Music’s power to unite, heal and inspire has driven and sustained Sergey Smbatyan since early childhood. His mature artistic vision combines lessons learned from the finest traditions of music-making and a profound personal commitment to transforming lives through the shared experience of performing and listening. The charismatic Armenian conductor’s reputation with fellow musicians and critics alike flows from the fluidity of his technical skills, the intensity with which he shapes and communicates musical ideas, the intelligence of his programming, and the spiritual richness and depth of his interpretations. Acclaimed for his achievements at home and increasingly in demand on the international stage, he continues to serve as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra and has been Principal Conductor of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra since September 2019.
Sergey Smbatyan’s development as a man and musician owes much to the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra, which he founded in 2006 as an eighteen-year-old student. He has overseen its transformation since from youth ensemble into a fully-fledged professional orchestra, ranked among Armenia’s best. At the start of 2020 conductor and orchestra undertook a landmark eight-concert European tour, complete with debut appearances at Vienna’s Musikverein, the Berlin Philharmonie, Salzburg’s Großes Festspielhaus, the Barbican Hall in London, Moscow’s Zaryadye Concert Hall, the Gasteig Munich, Stuttgart’s Beethoven Hall and Prague’s Rudolfinum. SeenandHeard International.com hailed the orchestra’s Barbican concert as ‘a fabulous evening’ and praised Smbatyan’s orchestra as ‘a fine ensemble with no weak sections’.
During recent seasons Sergey Smbatyan has extended his career, working as guest conductor with the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Sinfonia Varsovia, the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Dresden Philharmonic, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and, among others, the Orchestra of the Komische Oper Berlin. He made his debut with the Malta Philharmonic in the summer of 2017, led the orchestra on tour to prestigious venues in Germany and Austria the following year and was invited soon after to become its Principal Conductor.
During the 2021-22 season he is set to join the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra for a European tour, including concerts at the Kurhaus in Wiesbaden and the Musikverein in Vienna. His schedule also includes dates with the Malta Philharmonic, the Russian National Orchestra, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as part of the 2021 InClassica International Music Festival. Smbatyan will conduct the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra on its first UK tour in September 2021, presenting ten concerts at leading venues in company with Maxim Vengerov as soloist, and make his debut with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra soon after.
Sergey Smbatyan’s approach to programming recognises the importance of creating harmonious combinations of works by different composers as well as the vital need to refresh the repertoire with attractive new music. “I am led by an impulse to share great music with audiences and keep our wonderful collective arts culture thriving,” he observes. Over the past two decades, he has explored a vast range of repertoire, embracing everything from masterworks of the western symphonic literature and neglected treasures to compelling scores by Armenian and other Eastern European composers, many of them commissioned by or specially written for him. “I’ve always sought to combine the eastern and western musical traditions together when programming concerts for the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra, whilst also presenting new music to audiences. I want to introduce other orchestras and their audiences to works from eastern musical traditions and show how we are all connected by the common emotions and feelings that music inspires.”
In addition to his work as conductor, Smbatyan has also made significant contributions to the arts in Armenia as founder of four music festivals and creator of the annual Khachaturian International Competition’s conducting category. The remit of his festivals, represented in the titles of the Armenian Composing Art Festival, the Khachaturian International Festival, the “Armenia” International Music Festival and the Contemporary Classics Composers’ Festival, reflects the high value Smbatyan places on new work, encouraging young composers and performers and building on the great legacy of classical music’s past. Since his appointment as Artistic Director of the Aram Khachaturian International Competition in 2016, he has incorporated artificial intelligence (AI) into the annual event’s third and final round and overseen a virtual edition of the competition in 2020.
Armed with the experience of building a symphony orchestra from scratch, Sergey Smbatyan has created four other orchestras in recent years. In 2015 he founded the 24/04 Orchestra to commemorate the centenary of the Armenian Genocide and the “Generation of Independence” All-Armenian Choir and Orchestra to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union. He also founded the UNICEF Children’s Chamber Orchestra, dedicated to the twentieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Pan-Armenian Symphony Orchestra, an initiative intended to unite Armenians around the world. The remit of his work as educator and innovator extends to DasA, a high school-based project that offers students hands-on experience of making classical music.
Smbatyan’s determination to engage with young people and win new audiences for classical music attracted international attention in October 2019 when he conducted the WCIT World Orchestra in the first ever concert of music written by AI. The project, presented in Yerevan by the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra and the World Congress of Information Technology (WCIT), united musicians from the ASSO and fellow players from the fourteen other countries that had previously hosted the Congress.
Born in Yerevan into a family of musicians in 1987, Sergey Smbatyan showed exceptional musical promise at an early age. He received his first violin lessons from his grandmother, the violinist and renowned pedagogue Tatiana Hayrapetyan, continued his studies at the Komitas State Conservatory of Yerevan and Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory and received advanced lessons from Bagrat Vardanyan and Zakhar Bron. His innate leadership skills and entrepreneurial spirit were already apparent in 2005 when he established the State Youth Orchestra of Armenia; following his graduation four years later, he worked tirelessly to build his ensemble of young musicians into the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra.
In addition to his training in the great Russian tradition of violin playing, Smbatyan flourished as a conductor with his Yerevan-based orchestra. He developed his skills and experience while studying for a PhD in fine arts at the Institute of Arts of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences and as a postgraduate student at London’s Royal Academy of Music, where he gained invaluable insights into the art and craft of conducting from Sir Colin Davis. During his student years in the UK, he conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra and Maxim Vengerov in fundraising concerts for the Prince’s Trust at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace and made his debut with the London Symphony Orchestra at LSO St Luke’s.
Sergey Smbatyan’s list of awards and prizes includes the title of Honoured Artist of the Republic of Armenia, presented by the President of the Republic of Armenia in recognition for his promotion of Armenian music and culture, and first prize in the conducting category of the inaugural Debut Berlin competition at the Berlin Philharmonie. In 2014 he became the youngest ever worker in the field of the arts and the first Armenian to be appointed Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture.
The hero of Beethoven’s Seventh was Sergey Smbatyan himself. By no means was it a “textbook” interpretation of this big classical hit. The Armenian conductor attempted to be original.
The conductor led the orchestra with an uncommon attention to detail, skillfully guiding the musicians through the whole performance. His hands were clear and precise; this was a performance of great dignity and nobility. A highly successful and passionate performance!