Arts & Events

New: Armenian State Chamber Choir Performs in Berkeley

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Sunday April 15, 2018 - 11:14:00 AM

On Saturday, April 14, Cal Performances presented the Armenian State Chamber Choir in a concert at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church. Founded in 2000, The Armenian State Chamber Choir has a primary mission of performing the great choral works of Armenian composers and sharing them with audiences in Armenia and worldwide. The Armenian State Chamber Choir is directed by Robert Mlkeyan. The choir is renowned for their brilliant renditions of works by Komitas (1869-1935), the father of Armenian classical music. On the program here were several works by Komitas: the choral song “Holy, Holy,” a lively suite of Rustic Wedding Songs, the song “Rise Up!,” the song “O Mountains, Bring Breeze,” the boisterous “Plowing Song of Lori,” and “Spring,” set to a poem by Hovhannes Hovanisyan. Whether steeped in the rich folklore of Armenia or inspired by the pious faith of Komitas, these songs amply demonstrated the musical genius of Komitas, who, when he performed some of his works in Paris, was saluted as a musical genius by Claude Debussy. Among the highlights of this evening was the “Plowing song of Lori,” robustly sung by tenor Razmik Baghdasaryan and basses Hovhannes Grogorian and Mavrik Mkrtchyan. 

Also on the program were works by other Armenian composers. Opening the concert was a hymn for Lent by Mesrop Mashtots (362-440), “I kneel Before You.” Next came the beautiful song “The Bird,” by Grikor Narekatsi, (951-1003), gorgeously sung by soprano Sofya Syadyan, whose lovely voice imitated the warbling of the turtle-dove. Sofya Syadyan, by the way, was also featured in the suite of Rustic Wedding Songs by Komitas. It was her bright soprano that was heard in The Bride’s Farewell addressed to her mother and sister.  

Rounding out the first half of the program was a “Song for Athena” by English composer John Tavener (1944-2013) and “Three Sacred Hymns” by German-Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998). After intermission came a religious work by Armenian composer David Haladjian (b. 1962). His Missa Memoria is set to a Latin text, though the Catholicism of the Armenian Church follows the Armenian Orthodox Liturgy. David Haladjian was present at the performance and was invited onstage by Robert Mlkeyan to take a bow following the performance of his Missa Memoria.  

Following Haladjian’s mass was a gorgeous Lullaby by American composer David Elder (b. 1986) from Three Nocturnes. Then we heard Morten Lauridsen’s “Sure on this Shining Night,” set to a poem by James Agee. Closing the scheduled program were four Armenian Folk Tunes arranged by Robert Mlkeyan. The final song, “Maral,” a love song, ended with a hearty male shout. As an encore, Mlkeyan led the choir in his own arrangement of a Beatles song with the refrain, “You were only waiting for this moment to arrive.” This was a fitting end note to a concert that was long in the planning and much anticipated by the local Armenian diaspora community, which filled the First Congregational Church.