5 Things to Love about Isabel Bayrakdarian’s salute to the Armenian composer Gomitas
There was lots to love in Isabel Bayrakdarian’s concert salute (on Saturday, Oct. 26, in Fresno’s Shaghoian Hall) to the Armenian composer Gomitas. Here are my Top 5:
1. Her first note.
I’ve heard Bayrakdarian sing live before on her previous visits to Fresno, of course, but my memory of that voice never does justice to the real thing. I’m always surprised how powerful it is in person. Her first note at Saturday’s concert was as grand and celebratory as a trumpet fanfare at her Saturday concert, titled “Isabel Bayrakdarian & Friends: A Musical Celebration Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Gomitas Vartabed.” The event featured the well-known opera singer — who has a family connection to Fresno — along with a handful of impressive instrumentalists and an appearance by the vocal ensemble Fresno Coro Vox Aeterna.
2. Her interpretation of ‘Song of Longing.’
Before Bayrakdarian sang this famous tune, she explained to the audience that it was a traditional love song that had morphed over time into a lament for victims of the Armenian Genocide. In this arrangement by Artur Avanesov, it felt as if Bayrakdarian had “re-reappropriated” a tender, innocent melody — one that sadly came to be linked to a horrific event — and set it free to do what it does best: celebrate love. I thought it was gorgeous.
3. The folk song ‘The Crane.’
In a section of folk songs arranged by Artashes Kartalyan and Avanesov for soprano and string quartet, I particularly loved “The Crane.” This offered Bayrakdarian at her best. I admire the strength of her voice, and even the width of it — is that a word you can use to describe a vocal tone? Well, it is now — as she filled the Shaghoian with sound.
4. The children’s songs.
Many don’t realize that Gomitas — considered the father of modern Armenian music and a famed ethnomusicologist — rescued from obscurity a number of children’s songs, prayers and lullabies. In a series of tunes arranged by Avanesov, the glories of Bayrakdarian’s voice were paired with Jill Felber on flute and Ellie Choate on harp, and the result was short and lively pieces that seemed to come from the quietest, most childlike depths of the soul.
5. The passion for the composer.
From the beautiful tones of the choral ensemble (directed with aplomb by the Fresno Master Chorale’s Anna Hamre) to the “Songs and Dances” for string quartet, the breadth of Gomitas’ accomplishments became evident. in this concert. So did the esteem and reverence in which Armenians, regardless of where they live, hold him. Bayrakdarian radiated this admiration every second she was on the stage. Like any great teacher, she is able to connect her “students” — in this case, the audience — to that passion. I can now say, “Happy 150th birthday, Gomitas Vartabed,” and really mean it.
After the Fresno performance, Bayrakdarian and the rest of the musicians will repeat the concert at two additional venues: on Nov. 10 at St. Leon-Ghevontiants Armenian Cathedral in Burbank; and on Jan. 18 at Saint John Armenian Apostolic Church in San Francisco.