Meet the Artist……Tigran Arakelyan, conductor

Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?

I don’t know if there was one person or event in particular that led me to pursue this career. I wanted to be a conductor and to have a new platform to communicate with musicians, music lovers and people who are not aware of classical music. I wanted to have an opportunity to inspire the future generation of young musicians. I also wanted to engage people who are not fans of classical music and get them excited for it. I know many colleagues who always dreamed about being a conductor but I came to that realization when I was 22.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?

The most challenging part of being a conductor or a Music Director of a group is inspiring musicians to accept the challenges I present. New music is a challenge, unique collaborations are a challenge and these are paths that every orchestra (youth, community, professional) should take from time to time. As a leader one should find the determination to excite the orchestra to take on challenges with no fear. The fulfilling aspect is the final product, the inspired musicians, the excited audiences and most importantly the feeling of accomplishing something that presented a challenge.  

How exactly do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

Every orchestra I work with I learn from. Communication is a complex topic and there are no masters. I work hard in diversifying my approach and with each experience I realize that it’s not just about the music but about the people. In my communication with the orchestra I try to inspire them with my passion and love for the music, I engage them to be collaborators and of course teach them through this process. To maximize the potential of any group it requires the energy of each individual and this can be achieved through communication not only on the podium but off the podium as well.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

The role of a Music Director should be all encompassing. As a MD one should inspire the players through passion and enthusiasm for the music, engage audiences, and be in constant search of projects and collaborations. MD should also find ways to challenge to musicians and audiences because that is the only way we grow; that is the only way to the future. As an MD one should never assume that people know the music or the history and stories beyond the score. As conductors we have to educate not only the musicians but the audiences from the stage. Pre-concert talks do not provide a direct tool to teach and one never engages everyone in attendance. I believe that collaborations are vital for the growth of arts and classical music specifically. I think we live in a time where we absolutely have to collaborate with artists and other fields to maximize the reach of our art form.Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?I am always proud of the youth I work with and I am proud of them for accepting my challenges. I have commissioned new works, initiated unique collaborations with many organizations and invited artists from many genres to work with us. I want to thank the many young musicians I have had the privilege to work with and know that they will be leaders and inspiring individuals no matter what they do. Stepping on the podium to work with the future generation of rock stars is the greatest joy in my life, I feel honoured.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Picking repertoire for youth and community orchestras is tough. This is something I constantly think about. I try to include a piece that will challenge the orchestra, a piece that will be fun for the audiences, and a piece that the orchestra will not feel overwhelmed with.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

There are many beautiful spaces I have conducted in and can’t pick one in particular. I like spaces with windows and no formal stage. I like the orchestra to be surrounded by the audience and to feel as close to the people as possible.What is one piece that you’ve always wanted to conduct? And have you had that chance yet?

There is a wonderful Armenian composer Avet Terterian and I would love to conduct any of his symphonies when I have an opportunity to do so.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I currently work with many youth and community orchestras in the U.S. state of Washington. My definition of success is the consistent growth of the musicians I work with, the development of their understanding of music and most importantly the continuous passion, love and care for classical music. I want to see the youth in my orchestras be passionate advocates for arts and culture regardless of what they pursue as a career. Decades later I want to see a world full of people from diverse professional and cultural backgrounds support the arts in large numbers. As an educator and conductor I want to instill in them the importance of music.

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

As conductors it is important to understand our role within the music organization and in our community. It does not matter if you conduct the greatest orchestras in the world, a community group or a youth organization you have to stay grounded and understand the importance of impacting the youth and community. I don’t mean just advocating for the arts but actually getting your hands dirty in the daily, weekly projects of inspiring the community. There are many great conductors in the world but one thing that is evident with many is the lack of consistent commitment to youth, community and outreach events. I want to see more conductors involved in outreach events, these concerts are not just for assistant and pops conductors. Music Directors are equally responsible for these performances and should do more than just a few in a year. I want to see the role of the Music Director taken more seriously. We live in a world that is fast paced and it is easier than ever to travel across the world. Holding more than one major symphony conducting role is not only disrespectful to the orchestra but most importantly it is disrespectful to the city and community the conductor is serving. A major symphony is one of the most important cultural organizations in a city and we need to have the Music Directors fully involved in the community which again is a rare fine these days. Classical music is suffering and this is definitely one of the factors. We need our leaders a lot more than just 12-15 weeks out of a year while the rest of the year they are holding other “full-time” jobs and guest conducting 30 other orchestras.Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I want to continue working with orchestras whether they are professional or not, I want to keep inspiring the youth and the community it serves.  

