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The founder of the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra on why he wants to inspire others with the “profundity” of clasical music.

ASSO now holds more than 50 concerts per year

I founded the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra (ASSO) when I was 18, around the same time that I became a conductor. Previously, I was a violinist, but I transitioned into conducting upon the advice of my grandmother. 

Looking back, it was the right decision. For me, it’s a more fulfilling and gratifying calling. I am more than just a musician now; I’m not only the leader of ASSO, but also its public face.  

Violinist (1991 – 2012)

I started playing the violin when I was four years old. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t playing the violin, but I haven’t played as a soloist since I was 25. I was inspired by my first teacher – my grandmother. She instilled in me a drive to keep improving and strive to become my best self. 

I am proud to have achieved many successes in my career as a violinist, becoming a laureate of several international competitions and later forming the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra (ASSO). Being a musician was a sublime experience, but it was also challenging. Music is no different to anything else; with practice you become better and more poised. 

There are many difficulties that come with being a classical musician - it is a competitive industry faced with diminishing public support. But being a musician is in my essence; I will always be a musician.  

ASSO Conductor and Artistic Director (2005 – present)

The Armenian State Symphony Orchestra was first known as the State Youth Orchestra of Armenia. One of the highlights of my conducting career was their first performance at the Konzerthaus in Berlin. Since then, the orchestra and I have had many triumphs, but that very first concert holds a special place in my heart.

I’d like to think that over the years in this role I have become more confident, with more novel ideas and a wider worldview. Nowadays, our orchestra presents more than 50 concerts a year and is renowned for its energy, talent and culturally rich programming. My role is not without its difficulties, though; it is a challenge to create awareness of our orchestra internationally. 

In light of this, it is a momentous venture for us to be embarking on an eight-city European Tour in January 2020. We will be able to share our music with new audiences and present both world-renowned Western works and stirring Armenian arrangements at the Barbican Hall, featuring the outstanding violinist Maxim Vengerov as our leading soloist. 

As I reflect on my current role within the orchestra, I must say that it has truly shaped me. I have gained unique experience as both Artistic Director and Principal Conductor that I wouldn’t have gained doing any other job in the classical music industry.

Education work (2005 – present)

I have worked on education initiatives since the formation of the orchestra, and we continue to run several successful educational programmes. 

The decision to implement educational projects arose naturally when the orchestra was formed. I have always valued the importance of motivating the next generation of musicians. It has been important for us as an orchestra to embrace and include the youth in Armenia’s cultural life. As an initiator of the programmes, I collaborate with musicians who visit high schools to share in their experiences with the students and then invite the students to our concerts. 

One of the highlights of the role – and what makes me and the orchestra proudest – is seeing the success of these projects. We launched our most successful programme DasA in 2018 to offer high school students a hands-on experience with classical music and thus promote the artform. In doing this, we hope to positively alter young people’s lives through the profundity of music. 

We have found that our initiatives have evolved over time. With more experience, stronger creative ideas have emerged and grown into the programmes we have today. We also have a clearer vision about what we can and cannot achieve; unfortunately we have very limited resources to influence the lives of young people. This is why we try to engage them through our concerts as often as possible.

I have a hectic schedule but I always think about these initiatives with much care. To me, they are unique and a tremendous motivator. 

Sergey Smbatayan is the Artistic Director and Conductor of the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra.

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