BY WILLIAM BAIRAMIAN
NEW YORK–On a beautiful day in New York City, two musicians, playing a 5,000 year-old Anatolian instrument, inspired a crowd with their renditions of classical Armenian music. Ara Dinkjian and Antranig Kzirian, although in only their first concert performance together, complemented one another with the fluidity of musicians that have played together for decades.
Dinkjian, a virtuoso in his own right, has made a career of playing the oud, the fretless, pear-shaped instrument that has made its way from Asia to Europe and everywhere in between during its millennia-long existence. The son of famed vocalist Onnik Dinkjian, Dinkjian’s inimitable style has made him a household name in Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Armenia, even leading him to compose pieces for musical artists in these countries such as Eleftheria Arvanitaki and Sezen Aksu.
A musician from a young age, Kzirian has embarked on a promising career as a leading oud composer and performer. He already has an extensive and diverse music background, playing with his ensemble “Aravod” and the rock fusion band “Viza”, and has also performed with of a Down lead singer Serj Tankian. Impressive for such a young instrumentalist, he has several recordings to his credit, including piano and dhol collaborations featuring original and classical compositions as part of the “History” series.
Though a generation apart, the independent but parallel paths of Dinkjian and Kzirian converged that night for what was an elegantly orchestrated event that imparted an unforgettable memory to those in attendance. In a room appropriately decorated to resemble a Middle Eastern café, complete with Oriental rugs, baskets brimming with apricots and dates, and a hookah water pipe, it was difficult to escape the mood created by the accompanying music.
The compositions evoked both the joyous and haunting melodies that comprise the repertoires of quintessential Armenian composers Gomidas, Sayat Nova, and Kusan Ashod. The entrancing works of Bimen Sen Der Ghazarian, Oudi Hrant Kenkulian, and Kemani Tatyos Ekserciyan, Armenian composers from the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, were masterfully arranged throughout the program to provide continuity throughout the night that was becoming of a most exquisite production. An ornately researched program featuring descriptions of compositions and background information on composers helped to inform the audience and complement their aural and visual experience.
Including and reviving the works of many of these composers exemplified the uniqueness of the concert. Due to the immense psychological trauma experienced by survivors of the Armenian Genocide, many of these composers’ works had been neglected by Armenians over the decades following the expulsion of Armenians from their historic homeland.
Tenaciously, if unexpectedly, the once vibrant Armenian tradition of oud mastery during the Ottoman Empire thrived in the newfound diaspora communities of the Eastern United States. As descendants of the first settlers in those communities, Dinkjian and Kzirian are part of a
unique group of people who have dedicated themselves to the preservation of the oud and the tradition of their ancestors.
“This concert was important in that it highlighted the Armenian American tradition of oud study and performance,” stated Kzirian. “Working with someone of Ara’s stature was an amazing experience – I have learned much from not only him but the generation of Armenian
American oud players that have come before me,” Kzirian added.
“My original intent in doing this concert was to support an aspiring young oud player’s growth and progress as an Armenian musician – however as it turned out I got a lot more out of it than that when it came to the response of the audience – it was a tremendously rewarding evening,” stated Dinkjian.
After the concert, an audience member said that it was “the best event” he had attended at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, where the event was hosted. Many others stayed long after the coda was completed to talk to the musicians and to laud the performance they had just seen with their fellow concertgoers.
The organizers of the event, members of the Armenian Society of Columbia University, were happy to see the standing room-only crowd enjoy the show and they hope that they will be able to organize similar events in the future. Armenian Society secretary, Nora Khanarian, stated, “the success of the event and the support of the audience members will encourage us to have more events like this.”
Most remarkable, though, was seeing an ancient instrument, held sacred in a land by a people who no longer live there, being performed by two musicians, a century after their dislocation and thousands of miles away, with the same flawlessness and verve that was expected of the masters that came before them.
Photo Caption: Armenian American oud players Ara Dinkjian (left) and
Antranig Kzirian (right) at the Columbia University concert.