AGBU ‘Sayat Nova International Composition Competition’ Holds Gala Concert in NY

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Original Compositions Premiered by an International Ensemble of Musicians

NEW YORK—On May 11, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) Sayat Nova International Composition Competition held its biannual gala concert and award ceremony at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater at Symphony Space in New York. The gala concert premiered compositions by the three winners of the 2014 Sayat Nova International Composition Competition, performed by an international ensemble of musicians from Armenia, France, Finland, Macedonia, and the United States. The concert also featured songs by 18th-century Armenian bard Sayat Nova on the kamancha and poems by Armenian poet Daniel Varoujan, recited by poet Lola Koundakjian.

(L-R) Dic-lun Fung, David Ayriyan, Hovik Sardaryan, Richard Melkonian, Christian Erbslöh-Papazian, Ursula von Lerber, Elizabeth Means, Talin Nalbandian, Lola Koundakjian, Vasko Dukovski, and Hayk Arsenyan

Opening remarks were given by Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, the permanent representative of Armenia to the United Nations, and Ara Guzelimian, the dean and provost of the Juilliard School. “2015 is laced with symbolism for the Armenian people,” said Mnatsakanyan.

“For us, it symbolizes 100 years of grief, tragedy, and injustice, but I think it also very strongly symbolizes our pride, dignity, revival, and confidence. Tonight is not an exception in symbols. First, Daniel Varoujan: a man who perished in the tragic days of the Armenian Genocide. Though he disappeared physically, his strength and love of art and beauty traveled through generations and is here tonight.”

(L-R) Talin Nalbandian, Christian Erbslöh-Papazian, Vasko Dukovski, and Elizabeth Means

Guzelimian also remarked on the legacy of Daniel Varoujan in the continuity of Armenian art:

“When wars are fought and histories are written, often the most precious thing that remains of a people is its voice as expressed in its cultural creative spirit, so it is extremely appropriate that we stake our claim to the future in celebrating these commissions tonight. I was thinking about the fact that the terrible death of Daniel Varoujan was meant to silence his voice, and not only was his voice not silenced, but his poetry is treasured and remembered. The joy in these works tonight is that his poetry is a generative force. It sparks creation yet again and sparks new life and new voices. That is an extraordinary metaphor for the power of this commemoration and all of us as a people,” said Guzelimian.

The Sayat Nova International Composition Competition is designed to introduce Armenian musical traditions to a wider audience by inviting composers of all heritages to submit original compositions for an ensemble of Armenian traditional and Western classical instruments. This year, in commemoration of the Centenary of the Armenian Genocide, the competition asked composers to include in their compositions the poetry of Daniel Varoujan, one of the first victims of the Armenian Genocide.

Mezzo-soprano Talin Nalbandian and kamancha player David Ayriyan

The winners of this year’s competition were Hovik Sardaryan of Armenia/Nagorno-Karabagh, Dic-lun Fung of Hong Kong, and Richard Melkonian of the United Kingdom. “I am very happy to have participated in the AGBU Sayat Nova International Composition Competition. I really enjoyed the experience, particularly working with Western Armenian poetry and the duduk. I have never worked with such an organic composition of instruments before and I’m grateful to the organizers of the competition for this opportunity,” said Sardaryan.

“We would like to express our gratitude to the distinguished jury who offered its expertise in judging the competition and to VoxNovus for creating the online submission and evaluation software used this year as well as to the AGBU New York Special Events Committee (NYSEC) for making the gala concert possible,” said Hayk Arsenyan, director of the AGBU Performing Arts Department.

For more information about the AGBU Sayat Nova International Composition Competition, visit

Ara Guzelimian, the dean and provost of the Juilliard School, delivers opening remarks.


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