Samvel Arakelyan

Violinist Samvel Arakelyan Brings Armenian Classical Tradition to Michigan

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LANSING, Mich. — Violinist Samvel Arakelyan has travelled a long way away from his childhood days in Yerevan.

The 35-year-old classically-trained musician came to the United States about 10 years ago to attend Michigan State University. Now he is receiving his doctorate in music from the same school and has already embarked on a career of excellence in his chosen field.

Arakelyan’s mother used to sing in a choir, and she wanted her children to take music lessons. Around 6th grade, Arakelyan realized he wanted to pursue music as a career. He attended the Ghazaros Saryan elementary school for the arts and then secondary school at the Tchaikovsky Special Music School, both in Yerevan. Among his memories are being selected as a child from the Saryan school and taken to play a piece with the famous composer Edvard Mirzoyan. At age 17, he was accepted to the Komitas Conservatory. After graduation, he performed with the Conservatory State Symphony Orchestra and the Yerevan Symphony Orchestra.

Samvel Arakelyan

Coming to America

At age 25, Arakelyan came to the United States for further musical training at Michigan State University (MSU), at which point he was introduced to Metro Detroit’s large and vibrant Armenian community as well as the strong classical music scene throughout the state of Michigan. He won a concerto competition at MSU, playing Edvard Mirzoyan’s “Introduction and Perpetuum Mobile” with the Michigan State Symphony Orchestra. The video of this recital, still viewable on YouTube, displays Arakelyan’s impeccable technique in a piece which to even the most casual viewer is clearly virtuosic. Most recently, he defended his doctoral dissertation on Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto in D Major by performing the piece on April 30.

Arakelyan is an able performer and vigorous promoter of the great Armenian classical composers of the 20th century – names like Khachaturian, Babajanian, Aroutiunian, Saryan, and Komitas. A favorite is Babajanian’s Violin Concerto. “It’s less known, but it’s a very beautiful piece,” Arakelyan says. “I am always interested to see which orchestras are interested in performing it.”

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His most notable concerts in the US have been in Carnegie Hall as a part of AGBU Talents, and at Merkin Hall in Manhattan. He also played at the Max Fisher Music Center in Detroit, one of the premiere venues in Michigan.

He has also performed several times at St. John’s Armenian Church in Southfield, including once with a chamber orchestra in the sanctuary playing Vivaldi’s Summer and Baghdasaryan’s Rhapsody. He also played at the church with a string quartet in 2018 with a concert of music by Komitas to mark the composer’s 149th anniversary.

Venturing Further Afield

Although Arakelyan is trained in classical music, his skills have been called into use in various other endeavors. One is as a string player for rock and pop musicians. Arakelyan explains that often pop musicians have string parts written into their songs, which on their recordings are performed by studio musicians. But since these artists aren’t going to bring a string player on the road with them, they often hire the best local classical talent wherever they go, and in Michigan that often means Arakelyan. Since his name has gotten out into the pop circuit he has performed for artists such as Sarah MacLachlan, Josh Groban, Idina Menzel, Evanescence and Lindsey Sterling.

Arakelyan also enjoys playing what he calls “the Old Rabiz” or “Armenian Restaurant Music.” As opposed to the modern forms of Rabiz with their heavy Azeri influence, he describes the old Rabiz as enjoyable festive music with Armenian, Romanian, Hungarian and Gypsy influences, along with the ashughakan (troubadour-esque) lineage of Sayat-Nova. Arakelyan has displayed this style in his many YouTube and Facebook performances that he has created during the pandemic, along with classical, folk, and various other pieces.

“The social media videos have really gone viral. Especially Komitas’ Groung, which I did when the war finished.” The video has more than 2,000 views.

“Now I am looking for teaching jobs in universities,” Arakelyan tells us. “That way you have freedom to perform as well.”

Arakelyan is currently performing with various mid-Michigan orchestras. “I love playing and creating music, and I love presenting culture and Armenian music,” he says. The talented violinist says he wants to spread awareness of Armenian culture in the classical music world here in the States. “If I don’t do it, or someone who is involved in music, nobody’s going to do it.”

 

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