Music in a time of COVID: Virtuoso cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan discusses his recording with the MPO and the virtues of live music

Known for his virtuosity and electric live performances, the Armenian cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan came into the limelight in 2011 after winning the First Prize and Gold Medal at the XIV International Tchaikovsky Competition. Since then, his ascendancy in the musical world has only continued, taking him to concert halls from Japan to the United States and everywhere in between, his performances eventually earning him the title of “Honoured Artist of Armenia” by the country’s President, Serzh Sargsyan.

Music in a time of COVID: Virtuoso cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan discusses his recording with the MPO and the virtues of live music

Hakhnazaryan was recently in Malta participating in the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra’s (MPO) recording of Alexey Shor’s Musical Pilgrimage, due for release later in the year. Having been to Malta once before in 2016, Hakhnazaryan was asked how it feels to be collaborating with the MPO once again.

“The chemistry between the musicians is great, which makes a big difference to the music and this all adds to the atmosphere, which is very important,” he said. He added that the orchestra is friendly and open to new ideas, which has helped create a fruitful atmosphere for freedom of artistic expression.

In addition to his experience working with the MPO, Hakhnazaryan has also played and recorded several pieces by Alexey Shor in the past, which has granted him a valuable insight into the composer’s work that he can now apply while recording the Musical Pilgrimage.

“I really like what he has done with this piece, but I can’t say that I have a clear picture of what is happening specifically with regard to the imagery in the piece. For me it is more about colours and feelings.”

Speaking of the unfamiliar, one cannot ignore the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought a myriad of changes to the world, with the music recording industry being no exception. Due to this situation, this concert will take place online, and will be recorded in line with pandemic restrictions. Hakhanzaryan emphasized that musicians like him are reliant on live performances to make a living, and consequently have been strongly affected by the global lockdown. Aside from the financial considerations, Hakhanzaryan argues that a critical element of his performances are lost in the virtual format. He believes that the energy of his famously furious live performances is something granted to him by feedback from the audience.

“As a performing musician I’m not composing music as when we talk about legendary composers and the main pillars of classical music, people like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Schumann and Bach. Of course, we need to respect their music and what they originally wrote as much as possible, but for me, a musician is a bridge between the composer and audience.”

However, in spite of these restrictions, the InClassica International Music Festival has only been growing, having now expanded to include eight orchestras, thirty-four soloists, and eight conductors. Hakhnazaryan says that this is a natural trajectory for the festival, and that it evidences a growing demand for classical music.

Hakhnazaryan also emphasized the importance of the role of the European Foundation for Support of Culture (EUFSC) in organizing the event, stressing the organizations’ respect for the artist and logistical prowess in managing travel arrangements, booking accommodations, and keeping stress levels low despite the difficult conditions. He also stated his belief in the importance of philanthropists like EUFSC president Konstantin Ishkhanov, arguing that the presence of people who are motivated by their love of classical music to generously support the arts is essential to the world of classical music.

Closing out the interview, Hakhnazaryan explained how he hoped the music might affect audiences, particularly given the difficulty of the time of its release.

“I hope that when people listen to this recording the pandemic will be almost over or at least towards its end, and that hopefully it will remind us what we went through, all of us. I think it should be a life reminder to always appreciate what we have, especially speaking as a musician.”




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