by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Armenian Mirror Spectator
LEIPZIG, JUNE 22, 2023— Germany, known as the land of poets and thinkers, is also the land of musicians — Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, to mention the most famous.
This year, the city of Leipzig paid homage to Johann Sebastian Bach, on the 300th anniversary of his arrival as cantor and music director. In May 1723, at the age of 38, Bach began his activity in Leipzig as choirmaster for the Thomanerchor, that has continued to the present day as a world class boys’ choir. During the 27 years he worked there until his death in 1750, Bach composed cantatas, in the first years virtually one per week, to be sung as part of the Sunday mass, as well as numerous other works.
To celebrate the anniversary this year, a Bach festival, “Bach for Future,” took place, from June 8 to 18, with 160 events featuring musicians from around the world, and drawing a record crowd of 70,000 guests. Among the celebrated performers were the Little Singers of Armenia, the famous choir directed by Tigran Hekekyan. They offered three concerts: on June 9 in the Old City Hall, they performed works by Armenian composers R. Petrosyan and Komitas, as well as classical German artists Georg Händel, J.S. Bach, and modern Americans like George Gershwin.
The following evening, they sang in the Monument to the Battle of the Nations (Völkerschlachtdenkmal), a monument dedicated to the battle in mid-October 1813, which led to the victory of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden over Napoleon.
Their a cappella concert featured M. Duruflé’s Tota pulchra es, op. 10, Nr. 2, J.S. Bach’s Suscepit Israel from the Magnificat, and works by Armenian composers. On June 12 they performed in the famous St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche), which is home of the Thomanerchor, founded in 1212. There they sang a Matins with works by N. Shnorhali, M. Mashtots, W. Byrd, J.S. Bach, Komitas, and H. Odznetsi.
All their concerts were greeted with enormous admiration and enthusiasm. Writing in a guest book in German, Armenian, Italian, and English, participants said that they were “overwhelmed by the skill” and could see clearly that the choir members “really enjoy singing.” Someone from the municipality of Città Vecchia thought the performance was “virtually perfect,” and Hekekyan’s conducting “extraordinary.” One German, who also sings in a chorus and “can judge how fantastic” they are, was moved to tears. Another person wrote the experience would “remain with me for the rest of my life,” and at the final concert, a few members of the Zürich Bach Choir wrote, “You sound like heavenly angels.”
Thirty Years of Making Music
For the Little Singers of Armenia, the opportunity to perform in Leipzig on this momentous occasion must have seemed like another way to honor their own very important milestone: at the end of 2022 they celebrated their 30th anniversary as a choir.
Held on October 17, 2022 at the Aram Khachaturian Concert Hall, the gala birthday concert shed light on the past 30 years, highlighting the choir’s singular accomplishments and reuniting several generations of choir members. In attendance were alumni from various parts of the world, including France, Germany, Australia, the United States, Ukraine, and several cities in Russia, who traveled to Armenia to take part in the event.
Hripsime Muradyan, Head of Communications of the Little Singers of Armenia, reported that “thanks to the exceptional guest conductors and musicians in attendance, the concert became a genuine celebration, filled with a festive atmosphere.” Among the special guests were Mario Fontana from Switzerland, Alfonsas Vildziunas from Lithuania, Mario Stefano Pietrodarchi from Italy, and Gela Parchukidze with the Tbilisi Children’s Capella from Georgia, who felt honored to perform with one of the world’s best choirs. A very special touch was added by Argentinian composer Martin Palmeri, who wrote a piece, Missa Tango Armenia, especially for the event. The Little Singers of Armenia choir performed it with the bandoneonist Mario Stefano Piedrodarchi, a premiere and unforgettable celebration.
The concert culminated with a moving rendition of Peace to the World, a song composed by Marine Margayan, a former singer of the choir. The special significance of this song lies in the fact that it was the concluding piece of every concert during the choir’s first-ever tour, which took them through seven countries in Europe and fifteen states in the United States. The jubilee concert has been recorded and will be available later of the choir’s social media pages.
In recognition of the remarkable accomplishments over the past three decades, the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM), the largest choral organization and a vital platform for choral music, published a lengthy piece in the International Choral Magazine, January 2023 (https://issuu.com/icbulletin).
The article celebrates the 30th birthday, reviews the history of the choir, from its founding in 1992 by Hekekyan and its first international concert tour in 1995. It chronicles the many honors bestowed on the group, from invitations to perform for the half-century anniversaries of UNESCO as well as the United Nations Charter, to winning prizes at international choral festivals, to receiving the honorary title of “The Cultural Ambassadors of Europe” by the European Federation of Choirs. It characterizes their vast and varied repertoire, which includes music spanning many cultures and genres, as well as contemporary works. Interspersed throughout the article are quotations from musicians, choir directors, music teachers, orchestra conductors, and former choir members, praising the quality and spirit of the Little Singers of Armenia.