Suren Bagratuni

Pegasus: the Orchestra Celebrates Fifth Anniversary with Suren Bagratuni Concert

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NEW YORK — Pegasus: the Orchestra, founded and led by conductor, composer and pianist Karén Hakobyan, will continue celebrating its fifth anniversary with a special program on March 3 with celebrated cellist Suren Bagratuni, silver medalist of the prestigious Tchaikovsky International Cello Competition (1986) and professor at Michigan State University.

In this concert conducted by Karén Hakobyan, the program features Mozart’s Divertimento in D major, K. 136 and Grieg’s Holberg Suite “Suite in olden style” in the first half. Following intermission, Schnittke mirrors Grieg in his “Suite in old style” for cello, string orchestra and harpsichord. The concert concludes with Haydn’s  Cello Concerto No 1 in C major.

The concert will take place at Christ & Saint Stephen’s Church (by Lincoln Center) 120 West 69th Street, New York, at 7.30 p.m.

Bagratuni has not performed as a soloist in New York for quite some time and according to Hakobyan, “it’s an event we have been anticipating with great excitement. He has brought up generations of internationally acclaimed cellists and has contributed so much to not only Armenian but also international music scene.”

Hailed as “a cellist of uncommon attainments” by the Boston Globe, Bagratuni was winner of the Silver Medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition while still a student at the Moscow Conservatory. He has gone on to a distinguished international career as a soloist, recitalist, chamber musician and recording artist.  In addition to performing throughout the former Soviet Union, he has toured worldwide earning enthusiastic praise in both traditional and contemporary repertoire.

Conductor and Pegasus: The Orchestra Founder Karén Hakobyan

As soloist Bagratuni has performed with numerous orchestras in the former Soviet Union, including the Moscow Philharmonic, appeared with the Stuttgart and Württenberg Chamber Orchestras, with National Philharmonic Orchestras of Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Armenia as well as the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Camerata Georgia, Armenian National Chamber Orchestra, and many others. Recital and chamber music appearances have included guest invitations with the Newport, Hamptons, the “Russian Winter”, El Paso, and numerous international festivals in Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, Korea and Taiwan. Other solo appearances have included recitals in major concert venues of North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and South Africa.

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Bagratuni has been featured on CBC Radio Canada, the Bayerischer Rundfunk in Germany, and WNYC in New York, NPR, and WGBH Radio in Boston.

He is a professor of cello at Michigan State University where he maintains a very busy teaching schedule and serves as Chair of String area. He is the artistic director of the International Music Academy in Todi, Italy and the annual Cello Plus Festival, called “one of the premiere classical happenings.”

Bagratuni has presented master classes throughout Europe, South America, the Far East, South Africa, Armenia, Canada and at many Schools in the U.S. including the New England Conservatory, Peabody Conservatory and the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Born in Yerevan, Armenia, Bagratuni began his musical education at age 7. In 1988, he won first prize in the Vittorio Gui International Competition in Italy.

Bagratuni comes from an artistic family. His grandparents were actors and opera singers, and his father was one of the best known opera directors/ producers. His mother is a doctor, but happens to be a huge music lover and an amateur pianist.

It is no surprise then that Bagratuni at a young age tapped into his life’s work. “My journey started while in fourth grade of Tchaikovsky Central Special Music School in Yerevan. That first recital of mine made me realise that this what I wanted to do all my life. Since then I’ve been playing my cello, enjoying great masterpieces of different periods, collaborating with wonderful musicians and talented composers, sharing my experiences with my students and colleagues. Music has an amazing quality: musician can never feel bored or lonely – that is one thing making us fortunate and in most cases happy,” Bagratuni said.

Bagratuni noted that he came of age at a different point than Hakobyan, and thus, Armenia was different with regard to helping up-and-coming musicians, as was the Western system. “I come from times when an agency used to work for you. Nowadays often a musician is working for the agency, if he or  she is signed by one. My life has been slightly different from this ‘commercial’ arrangement — I play when I want, with whom I want, and what I want. Perhaps because I do have a secure job as professor, and don’t have to rely on multiple concerts to make a living. Naturally, I love playing, and appreciate an invitation to perform, like in case with Karen. I do have a manager for my concerts, and our relationship is based on mutual respect.”

He noted that he was not up to date with the situation regarding the arts in Armenia, “especially after the passing of my dear friend, Aram Gharabekian,” the Iranian-Armenian artistic director and principal conductor of the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia.

