Sergei Babayan

piano, Russia/USA


Acclaimed for the immediacy, sensitivity and depth of his interpretations, Sergei 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 Lutoslawsky, Ligeti and Arvo Part, 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 which never fails to captivate. His performances of J S Bach, have always gained him both public and critical acclaim, and he firmly believes that the natural evolution of the keyboard instrument has led to today's modern piano which 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 in the Moscow Conservatory, he was, however, 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, he won consecutive first prizes in several major international competitions including the Robert Casadesus International Piano Competition (formerly the Cleveland International Piano Competition) (1990), The Palm Beach International Piano Competition (1990), The Hamamatsu Piano Competition (1991), The Scottish International Piano Competition (1992). 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 he has had major engagements and concert tours throughout Europe, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, South America and the USA.

His New York recitals at Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall, performances with the Cleveland Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, and Detroit Symphony met with huge critical acclaim, as have his many subsequent recital and concerto performances throughout all the major cities in the US. His concert schedule has included performances and broadcasts throughout major European cities and extensive tours of Japan. He appeared with recitals 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 Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, and countless others.

In recent seasons he performed recitals in New York City, London, Hannover, Manchester, Bruxelles, Glasgow, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Paris, Grenoble, Tours, Warsaw, Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Seattle, Atlanta, Miami, and New Orleans.. Sergei Babayan appeared in numerous major music festivals in France, Germany, UK, Poland, Spain, and the US. His concerts have been broadcast by WQXR, WCLV, Radio France, Polish Radio and Television, BBC-TV and NHK Satellite Television. He made several highly praised recordings for EMC, Connoisseur Society and Pro Piano labels. His recordings of Scarlatti, Ligeti, Messiaen, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Ravel, Schubert, Liszt, Vine, Respighi and Prokofiev garnered high acclaims including a "critic's choice" in the New York Times praising Babayan's "extraordinary technique and ability to play densely harmonized works with illuminating transparency and a daunting measure of control". American Record Guide joins in these accolades praising his "phenomenal level of color and imagination". About the recording of Scarlatti Sonatas American Guide says: "It can stand proudly besides that of Horowitz..."

He 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 New World Symphony. His performances with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra were received with great enthusiasm by audiences and critics alike. He collaborated with such conductors as Yuri Temirkanov, Neeme Jarvi, Hans Graf, David Robertson, Kazimierz Kord and Michael Christi. His concerto repertoire is constantly growing - at this point he has 45 concertos which have been performed. His unusual and imaginative recital programming has always elicited interest and praise. Mr. Babayan is an enthusiastic advocate of new music and has an immense repertoire. His 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, Sergei Babayan studied conducting in order to deepen his understanding of the orchestra, to be able to study and perform some of the music of the 20th century which is particularly interesting for him, as well as to conduct piano and orchestra repertoire from the keyboard. In this role, he already has performed music of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schnittke, Part, Vasks, Shchedrin, and Prokofiev.


Critic’s Corner

"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)

"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". (Cleveland 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." (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

"His fiery, passionate and sensitive performance of Rachmaninov No. 3 left one breathless and moved." (Daily Camera)

Prokofiev Concerto No. 5: "In purely musical terms, the pianist's performance was spectacular. Prokofiev sends the soloist on a manic journey in this concerto. It requires a pianist of Olympian gifts. In other words, Babayan managed the concerto's torturous demands with remarkable panache. Whether Prokofiev was mischievous or ethereal, Babayan made urgent, rapturous music with conductor and musicians, rustling up enough activity for at least seven keyboards." (Cleveland Plain Dealer)