Armenian cellist makes Canadian debut with Vancouver recital

Narek Hakhnazaryan proves he is a great ambassador, presenting a with
program of composers close to his heart

The Vancouver Sun
February 6,
2013

By David Gordon Duke, Special to The Sun

Yo-Yo Ma's superstar status as the world's favourite cellist has the
unfortunate side-effect of making it easy for other cellists to get a
bit overshadowed - even wonderful ones like Jean-Guihen Queyras or
Steven Isserlis.
And, cello being cello, it's that much harder for up-and-coming
soloists to receive the attention they deserve. Which makes the
Canadian recital debut of Narek Hakhnazaryan all the more interesting.

Hakhnazaryan plays for the Vancouver Recital Society in a program of
Romantic and contemporary work on Feb. 10. Last month I caught up with
him in Boston to chat about his life, his career and the music he will
bring to Vancouver.

Hakhnazaryan was born in Yerevan, Armenia in 1988, the son of two of
that city's celebrated musicians. At the age of 11 he moved to Moscow
with his mother to pursue advanced education. He went from being a
local phenomenon with well-known parents to just one of many fine
young musicians.

`It was tough,' he said. `Although Yerevan is the capital, it is not
so big and crazy as Moscow. In the beginning it was hard, but we both
got used to it. The playing was very different. First of all there
were so many more people, and many more things going on; of course
there was much more competition.'

Beyond the high level of teaching and other advantages to life in
Moscow, there was another important connection for the young cellist:
the opportunity to meet and then learn from the great cellist Mstislav
Rostropovich, who was finally re-acquainting himself with his homeland
after years in exile.

`I saw his master class when I was 12 or 13 at the Moscow
Conservatory, and this was an amazing, big public event. He was
telling so many funny stories about all the composers he knew. I have
a photo of him with me as a very small boy; I didn't play for him, but
we had a good chat. My studies with him came later; many times his
assistants would call me and say, `He will be in Moscow in a few days
and would like to see you.' '

Hakhnazaryan was even able to work with Rostropovich on compositions
written for the great cellist by some of the 20th century's most
renowned composers.

`I was extremely lucky. I. Sadly, we never did any of the Britten
cello suites, which I love now. I played number three in Boston a few
years ago. If you show what Britten actually writes, very precisely,
it is very impressive for audiences.'

Another of the great figures of the contemporary Russian musical world
figures large in Hakhnazaryan's career: conductor Valery
Gergiev. `I've played with him many times, and he seemed to be very
happy with the results.'

But Hakhnazaryan admits that working with the mercurial maestro isn't
for the faint of heart. `His life is so crazy now, he never has time
to rehearse, so for many soloists this is a tough problem, I'm lucky
to be one of the musicians who doesn't need to rehearse so much, and
this saves me when I'm playing with Gergiev. He is a true genius -
invariably some magic happens in the performance and everything
becomes perfect, phenomenal. He's an amazing personality.'

Like Gergiev, Hakhnazaryan is an ambassador for new work by
contemporary composers from his part of the world. Along with music by
Tchaikovsky, Franck, and Chopin, Hakhnazaryan will present the music
of Mikhail Bronner in his Vancouver recital.

Born in 1952, Bronner is celebrated at home, but I can't recall any
previous Vancouver performances of his work. According to
Hakhnazaryan, `He's one of the most talented composers right now in
Moscow of his generation. He worked with my parents many times, they
became friends, and that's how I got to hear his recordings and fell
in love with his music.'

Hakhnazaryan doesn't thinks Bronner's work The Jew: Life and Death
requires a lot of talk or preparation.

`There is not so much to say about the piece: it uses some very
interesting techniques, like hitting the strings with my left hand,
and I have to whistle and sing a little bit, but it's all done in a
very esthetic way, not just a show of different techniques with no
point behind them. This is a very deep and touching piece. As soon as
you hear it, you will understand completely.'

Originally we were scheduled to hear a solo work by Ligeti, but there
is a new development which Hakhnazaryan hopes will please North
American audiences.

`I have a small change in the program, a work by Adam Khudoyan, an
Armenian composer, a very deep, very emotional, very Armenian
piece. Hopefully I can do the Ligeti in Vancouver next time!'

With his Canadian debut out of the way, Hakhnazaryan is off
gallivanting around the world with a performance of the Schumann
concerto in London, a West Coast tour in the fall with conductor Neeme
Järvi, and a Carnegie Hall recital next November.

When I warned Hakhnazaryan what to expect from a West Coast February,
he wasn't in the least disconcerted.

`Over the last two years I have changed climates many times, so the
rain will not bother me - unlike Chicago last week. I couldn't go
outside. With that wind, it was worse than Moscow!'


Who: Narek Hakhnazaryan, cello; Noreen Polera, piano
When: Feb. 10, 3 p.m.
Where: Vancouver Playhouse
Information: vanrecital.com

Image Caption: Narek Hakhnazaryan studied with celebrated cellist
Mstislav Rostropovich, and got to work with him on sonatas by
Shostakovich and Prokofiev.