Clarinet Virtuoso Makes Return Trip to Boston


By Alin K. Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

BOSTON — The first time clarinetist Narek Arutyunian performed in Boston in June, at the Armenian Night at the Pops, the annual program sponsored by the Friends of Armenian Culture Society (FACS), those attending were hoping that the young musician would live up to the advance praise. They were not disappointed.

The sold-out performance was praised by those attending and Arutyunian seemed to find a fan in Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart.

Preternaturally confident, the Gumri-born Arutyunian, 20, dazzled with his ease on stage and off. Of course, the admiration was mutual, as he was thrilled to play with the Pops. “I have never played with such a [top] name orchestra,” he said.

He is going to return to Boston on September 23, to perform at the Isabella Gardner Museum at 1:30 p.m., accompanied by pianist Solon Gordon. The program will include works by Bernstein and Schumann, among others.

Arutyunian is currently living in New York, studying at the Juilliard School with Charles Neidich. He started playing the clarinet rather late, around age 9, but that certainly did not stop him from mastering it and winning many prestigious awards along the short time he has performed. He was a winner of the 2010 Young Concert Artists (YCA) International Auditions, thus nabbing recital debuts in the YCA series at New York’s Merkin Hall and at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

In an interview, Arutyunian said that he was inspired at that age by his father, a folk clarinet player who often performed at weddings, he wanted to learn how to play Armenian folk songs. His mother, a piano teacher, however, wanted her son to play classical music, not Armenian. Arutyunian’s mother was the first to note his abilities.

“When I was 8 or 9, my mom noticed that I have a good sense of rhythm. She hired music teacher after music teacher, all of whom suggested that he study music on a full-time basis,” he said.

The family had moved to Moscow when Narek was 3. Within in a year and a half of starting the to play the clarinet, he was admitted into the Central School of the Moscow Conservatory, graduating at age 16. (Typically students graduate at age 18 or 19.)

He next attended the Moscow Conservatory at age 17 for one year, before leaving for Queens College in New York, and then Juilliard, which he entered with a full scholarship.

Arutyunian confessed sheepishly that he would have gotten into Juilliard when he first applied when he was a student in the Moscow Conservatory, had he not performed disastrously on his Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam.

Thus, he bided his time and continued his studies at the Moscow Conservatory — “one of the best and biggest music schools” in the world — before moving to the US he won first prize at the Rotary Club Moscow International Music Children Competition, the Nutcracker International TV competition and the Concertino Prague  International Radio Competition in the Czech Republic. He was awarded with the opportunity to perform with Yuri Bashmet and his Russian Symphony Orchestra “New Russia” and to record a CD as soloist.

He has performed as a soloist with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra, Musica Viva Chamber Orchestra, the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra; with conductors Vladimir Spivakov, Alexander Rudin, Alexander Apolin, Vladimir Fedoseev, Misha Rakhlevsky, Yuri Bashmet and Saulous Sondeckis; and in Poland, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France, Canada, Czech Republic and at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, in a tribute to Mstislav Rostropovich in October 2008.

He is in New York through a grant from the Guzik Foundation, a Mountain View, Calif.- based organization that gives grants to individuals and organizations for study and reseach in the fields of medicine and the arts.

He credits the YCA for not only giving him a major stage, but management for three years, so that the can find performance opportunities.

“That is how FACS found me,” he said.

While his parents wanted him to study music, it was not a career option they wanted for him.

“My parents didn’t want me to become a musician. They would say how much work you have to do and that you have to give yourself completely up to it if you want to succeed. Just nothing but practicing and working,” he said.

It was not enough to deter him.

While Arutyunian wants to be the absolute top classical clarinetist in the world, he is also eager to practice his skills in jazz, performing works by Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, among other American jazz giants.

Future plans include plowing ahead in the music world, including advancing his already brilliant career, and possibly trying his hand at conducting.