By Tom Vartabedian
BOSTON — Armenian clarinet prodigy Narek Arutyunian refused to become intimidated by one of the world’s leading orchestras.
The 19-year-old stood firm and tall at Boston’s Symphony Hall and was embraced by a crowd attending the 61st annual rendition of Armenian Night at the Pops on June 8. Of the 2,400 in attendance, some 450 were Armenians, looking forward to getting their first look at the rising star. He did not disappoint.
“Best 18 minutes I could have ever performed,” he told observers at a post-reception. “Playing next to conductor Keith Lockhart was the ultimate experience. I shall treasure this moment forever.”
From the time he walked onto the stage fol- lowing the traditional Hayr Mer to the time he was 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 present- ed a somber rendition of Krounk (The Crane) by Komitas for solo clarinet.
The finale was a jazzy Concerto for Clarinet written by the great 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 smiles.
Lockhart lauded Arutyunian as “an Armenian musician of considerable talent.” With a “Paree Yegak,” Lockhart extended his arms to the Armenian crowd, several of whom were children accompanying parents. He then presented a brief but worthy synopsis of the newly-opened Armenian Heritage Park at the Rose Kennedy Greenway, reading from notes he was provided.
“It is 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 of the Friends of Armenian Culture Society (FACS), which sponsors the annual 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 musi- cal portfolio and it is only getting bet- ter. 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 high- light 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 and conductor Yuri Bashmet to perform concerts and record the Weber Concertino for Clarinet with the State
Symphony Orchestra of New Russia. Born in Gumri, 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 Juilliard School of Music.
In addition to the Pops concert, Arutyunian is appearing in recitals at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Washington Center for the Performing Arts and Music for Youth and Buffalo Chamber Music Society.
In case Bostonians missed it, he will be at the Gardner Museum on September 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 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 Hotel, 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 well-wishers about his young- yet-brilliant career.
On a personal note, 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 mention Hachig Kazarian, perhaps the greatest when it comes to popular Armenian band music.