Love Lost and Music Won:  Armenian Cellist performs the Masterpiece by Dvořák at the Sounthbank Centre in London

“This year is an important year for the Armenian people (audience is silent). I am Armenian (audience applauds). This year is the hundred year commemoration of the Armenian Genocide; one and half million Armenians were killed in 1915 and in that period, among them my grandparents and my ancestors” (standing ovation from the audience)

Narek Hakhnazaryan, Royal Festival Hall, 1 May 2015

This concert at Royal festival Hall had nothing to do with the Commemorations of the lArmenian Genocide. The programme for Friday 1st of May 2015 featured the resident orchestra at Southbank, London Philharmonic Orchestra with guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero and 26-year-old cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan in his debut performance with the London Philharmonic. Among the audience was the former British Prime Minister John Major, alongside with dignitaries and ambassadors, musicians, students and classical music lovers.

 Narek is an award-winning cellist, who won the Gold Medal at the prestigious XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 2011. In the past there has been reluctance amongst Moscow Jury to reward musicians of Armenian origin; Narek’s prize just proves how exceptional his performance has been. Winning the competition at the age of just 22, was a life-changing accomplishment for Narek; he was immediately signed off by renowned Music Management agency Intermusica. Since then, Narek has been touring the world, performing in prestigious concert halls with the best orchestras in Europe, Sount Korea, Japan and America- including Wigmore Hall in London; Salle Pleyel in Paris; Konzerthaus in Berlin; Konzerthaus in Vienna; Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, among many others. Narek Hakhnazaryan was born in Yerevan into a musical family, and received his musical education at the renowned Sayat-Nova Music school with Zareh Sarkissian in Yerevan, and continued his education at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory with Alexey Seleznyov in Moscow, where he currently lives. He often performs also in the piano trio with the famous violinist Sergey Khachaturian and his sister Lucine Khachaturian across many famous venues in the world.

Narek in Piano Trio with Sergey and Lusine Khachaturians

In 2012, Boston Musical Intelligencer was writing about the young Armenian cellist: “It’s that personal connection, that passion and musical charisma that not only wins competitions, but people’s hearts as well.”

There was a common theme in the choice of programme:  Dvořák ’s[GA1]  Cello Concerto in the first half and Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz after the interval. While completely different in style and eras, both composers have been inspired by their unsuccessful love stories to create those classical masterpieces. Both parts of the concerts were equally memorable but our attention will be given only to Dvořák ’s Cello Concerto played by Narek Hakhnazaryan.

Czech composer Antonin Dvořák completed his Cello Concerto in B-minor around 1895 and was the first cello concerto of its kind, dedicated to his first love, Josephina, who rejected his feelings. Later on, the composer married her sister. Dvořák started to write the music for his cello concerto when he learnt Josephina was terminally ill at the age of 26, and completed the concerto when she died. This concerto is the musical testament to the vanished love of the composer. The hugely emotional piece was performed by the best cellists since, including the great Mstislav Rostropovich (who mentored young Narek in Moscow), the epic Pablo Casals and the flamboyant Yo-Yo Ma, so the pressure as well as the expectation on any young performer is frightening.

Narek Hachnazaryan in performance

While the orchestra started the concerto robustly with woodwind and brass in the lead, the cello joined in boldly and vigorously, stealing the spotlight from the other instruments immediately. From the first opening bars, the cellist captured the attention of the absolutely packed Royal Festival Hall. Narek’s youthful pace, exceptional technique and emotional connection with the music- as well as with the orchestra and conductor Giancarlo Guerrero- was apparent from the start.

In the second slow movement, the young cellist demonstrated his sensitivity and ability to penetrate into the depths of human suffering expressed through music. In some of the passages the cello’s pitch resembled that of a violin, giving the opportunity to the cellist to convey his virtuosity in the higher ranges. Narek’s performance was incredibly moving; he appeared to be completely coalesced with his instrument, and carried away by the powerful emotions of the concert.

The third, equally demanding, movement where the lyrical theme is accompanied with rhythmical march beats from the start. Narek’s performance remained both strong and expressive in the last movement: the cellist articulating the internal turmoil of the Czech composer; the agony of the loss of his love and the beautiful melody from Dvořák’s song “leave me alone” emerging again. Also memorable was the musical interchange with the first violin played by excellent Pieter Schoeman, the leader of the orchestra. The visiting conductor Giancarlo Guerrero contributed to the huge success of the cello concerto with his warm, attentive approach to every single instrument in the orchestra as well as the soloist.

After Narek’s commanding performance, the RFH audience brought the cellist back on stage to perform the encore. The young cellist addressed the public: “It is an important year for the Armenian people (audience is silent). I am Armenian (audience applauds). This year is the hundred year commemoration of the Armenian Genocide; one and half million Armenians were killed in 1915 and in that period, among them my grandparents and my ancestors” (standing ovation from the audience). I am going to perform a piece dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide”.

In memory of the Genocide, Narek Hakhnazaryan performed Lamentatio by Giovanni Solima, a solo piece, where the tempestuous mood is conveyed through musical complexity requiring technical virtuosity that Narek has in abundance. The standing ovation from the delighted public of the Royal Festival Hall said it all.

What is next for the young Armenian musician? “The world is [his] oyster”, as they say, and wherever his concert tour takes him, his fans and classical music lovers will be following Narek with anticipation to hear more from this prodigious and vivid talent.


by Hasmik Harutunyan

Free-lance reporter

2 May 2015

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