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This busy and emotionally charged day for the Armenian community in London resumed at the beautiful St. James’s Cathedral in Picadilly, London. Sinfonietta Orchestra with conductor Johan Michael Katz and violinist Ani Batikian performed an all-Armenian musical programme. The concert was organised by the AGCCC of UK where many notable guests from politicians to celebrated musicians and music lovers filled this prestigious concert venue, between the Piccadilly Circus and the famous Ritz Hotel.

By Hasmik Harutunyan

“Sinfonietta” in essence, is a smaller version of the traditional orchestra, and the fact that it is bigger than the chamber orchestra, gives the possibility to perform a wide range of compositions, from symphonies to more intimate chamber music. Conductor and Musical Director Johan Katz, born in Holland, received his musical education in New England in the United States. He married an Armenian, Anoush Sarkissian, who introduced him to the Armenian folk and classical music. Mr. Katz funded the Barn Sinfonietta couple of decades ago in Surrey, with professional musicians who work very closely, and this intimacy and warmth was evident in their performance.

Mr. Katz is committed to perform forgotten masterpieces of the classical music, and his Armenian programme was not exception to his rules. The programme was well balanced: few famous and celebrated pieces by Aram Khachaturian, as well as two less known compositions by contemporary Armenian composers Alexander Aroutunian and Edouard Mirzoyan, whom the conductor knew personally and admired greatly.

The first piece played by the orchestra was called the Prayer of St. Gregory, written by the prolific American-Armenian modernist composer Alan Hovhannes. This composition is dedicated to Gregory the Illuminator, and is one of the most famous pieces of the composer written for solo trumpet. This spiritual song was the perfect opening to the concert with Irene Haberli on trumpet, which transported the audience to the mystical and faraway homeland.

Armenian violinist Ani Batikian joined the Sinfonietta to perform Alexander Arutunian’s Concerto for Violin and Strings. Ani Batikian is a well-known soloist in the UK, frequently performing in London, Britain and Europe. Alexander Arutunian wrote this deeply emotional concerto after the devastating earthquake in Northern Armenia in 1988. The piece seemed well suited to Ani’s style: the violinist demonstrated her restrained control in the first and third slower sections and her lively virtuosity was clear in the fast sections, in particular in the fourth movement, Allegro molto. Arutunian’s violin concerto is a hidden gem of classical music: it transports to sombre and cavernous spheres of suffering expressed in arts throughout centuries. Inspired by human tragedy, the composer has created a sublime, pure and untouched masterpiece.

At the end of her performance, Ani Batikian played the popular song Krounk by Komitas on solo violin that was received with great fervour by the public at St. James’s.

After the interval the orchestra performed popular pieces from the ballets Gayane and Spartacus by Khachaturian as well as the celebrated Waltz from the film Masquarade.

Joachim Katz told the audience about his friendship with another prominent Armenian composer, Edouard Mirzoyan. Sadly both composers, Alexander Aroutunian and Edouard Mirzoyan passed away in 2012; aged 91 and 92. Those two musicians were members of the Mighty Five, the group of five most prominent and renowned Armenian composers of the Soviet era.

The orchestra performed another not very well known gem of the classical music: Symphony for Tympani and Strings by Mirzoyan. Composer, academic and much respected professor of music Edouard Mirzoyan has left a great musical legacy with his neoclassical style. The symphony gives opportunity for tympani to create alarming mood; while the bright sun (the folk melody) seems shining from time to time through the dark clouds (the drums), producing an overall positive and optimistic narrative. The performance of Iva Fleishansova, the first violin of the orchestra, and of William Burgess on timpani, contributed to the huge success of the interpretation.

This enjoyable and original programme of the 20th century Armenian classical music was a remarkable finale of the Commemorations of the Armenian Genocide on the 24 April in London.

By Hasmik Harutunyan

Free-lance reporter

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