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babayanSergei Babayan

President's Piano Series 
March 2013

Sergei Babayan is the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Gilliam Artist-in-Residence at CIM. Acclaimed for the immediacy, sensitivity and depth of his interpretations, Mr. Babayan's performances reveal an emotional intensity and bold energy, equipping him to explore stylistically diverse repertoire. He is known for his innovative programming, often including modern works by composers such as Lutosławski, Ligeti and Arvo Pärt, and extending the boundaries of mainstream repertoire for which he continues to be acclaimed, excelling in Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann as much as the Russian heritage of Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and Prokofiev.

His philosophy that a recital should reveal a spiritual dimension, results in playing which sustains an intensity that never fails to captivate. His performances of J.S. Bach have always garnered him both public and critical acclaim, and he firmly believes that the natural evolution of the keyboard instrument has led to the modern piano that allows the music to be fully expressed in this modern incarnation. A student of such legendary teachers and musicians as Gornostayeva, Naumov, Pletnev and Vlasenko at the Moscow Conservatory, he was not permitted to leave the country and be free to compete and study in the West. He was the first pianist from the former USSR who was able to compete without government sponsorship after the collapse of the system.

Immediately after his first trip outside of the USSR, Mr. Babayan won consecutive first prizes in several major international competitions including the 1990 Robert Casadesus International Piano Competition (now the Cleveland International Piano Competition; 1990 Palm Beach International Piano Competition; 1991 Hamamatsu Piano Competition; and 1992 Scottish International Piano Competition. He is also a Laureate of the Queen Elizabeth International Piano Competition, the Busoni International Piano Competition and the Esther Honens International Competition in Calgary, Canada.

Since that time, Mr. Babayan has had major engagements and concert tours throughout Europe, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, South America, China and the U.S. His New York recitals at Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall, performances with The Cleveland Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony and Detroit Symphony have been met with huge critical acclaim, as have his many subsequent recital and concerto performances throughout all the major cities in the U.S. His concert schedule has included performances and broadcasts throughout major European cities and extensive tours of Japan. He has appeared in recital in such important venues as Salle Gaveau in Paris, Wigmore Hall in London, Carnegie Hall in New York, the Warsaw Philharmonic, Severance Hall in Cleveland, Bolshoy Zal of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Herkulessaal in Munich, Liederhalle in Stuttgart, Meistersingerhalle in Nurnberg, Konzerthaus in Berlin, Brahmsallee in Karlsruhe, Beethovenhalle in Bonn and many others.

In recent seasons, he has performed recitals in New York, London, Hannover, Manchester, Bruxelles, Glasgow, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Paris, Grenoble, Tours, Warsaw, Tokyo, Beijing, Osaka, Sapporo, Rio de Janeiro, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Seattle, Atlanta, Miami and New Orleans. Mr. Babayan has appeared at numerous major music festivals in France, Germany, the UK, Poland, Spain, China and the U.S. His concerts have been broadcast by WQXR, WCLV, Radio France, Polish Radio and Television, BBC-TV and NHK Satellite Television. He has made several highly praised recordings for the EMC, Connoisseur Society and Pro Piano labels.

His recordings of Scarlatti, Ligeti, Messiaen, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Ravel, Schubert, Liszt, Vine, Respighi and Prokofiev have garnered high acclaim, including a "Critic's Choice" in The New York Times praising his "extraordinary technique and ability to play densely harmonized works with illuminating transparency and a daunting measure of control." American Record Guide joined in the accolades, praising his "phenomenal level of color and imagination." Of the recording of Scarlatti sonatas, American Guide said: "It can stand proudly beside that of Horowitz ..." Mr. Babayan has appeared with many major orchestras throughout the world, including The Cleveland Orchestra, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre Nationale de Lille and the New World Symphony. His performances with the Detroit and Baltimore Symphonies were received with great enthusiasm by audiences and critics alike. Mr. Babayan has collaborated with such conductors as Michael Christi, Valery Gergiev, Hans Graf, Neeme Järvi, Kazimierz Kord, Theodore Kuchar, David Robertson and Yuri Temirkanov.

His concerto repertoire is constantly growing; at this point he has performed 51 concertos. Mr. Babayan is an enthusiastic advocate of new music and has an immense repertoire. His unusual and imaginative recital programming has always elicited interest and praise. Deep interest and love for the music of Bach has led him to study more recently with Helmuth Rilling. Always in search of the new, Mr. Babayan studied conducting in order to deepen his understanding of the orchestra. In this role, he has already performed music of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schnittke, Part, Vasks, Schedrin and Prokofiev.

Last season, Mr. Babayan was invited by Valery Gergiev to perform Lutosławski's piano concerto at the International "Stars of the White Nights" Festival in St. Petersburg with the orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre. The performance was received with huge enthusiasm by the audience and was highly acclaimed in the major Russian press. Reviews have included: "Mr. Babayan belongs to an elite breed of new pianists. This is elegant playing, intelligent yet colorful, rational yet never wanting for passion and tenderness, irreproachable on every level." (American Record Guide; "One would be hard put to name a Bach interpreter of his standing today. The only comparison that springs to mind is the famous recording of Dinu Lipatti ... His performance has tonal spectrum many orchestras would envy. Babayan is no mere pianist. He is a master-musician for whom the piano is his voice, his orchestra." (The Scotsman); "It would seem that when Ravel transcribed La Valse for piano solo, he somehow must have had in mind the then-nonexistent Babayan." (Musical America); "His reading of Goldberg Variations was beautifully lucid and at the same time marvelously singing ... We can bet that this artist, who takes after Vladimir Horowitz as much as Glenn Gould, will have many surprises in store for us." (Le Monde de la Musique). Of the Mozart Concerto in C Major, K. 503: "Babayan's performance of K.503 at Severance Hall with The Cleveland Orchestra on Tuesday was a wonderful lesson in how this music can be approached freshly and imaginatively without violating its spirit. It bore the mark of a distinctive personality, yet it also did honor to Mozart." (The Plain Dealer); "an unequaled touch, perfectly harmonious phrasing and breathtaking virtuosity, his music seemed to speak directly to us." (La Figaro, Paris); "Orchestrating his tone like an organist or a harpsichordist switching manuals, he colored melodic lines with an amazing variety of touches and dynamics." (The Plain Dealer)

Mr. Babayan was appointed to the CIM faculty in 1992.