Armenian teen woos Boston Pops crowd
Published: Tuesday June 19, 2012
Boston - Armenian clarinet prodigy Narek Arutyunian refused to become daunted by one of the world's leading orchestras.
The 19-year-old stood firm and erect at Boston's Symphony Hall and was embraced by a crowd attending the 61st annual rendition of Armenian Night at the Pops June 8.
Of the 2,400 in attendance this evening, some 450 were Armenians, bent on getting their first look at the rising star. He didn't disappoint.
"Best 18 minutes I could have ever performed," he told observers at a post-reception. "Playing next to conductor Keith Lockhart was an ultimate experience. I shall treasure this moment forever."
From the time he walked onto the stage following the traditional "Hayr Mer" to the time he was humbly embraced by the conductor, Arutyunian displayed his talents with obvious passion and conviction.
He opened with a rather spirited number called "Czardas" written by Monti, then presented a somber rendition of "Krounk" (The Crane) by Komitas for solo clarinet.
The finale was a jazzy "Concerto for Clarinet" written by the inimitable Artie Shaw which had the crowd swaying in their seats. When it came to the Armenian piece. Lockhart silenced his ensemble, stepped to one side, and gave his guest artist complete autonomy. The two often made eye contact and exchanged pleasing smiles.
Lockhart lauded Arutyunian as "an Armenian musician of considerable talent," probably wishing his presence upon the Pops ensemble. The maestro had just returned from London where he participated in the Queen's Jubilee.
With a rather crude but inviting "Par-ee Yegak," Lockhart extended his arms to the Armenian crowd, several of which were children accompanying parents. He then presented a brief but worthy synopsis of the newly-entrenched Armenian Heritage Park at Rose Kennedy Greenway, reading from notes he was provided.
"It's a tribute to both the immigrants and martyrs who overcame tremendous obstacles," he noted."Armenians are a people to be admired."
The crowd applauded loudly, acknowledging the unexpected gesture.
Echoing his sentiments was Ara Arakelian, president, Friends of Armenian Culture Society (FACS), which sponsored the event.
"We're here tonight not only to celebrate a new Boston landmark but to pay tribute to our national musical heritage," he said. "The credit goes to our many supporters and volunteers who have made Armenian Night at the Pops so invigorating over the past six decades."
A week before his 20th birthday, Arutyunian has built up quite a musical portfolio and it's only getting better. He represented the third youngest Armenian performer at the Pops, following noted diva Hasmik Papian, who enthralled the crowd with her operatic voice a year ago.
When asked if this was the highlight of his young life, Arutyunian pondered a moment, then replied "no."
Nothing quite compares to the first prize he won at age 16 in the International Young Musicians Competition in Prague. Or the Musical Youth of the Planet Competition in Moscow the year before.
He would also have a difficult time negating the prize he was awarded by renown violist and conductor Yuri Bashmet to perform concerts and record the Weber Concertino for clarinet with the State Symphony Orchestra of New Russia.
Born in Gyumri, Armenia, Arutyunian's family moved to Moscow when he was 3. He graduated from Moscow State Conservatory where he worked with Evgeny Petrov. He currently lives in New York and works with Charles Neidich at The Julliard School of Music.
In addition to the Pops concert, Arutyunian is appearing in recitals and residencies at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Washington Center for the Performing Arts, Music for Youth and Buffalo Chamber Music Society.
In case Bostonians missed it, he'll be at the Gardner Museum Sept. 21.
Following his interlude on stage, Arutyunian came off stage for intermission and took a seat in the audience for the remainder of the evening, which also included a tribute to Cole Porter and works by Gershwin and Richard Rodgers. The encore featured Sousa's "Stars & Stripes Forever," a Pops standard.
As with any Armenian Pops production, socialization was a vital part of the evening. People gathered inside the lobby, restaurants and in the aisles, exchanging pleasantries. It was a night on the town, fashionable and festive.
A post-concert reception took place at the Colonnade, attended by more than 200 guests, where Arakelian welcomed the gathering and applauded the star attraction. Arutyunian spent the interim signing programs and chatting with on-comers about his young, though brilliant career.
In a post-script, Aram Khachaturian is probably the greatest Armenian exponent of the instrument by virtue of his exquisite Clarinet Trio. Likewise, Tigran Mansurian (in his double concerto for clarinet and cello), Alexander Arutunian, Alan Hovhaness, Eduard Baghtasaryan, Gagik Hovunts and Geghuni Chirchiyan have all added significant works to the international clarinet repertoire, not to exclude Hachig Kazarian, perhaps the greatest when it comes to popular Armenian band music.