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VEM Quartet in Armenia!

March 29th, 2016 · 1 Comment

The VEM Quartet along with mezzo soprano, Danielle Bayne, and Professor Movses Pogossian has returned from Yerevan with full stomachs and the music of Armenia in our hearts.

We had a wonderful week, packed with music, food, instant friendships, and curious exploration of a rich and beautiful culture.

After a long journey of air travel and a rest, we dove right into the music making (and of course after a delicious homemade breakfast of sweet apricot jam, savory cheeses and veggies, and plenty of lavash to go around?I cannot help but mention the food!)

The ladies at the sweet hotel we stayed at were happy for us to rehearse, and so we did. Music by Armenian composers such as Komitas, Mansurian, Tchichyan, and Hovhaness echoed through the courtyard of the Golden Eagle B&B for hours a day as we prepared for concerts Friday and Saturday.

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We stayed close by and used the facilities at the American University of Armenia, where we were welcomed by Artur Avanesov, a wonderful composer, pianist, and music professor at the school. Artur?s piano quintet was to have its world premiere at the Komitas Chamber Music Hall on Saturday’s program, which was the culminating event of our stay. The VEM Quartet, with Movses Pogossian taking the role of first violin, collaborated with Artur in many intensive rehearsals to prepare for the premiere.

A great highlight of the trip was our coaching with Tigran Mansurian, a highly respected and beloved Armenian composer. We had been working on his String Quartet No. 3 all quarter. This was our chance to get a real sense of his intention for the piece and to have our questions answered from the man himself! He was ceaselessly kind to us as we went through the piece, making adjustments here and there. The coaching was translated by Professor Pogossian, but it felt as though he was able to reach us without words at all. His eyes twinkled when we played something to his liking and he had hopeful expectations for the areas which we could improve.

We are so grateful for our time with him for his knowledge and contagious devotion and passion for music.


Our days were rich with experiences as we also took the time to get out and see the city. Yerevan in March is in transition. Having just roughed the winter, people seem excited by hints of spring popping up in the form of tulips, outdoor markets, and fountains (which they started to fill back up for the warmer part of the year on the day we left.) On our day off, Easter Sunday, we set for sights outside the city with Prof. Peter Cowe, professor of Armenian Studies at UCLA. We took this tour with other UCLA colleagues there for the workshop called ?The Interface between Music and Nationalism.? We all learned a lot from talking to each other but were quieted by 1st century sights such as the Geghard Monastery, with echoing chambers beautifully carved into stone, and a pagan temple in Garni, which boasted a magnificent view of the countryside with its deep valleys and jagged mountains.

Our two performances were the focus of trip and the real reason we had come. Performing at the Komitas Museum and at the Komitas Chamber Music Hall was a chance to share what we had learned of Armenian music with the locals. We hoped that our respect and interest for their culture would be heard in our interpretations. We were very warmly received. We got the sense that the audience really appreciated our careful study of the music beloved to their country. Earlier that day, before the concert, we had visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial which sits atop a hill overlooking Yerevan. There resides the eternal flame which burns in remembrance for this devastating time in Armenian history. Playing on a speaker as you entered the memorial was a piece that VEM quartet would play at the concert that night, a short Komitas piece called ?Spring.? It was one of the many moments in which we realized the importance of this music, not only for the pleasure of hearing it?s beauty, but for the way it unifies the Armenian people and speaks volumes to the rest of the world.

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Some highlights of the final concert included the premiere of Artur Avanesov?s piano quintet, which went wonderfully and was very well appreciated. Professor Pogossian played a violin and piano work by Vache Sharafyan with his always stunning tone and interpretation. Danielle Bayne was adored for her beautiful renditions of Komitas and Mansurian songs. We ended the concert with VEM Quartet and Danielle Bayne together with three Armenian folk songs that had the crowd very pleased and everyone clapping in unison rhythm. We celebrated afterward at a locally favorited restaurant where the delicious food kept coming, the traditional music was excellent, and the love was spread with many toasts that revealed just how pleased and moved everyone had been with the concert as a collaboration between friends.

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It was an experience we will never forget. We will always be grateful to everyone who made it happen, especially to Professor Pogossian who dealt with everything to coaching us tirelessly and lovingly before we left, to getting us in cabs all over the city and feeding us constantly while we were there. We hope that this is just the first step in our continued exploration of Armenian music and the start of many cross-cultural friendships and collaborations to come.

Tags: Alumni · Composers · Composition · Composition · Faculty · Performance · Performance · Performers · Students

1 response so far ↓

  • mpogossian // Mar 30, 2016 at 6:40 am

    It was an incredibly satisfying experience for me, as a musician, Armenian, and UCLA Professor, to see our students conquer Armenia! There is now a popular movement to grant Danielle Bayne Armenian citizenship, as she sang in absolutely immaculate Armenian, and brought tears to the eyes of the sizable audience. I was also so happy to see our colleague composer Ian Krouse opening the week of activities at the American University of Armenia presenting his monumental Armenian Requiem, premiered last year at Royce Hall, with UCLA Philharmonia, Lark Chorus, and Neal Stulberg conducting. We very much hope to bring this amazing piece to Armenia next season, for a performance with the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra. Special thanks also to Professor Peter Cowe, Narekatsi Chair of Armenian Studies at UCLA, who was the main organizing force behind this wonderful week of stimulating and meaningful activities. Feeling so proud of our students! Movses Pogossian