Sergey Smbtayan, conductor

Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?

My grandmother inspired me to pursue a conducting career. She was a violin teacher and also the person who advised me to become a violinist in the first place. It was soon clear, though, that the career of a solo-violinist would not be emotionally fulfilling for me personally and conducting would be more of an interesting path for me to strive for.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

The greatest musicians, artists and, from its formation, the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra (ASSO) have all influenced and continue to influence my musical life.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?

The most challenging part of being a conductor is creating a motivating environment around a musical task for the musicians. And the most fulfilling part is seeing the orchestra united around a musical vision.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

I always aim at communicating the ideology of the composer. I discuss that with the orchestra and I am always open to new ideas and new approaches.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

My role as a conductor is bringing out the best in musicians. I set my sights on constantly motivating the orchestra, and, together, we build up an ideology around the musical concepts.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Symphony No. 9 by Anton Bruckner.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

My favourite concert venue to perform in is the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. That’s where I studied, and it’s one of the most exceptional music halls in the world.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My favourite musicians/composers are those that have changed and continue to change the world with their music. I greatly admire classics like Brahms and Mahler, as well as contemporary composers like Krzysztof Penderecki and Tigran Mansurian, both of whom I’ve had the privilege of working with. I am also very happy and honoured that the ASSO will be presenting one of the melodic, colourful and distinctive works of our current Composer-in-Resident Alexey Shor with the world’s best violinist, Maxim Vengerov, at the Barbican on 14 January as part of our European Tour – “Barcarolle”. The ASSO will also be presenting the European premiere of Symphony No. 2 titled “The Fate of a Man” by one of the best Armenian composers, John Ter-Tatevosian, during the Barbican concert.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is fulfilling harmony – both individually and collectively. And with harmony, one can also achieve happiness in musical life.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

To be unique, believe in the power of music, love music irrevocably, try to understand what music people enjoy and not to just follow trends and, last but not least, be maximally objective in what one can achieve – these are the things I would pass on to aspiring musicians.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I would like to be in the same place that I am now, i.e. conducting, with a wider worldview and more fascinating and novel ideas and projects.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Again – achieving harmony.

What is your most treasured possession?

The Armenian State Symphony Orchestra (ASSO).

What is your present state of mind?

Fantastic! Motivated!


Sergey Smbtayan is the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra (ASSO). The ASSO will be performing with Maxim Vengerov in a concert crossing the Eastern and Western musical cultures, at The Barbican Centre on 14 January 2020 as part of their European Tour organized by the European Foundation for Support of Culture: https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2020/event/armenian-state-symphony-orchestra

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