Pegasus: The Orchestra led by Karén Hakobyan

For such a small country, Armenia has produced some amazing classical musicians, including opera soloists, pianists, and of course, Hakobyan and Bagratuni. One has to wonder why. According to Bagratuni, it is “education, the basics, great teachers, and a cultural life around us. There is great interest in classical music from people of almost every background. Opera, symphony orchestras, chamber orchestras — at the time I was growing up and forming as a musician, music wasn’t considered a business. Everything was funded by the state and concerts were very affordable. (In 1986, the price of ticket to Vladimir Horowitz’ concert was 5 roubles, less than a dollar!) Oh, and very important: no YouTube or easily available platforms, which young students use today to copy or ‘learn’ new pieces. Reading about composers’ lives, using one’s imagination, going to multiple live concerts — I find these conditions were very important for my overall musical growth.”

Pegasus: the Orchestra is a nonprofit professional orchestra with a mission to empower rising musicians with artistic freedom and promote innovative repertoire in an environment of creative thought and expression. Founded by Hakobyan in late 2017, the orchestra brings together musicians and audiences of diverse backgrounds and cultural heritages by harnessing the power of music.

Pegasus: the Orchestra has had a  Monira Foundation residency at Mana Contemporary cultural center in Jersey City, NJ. Some of the highlights from Pegasus’s engagements outside of its residency include: Debut concert at Merkin Concert Hall on November 23, 2019 featuring Glenn Dicterow, the legendary former concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, and Pegasus’s own concertmaster, Eiko Kano, performing Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, alongside works by Hakobyan and Tchaikovsky conducted by Hakobyan. A program of American music at the Friends of Music concert series in Stamford, NY on September 15, 2019, an event that illustrated a key aspect of its mission: to bring the sounds of a symphony hall to intimate spaces and locations where live music of a high caliber is rarely heard. Pegasus often performs orchestral works in special arrangements by Hakobyan. These are tailored for the Pegasus ensemble to take on the road and perform in all kinds of venues. Pegasus’ chamber series, featuring its world-class principals, fulfills its mission to provide an artistic platform through performance opportunities.

Several news outlets have showcased Pegasus, including Al Jazeera, Voice of America TV Network, Ardzagang Armenian TV, the Russian Television Network of America, The Voice of Armenians TV program on the NYC Life Channel, WGCH (Greenwich, CT) Talk Radio, WQXR New York Classical Radio, WSKG Radio and Get Classical’s online journal.

Pegasus had its Lincoln Center debut at Alice Tully Hall in October 2022, featuring the complete Rachmaninoff Piano Concerti performed by five pianists in a single evening.

Hakobyan has been described as “a musician of abundant gifts and bountiful ideas” by New York Concert Review, and “an immensely talented and dynamic performer” by Deseret Morning News.

Cellist Suren Bagratuni

Like Bagratuni, Hakobyan was ensconced in a musical cocoon in Armenia. “I was fortunate to study with some of the most incredible teachers there. This played an enormous role in my musical journey, from writing symphonies at age of 9 to winning international piano competitions to becoming a conductor and creating my own orchestra,” he said.

Hakobyan has worked hard to get to where he is now, professionally. He said, “On December 31, 2001, I arrived in the United States at the age of 16, completely alone, from Yerevan, Armenia. I had $200 and a full scholarship as a double major in piano and composition from the University of Utah.  After earning my B.A., I continued my studies in New York’s Manhattan School of Music, and today, I am the first Armenian conductor to create a high caliber professional orchestra on the East Coast. Its name is Pegasus: The Orchestra; I am its founder, director, and principal conductor.”

He noted that since the pandemic, “It has become increasingly more difficult for musicians and composers, to secure funding as well as performing opportunities. This is the case for both Armenia and the West. We all must do what we can to provide the support for performing artists and composers.”

Hakobyan said his orchestra hopes to cast a wide net and bring in non-Armenians as well as Armenians. “We have been dedicated to bringing symphony hall sounds to intimate venues, making full-bodied orchestral arrangements accessible to everyone. Of course, it will be meaningful to have a strong presence from the Armenian community at the concert,” he said.

The works Pegasus has performed has run the gamut from Baroque to new music, and everything in between. He noted, “We have performed Bach, Bartok, Khachaturian, Babadjanian, Copland, Gershwin, Grieg, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, and more. I am passionate about so many composers but of course, it is always special to feature works by Armenian composers.”

With Pegasus, Hakobyan is aiming high. “As humans we often dream of defying gravity and music does just that! It gives us wings. This was the source of inspiration behind creating Pegasus: The Orchestra, I wanted winged Pegasus to symbolize our musical aspirations,” he explained.

To see Bagratuni perform, click below:

DVORAK – Cello Concerto Op. 104, 1st movement

SCHUMANN Three Romances, Op. 94

To see Pegasus: the Orchestra perform:

GRIEG Holberg Suite Op. 40, I. Praeludium

TCHAIKOVSKY Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48

BACH Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 (3rd movement) – Pegasus: The Orchestra

To learn more about Pegasus or to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.pegasustheorchestra.org

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