by Mike Telin
Founded at the Oberlin Conservatory in 2004, Prima Trio (Boris Allakhverdyan, clarinet, Gulia Gurevich, violin and viola, and Anastasia Dedik, piano), were awarded the Grand Prize at the 2007 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition. On Saturday, January 10 at 8:00 pm in Oberlin’s Kulas Recital Hall, Prima Trio will present a concert featuring music by Schumann, Piazzolla, Khachaturian, Milhaud and Srul Irving Glick as part of Oberlin’s Winter Term Chamber Music Festival.
Although its members have gone on to establish impressive individual careers, the Trio continues to tour internationally. In recent seasons they have appeared on the “Junge Elite” Series at the Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Germany), at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, on the Oakton Chamber Music Series, and on the Dumbarton Oaks series in Washington D.C. They also made their Los Angeles début with three concerts on the Da Camera Society series.
“We’re looking forward to being back,” Boris Allakhverdyan told me during a recent telephone conversation. “All three of us have a special place in our hearts for Oberlin.” Allakhverdyan, who was appointed Principal Clarinet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in 2013, said that he and his colleagues thought it would be fitting to include some music on the program that they first learned as students.
“We won the Fischoff Competition with two of the pieces, the Khachaturian Trio and the Milhaud Suite. We played both many times for professors Richard Hawkins (clarinet) and Milan Vitek (violin), so we thought that bringing them back would be interesting both for us and for them.” Although Robert Schumann’s Marchenerzahlungen (Fairy Tales) were not part of the Trio’s Oberlin days, Allakhverdyan said he finds the music to be “absolutely gorgeous.”
“I did the transcriptions of Piazzolla’s Oblivion and Otoño Porteño (Four Seasons in Buenos Aires) and I think both pieces will mix well with this program. Piazzolla’s music has such a nice balance of classical, tango and pop influences. When I began to think about arranging them, I realized that in certain registers, the sound of the bandoneón does sound like a clarinet. So I think they work very well for violin, piano, and clarinet.”
The concert will conclude with a piece that is relatively new to the Trio’s repertoire, the late Canadian composer Srul Irving Glick’s Klezmer’s Wedding. How did he discover the piece? “That’s a good question,” he answered quickly. “I was listening to recordings of music for our group’s combination of instruments on the Naxos music library. I don’t remember the name of the group, but it was a CD of the Khachaturian, the Bartók Contrasts and the Glick. I had never heard of the piece before, but I liked it a lot. At the time I was studying with Frank Cohen at the Cleveland Institute of Music, so I went to the library to see if they had it. But the only place you could get it was at a library in Canada. I asked the CIM library if they would be interested in getting the piece, and they did.”
On Monday, January 12 at 1:00 pm, Prima Trio will present a masterclass. What does Allakhverdyan think is important to convey to students about preparing for a career in music? “Many students say they want an orchestral career, or they only want to play contemporary music, or they want to be a teacher. But I always encourage them to not close any doors. It’s good to concentrate on your goal, but if your goal is to be an orchestral player, playing chamber music will only benefit you and you will become a better musician by doing it. Teaching also helps you because you can hear and see what you are doing wrong when you are teaching somebody else. It’s all like a big puzzle. You can’t only be doing red and not blue. In order for the puzzle to come together, it helps to be doing other things. And, Oberlin is really good at cultivating musical diversity.”
I asked Allakhverdyan how he found his way from Russia to Oberlin. “It’s a very small world,” he responded with a laugh. “When I was studying at the Moscow Conservatory, I played for Laura DeLuca – she’s the second clarinet in the Seattle Symphony. In fact, I’ll see her next week when I play the Mozart Concerto with them. Anyway, she came to Moscow with the Seattle Chamber Players. They were giving concerts, but she also came to my teacher’s studio just to hear the clarinetists. I think I played the Mozart and an arrangement of the Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. She liked me, I guess, because she came up to me and asked if I would be interested in studying in the United States at some point.”
After thinking about coming to the States for nearly a year, Allakhverdyan decided to e-mail DeLuca and ask her to recommend teachers. Richard Hawkins was at the top of her list. “She told him about me and he e-mailed me to say he had heard good things about me and would I please send a recording. So I did, and that’s how it all started. About a year later I received a full scholarship.”
Allakhverdyan recalled a funny moment when he had to confess that he had no idea where Oberlin was. “Not only was I going to the United States, I was also going to a small town in Ohio that I have never heard of. Actually, in one of the e-mail exchanges I had with Mr. Hawkins, I asked him, where is Oberlin? He told me it was very close to Cleveland. He was a wonderful teacher for me. I was just talking to my girlfriend about this yesterday – he was very good at making foreign students feel comfortable. When I came he had a student from Ukraine, from Macedonia, then later on from China. He’s a great teacher and a great person.”
I concluded our enjoyable and entertaining discussion by asking him what has most surprised him about his career. “Well, I always dreamed of being in an orchestra like the Metropolitan Opera, but nobody knows what’s going to happen to us in our lives. I’ve been blessed, and I’m so grateful for what has happened to me. Starting with coming to Oberlin – establishing the Trio there and winning the Fischoff – going to CIM and studying with Frank – winning the job in Kansas City, then winning the job at the Met. I’m very grateful to have all of this – everything has played a role in my career.”
Published on ClevelandClassical.com January 6, 2015.
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