Meet the Artist……Levon Parikian, conductor

Who or what inspired you to take up conducting, and make it your career? 

When I was five I used to sit on the floor listening to my father [Manoug Parikian, leader of the Philharmonia in the 1950s, soloist, chamber musician and teacher] as he practised. So it’s safe to say that music was an integral part of my life from a very early age. And I decided that music was what I wanted to do while playing in a performance of the Bartok Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion when I was seventeen (I was a percussionist before I took up conducting).

As for conducting, I genuinely can’t remember. I was aware of conductors and what they did, and knew names such as Toscanini, Furtwängler, Klemperer and Cantelli from my father talking about them. But it wasn’t until I was studying timpani and percussion at the Royal Academy of Music that I took an interest in what was or wasn’t going on at the front. And it wasn’t until my early thirties that I plucked up the stupidity to try and make it my career.

Who or what were the most important influences on your conducting? 

Oh crikey! I don’t know. I’ve had some wonderful teachers: Michael Rose, George Hurst, Ilya Musin. They all gave me enormous amounts of wisdom, a lot of which I chose to ignore at the time. But sometimes it’s something as simple as a player asking you to speak up that can make you examine what you do; and teaching others is of course the best teacher.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

I remember being so nervous before my first concert that I was unable to tie my tie. That was quite tough. Otherwise: remaining in employment.

Which performances are you most proud of?  

All of them. Some have been better than others, but any performance is something to be celebrated.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

Not particularly. It helps if they have a roof.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Sibelius 7th Symphony – but ask me again tomorrow and you’ll get a different answer.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Too many to mention, but anyone who plays with commitment, musical intelligence and honesty.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I can barely remember what I did last Thursday.

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

Eek. I feel desperately unqualified to answer this, but if I have to: put the music first.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m off to Edinburgh at the weekend for a week-long course with the wonderful Rehearsal Orchestra (, a group that has an astonishing capacity to have a go at pretty much anything thrown at them. I’ll be conducting Lutosławski Concerto for Orchestra, Stravinsky Petrushka, Shostakovich’s First Symphony…….errm, lots of other things. Basically it’s a week-long orgy of hedonistic musical excess punctuated by civilised bouts of whisky-drinking.

I’m also promoting my book, Waving, Not Drowning, a light-hearted pastiche of the Maestro Memoir married to a brutal exposé of the murkier secrets of the conductor’s world. Or something. Where can you get it, you say? Oh look:

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

In the land of the living.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

As I am now: answering questionnaires while in the privileged position of watching England retain the Ashes and just having had a gin and tonic.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

I like nothing more than settling down for a good satisfying [redacted].

What is your present state of mind? 

Decisive. No, hold on, indecisive. Errm…

(Interview date: 5th August 2013)

Lev Parikian’s book Waving, Not Drowning: the art of conducting explained from upbeat to cufflinks, co-authored with Barrington Orwell, is now available priced £7. To read sample text or order a copy (paperback or e-book), please go to

Levon Parikian studied conducting with George Hurst and Ilya Musin. Since completing his studies, he has pursued a freelance conducting career, and is much in demand as Guest Conductor with orchestras in Britain. He currently holds Principal Conductor posts with several London-based orchestras, and is Principal Conductor of the City of Oxford Orchestra and Artistic Director of The Rehearsal Orchestra. He has worked extensively with students and youth orchestras, including the Hertfordshire County Youth Orchestra, National Youth Strings Academy, Royal College of Music Junior Sinfonia, and Royal Holloway University of London, where he also teaches conducting. In 2012 Levon conducted the UK premiere of Armen Tigranian’s opera Anoush with London Armenian Opera.

Levon lives in South London and his hobbies include making retaliatory hoax calls to call centres, finding unexpected items in the bagging area, and wondering why he came upstairs.

Lev also blogs on topics as diverse as music, food, sport and aardvarks. To read his blog, please visit

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