us of who we are as faithful Armenians.”
A message from Diocesan Primate Bishop Mesrop Parsamyan, appearing in the beautifully-designed program booklet, summed up the spirit of the evening, and its place in the larger celebration of the Diocese’s 125th anniversary:
“Tonight, let the music and artistry around us lift your spirit, and strengthen your resolve to carry forward the legacy of our forefathers,” the Primate said. “Let us recommit ourselves to the mission of our church: to spread the love of Christ in our lives and communities, and to be beacons of light in a world that yearns for hope and peace.”
The Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America will continue to celebrate the 125th Anniversary through the spring of 2024. Upcoming events in the celebration include a Children’s Day at the cathedral on Saturday, February 3; and a gala banquet at the New York Botanical Garden on Saturday, April 6.