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Gomidas on 57th Street

I hadn’t been back long from FAR’s 2009 trip to Armenia when one of my traveling companions, Ara, called me up and asked if I’d like to join him for a friend’s recital. He knew I enjoyed music, and keeping alive the camaraderie of our travels across Armenia was appealing.

We met at Steinway Hall on 57th street in Manhattan and entered the lavish piano showroom that lends itself beautifully to intimate concerts by accomplished musicians. After taking our seats, we looked around to see other Armenian-American friends attending Karine Koroukian’s recital. As we exchanged warm hellos in a mix of English and Armenian, I could see, full across the front row, a group of exuberant fans whom I realized must be Karine’s family eager to hear her play.

The chatter of pre-concert niceties hushed, and Karine came out to bow next to the shining grand. Inviting us to listen with a kind smile, she sat down to play, with technical clarity and thoughtful interpretation, a Bach-Busoni Chorale and Schubert’s Sonata in A Minor, which unfolded with a myriad of elegant moods and motifs, introduced with succinct definition in the opening Moderato eventually to develop into an agile vivacity which Karine carried out gracefully in the final Allegro Rondo movement.

Karine is a piano soloist of the most professional kind and showed, in the second half of her recital, an equally profound skill in accompanying singers – a difficult technique often under acknowledged in the music world. While they performed several pieces, I was particularly excited by the inclusion of Gomidas works – Loosin Yelav, reworked by the 20th century composer Luciano Berio, Karoun A, Dzirani Dzar, and Grung. Later, I asked Karine if playing Armenian music feels different. She said she likes introducing Armenian musical heritage to international audiences while, for herself, the playing evokes a deep nostalgia, “poignant and piercing.”

Karine is born in Lebanon and like many Armenians from all over the world has dedicated her life to music; she herself comes from a musically talented family. Gomidas said, as he was dying, “Love Armenian children, take care of them. Love each other, so strongly that you may yet live.” But given his incredible life-long dedication to the saving of Armenian musical traditions, he might have said the same of our loving music. For Armenians who play it, who love it, and who gather to hear it (and, afterall, isn’t that really all of us?) are keeping a culture and its people alive.


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