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I don’t know if that exists for me but I am content with the constant challenges despite the absence of perfect happiness.

What is your most treasured possession?

I don’t know about possessions but I have treasured people who are: my wife, my brother, my parents, family, friends and the many people who help and inspire me.

What is your present state of mind?

The moment.

Armenian-American conductor Tigran Arakelyan is the Music Director of Bainbridge Island Youth Orchestras, the Federal Way Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Artistic Director /Conductor of Port Townsend Community Orchestra. Arakelyan held conducting positions with California Philharmonic, Los Angeles Youth Orchestra, Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, Rainier Symphony and the Northridge Youth Philharmonic. His primary conducting studies were with renowned conductors Ludovic Morlot and David Alexander Rahbee.

His recent conducting engagements were with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Olympia Chamber Orchestra, Armenian Pops Orchestra, Centum Youth Orchestra (S. Korea) and the Northwest Mahler Festival Orchestra.  Arakelyan toured South Korea twice (2014, 2017) with the Federal Way Youth Symphony conducting over a dozen concerts from Seoul to Busan. He recently initiated the Inaugural Bainbridge Island String Orchestra Festival with award winning guest artist Andrew Joslyn. Arakelyan also commissioned/premiered a work by international award winning composer Yiğit Kolat. 

Previously, he was the Music Director of Whidbey Island Orchestra (WA), Lark Musical Society Youth Orchestra (CA) and the Founder Conductor and Artistic Director of Cadence Chamber Orchestra (WA). At the university level Arakelyan was the Music Director of the University of Washington Campus Philharmonia and UW Summer Orchestra. He has been instrumental in initiating innovative collaborations with composers, soloists, visual artists, dancers, and choirs. Arakelyan helped in creating youth scholarship programs, festivals, young composer competitions, and led orchestral performances at unconventional venues. 

Arakelyan conducted the Pacific Northwest premiere of Paul Hindemith Kammermuzik Nr. 1. He has also conducted the Yakima Symphony Chamber Orchestra, University of California Los Angeles Philharmonia, Redmond Academy of Theatre Arts, Korean Music Association Choir (WA), Inverted Space Modern Ensemble, U.W. Symphony, California State University Northridge Symphony, CSU Northridge Discovery Players, and the Nimbus Ensemble (CA). A strong advocate of new music, he premiered works by Iosif Andriasov, Stepan Rostomyan, Eleanor Aversa, Jeff Bowen, Jon Brenner, Arshak Andriasov, and Felipe Rossi. 

Arakelyan played alongside Sir James Galway during his induction into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He is a recipient of numerous awards including: Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) Performing Arts Fellowship (2013, 2014, 2015), Edward Hosharian Award, and the Armenian Allied Arts Competition (1st place), among others.  Arakelyan participated in the Conductors Guild Workshop, Pierre Monteux School for Conductors, Idyllwild Music Festival, Dilijan Chamber Music Series, Seasons Festival Academy, and Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. He conducted in masterclasses with notable conductors David Loebel, Frank Battisti, Donald Thulean, Ennio Nicotra, David Effron, Neal Stulberg, Michael Jinbo, and Lawrence Golan. 

Arakelyan received a Doctorate in Musical Arts degree in conducting from the University of Washington. His primary conducting studies are with Ludovic Morlot, David Alexander Rahbee, John Roscigno and flute studies with Paul Taub, John Barcellona, Laura Osborn, Stephen Preston, and Shigenori Kudo.​ Outside of conducting, he is the founder/director of the Armenian Orchestral Music Project and the Classical Program Coordinator at Music Works Northwest. Arakelyan is also the founder and host of Off The Podium-Music Podcast where his guests are renowned musicians and artists.