by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
ECHMIADZIN, SEPTEMBER 9, 2021 — The members of Ars Musica agreed that the musical and cultural highpoint of their extensive visit was the final event. The renowned men’s chorus from Thuringia, Germany, was concluding a two-week concert tour that renewed and enriched their relationship to Armenia. The friendship had begun more than thirty years earlier, when many of today’s singers were members of a boys’ choir. In 1988, they had performed a concert in the city of Suhl, in solidarity with the victims of the Armenian earthquake. And in 2018 the Ars Musica singers commemorated the anniversary again with a major choral performance. In July of this year, they kicked off their current initiative with a concert in Halle, the twin city of Gyumri, and then in August flew to Yerevan to embark on an ambitious musical itinerary.
The venue for the final concert on August 28 was the modern auditorium in the Echmiadzin monastery, seat of the Catholicos of all Armenians. Following a visit through the treasure chamber and the spacious grounds of the site, they performed for a large audience, which included dignitaries of the monastery and the Apostolic church. Just days earlier was the 70th birthday of the Catholicos Karekin II. The concert featured works from the classical and spiritual repertoire as well as Armenian pieces.
In the course of their packed visit, the men’s chorus visited several landmark sites in Armenia’s religious history, beginning with the Khor Virap monastery, which offered the view of Mount Ararat, and Noravank, where they visited the chapel and enjoyed lunch. Next was the Tatev monastery, which they reached via the “Wings of Tatev” cableway. Here they gained initial insights into the historical significance of Armenia’s religious tradition and architecture. And here they had their first opportunity to express their gratitude through music. Although, as they noted in their reports on the trip for their website (https://arsmusica.de), it is not common for churches in Armenia to host formal concerts, they were permitted to perform a 40-minute program of sacred works to an appreciative audience, which included the regional Primate of the church. They also sang Armenian works in the original language in what would become a regular feature of their events.
The next historic sites they encountered were the classical temple at Garni, and the Geghard monastery. In a chapel at Geghard, they presented a small concert, their music enhanced by the unique atmosphere and marvelous acoustics of the venue. They later visited the Sevanavank monastery, where they sang a short program following evening prayers.
Not only churches and monasteries, but also schools, museums and social centers welcomed the visiting musicians. In the capital, the Ars Musica singers had a chance to see the art collections at the Cascade and to encounter the Mother Armenia monument, before reaching the Armenian Genocide memorial at Tsitsernakaberd. There, after taking a tour through the museum, they honored the memory of the victims by laying flowers at the monument.
Music and Other Gifts
As reported in the Mirror-Spectator, the musical gift that Ars Musica officially presented during this tour was a Venera Grand Concert Harp for the conservatory in Gyumri. (https://mirrorspectator.com/2021/08/26/ars-musica-brings-grand-concert-harp-to-gyumri/) Music has been and remains at the center of the Ars Musica experience. But the group has raised funds through concerts also to provide material support for those in need. That was the spirit behind the initial solidarity concerts for earthquake victims in the beginning, and that continues to characterize the chorus’s engagement for Armenia. A few years ago they had organized benefit concerts to finance the renovation of the auditorium in the Hovhannes Tumanyan Middle School in Litschk. During this trip, they were able not only to visit that new auditorium but to perform there as a chorus — and even to sing together with some of the pupils, in German as well as Armenian. During their stay, a new projector they had financed for the school arrived in Yerevan, and will soon be delivered with assistance of the German embassy, so that pupils and teachers can present film material in school.
While in Yerevan, the men from Ars Musica participated in a cultural program at the House of Hope, a social project which provides support for disadvantaged Armenians. The number of people in need has increased, as people have been fleeing to safety in the wake of the war in Nagorno Karabakh. The singers presented their music, and also funds and material donations, for example, clothing. Fifty traditional Thuringian caps donated by a local garment manufacturer were part of the package, as well as single items given as personal gifts by each of the singers. Most appropriately, the gathering concluded with a shared meal, and a shared cuisine. Armenian helpers followed the expert instructions provided by the singers to prepare a typical Thuringian dinner: bratwurst, roast sausages, onion tarts and potato salad. It was perhaps the Germans’ way of reciprocating for an Armenian lunch they had enjoyed after visiting Syunik–grilled trout, fresh vegetables and a wine-tasting.
At their concluding concert in Echmiadzin, both hosts and guests emphasized the value of music as a means of bringing peoples together. All hope that the German singers may return for another tour.