#Staying the Course

Oganes Arustamov

We are talking Music here. A lot is being written about Improvisation these days, but music lessons in most professional schools for the classics do not give too much about it. Especially Russian schools and teachers rather focus on technical perfection and a rigid adherence to what is called the correct interpretation, thus defining a narrow career path for a few selected to the top while most others are forced to drop out or lead a rather miserable life in the shadows of officially approved stardom.

Oganes would not go along. The Armenian, born in Moscow after his mother had fled there from war-torn home in 1991 and married, soon turned out to be a musical wonderchild. He picked up his first violin from a toyshop when he was four. His mother, who loves music herself, recognized the talent in her offspring and provided him with classes, for which she herself was the main teacher until he was twelve. However the kid did not play along as the teachers or mother wanted. He improvised and composed his own melodies, which were not met with much of an understanding….; grudgingly the little one went along as ought to be played.

Then, from thirteen on, the struggle with teachers became worse. The style and contents what they wanted to play that strange boy was outright fought by the disobedient Oganes. He felt that that what the teachers wanted was narrowing and harrowing, quite contrary to the joy he felt the music should give – to the player as well as to the audience. So, many a teacher changed until he entered Moscow State Conservatory. But there it went from bad to worse. Oganes, who was listening to whatever recordings he could lay his hand on, began to always prepare for two ‘lessons’: one for the given teacher, the other for his performance on stage. On stage he played the way he felt – and was corroborated by the audience, who loved it; alas not by his colleagues who tried to drive that spirit out of him and play with conformity.

‘People go with the current; the wise goes against it.’ (Chinese Daoist saying)

So, instead of trying to climb the career ladder in Moscow (for which he certainly had the talent), he decided to leave Russia and moved to Switzerland. Only to find the situation there better than at home but still trying. The major difference being that the enslavement of the musician to standard thinking was less rigorous than in Moscow and teachers a bit more understanding. However, when it comes to the juries in competition, the key is to adhere to established standard and technical perfection above all other. Understanding for music, music as he thinks it originally should work? Rarely. – Well he found some like-minded fellows in Lausanne and Zurich where he performed at several occasions before Covid regulation took the reign…. Oganes kept searching for suitable teachers and went to Germany where he found some he finally accepted, like one of his present teachers, Christine Busch.

By now, the young violinist and latent composer has a vision he is fighting for: to bring the music back to the people, a music which flows naturally from the heart and teaches the hands in its own way to do the performance, a performance which is carried by the music and develops from the music – and not a forced interpretation. Music, in his own words, should be able to reveal all and everything and be apt to convey the inexplicable directly from the heart. It is an uphill struggle against the establishment. Oganes has turned to look for teachers and pupils who are not stuck in the system yet. His training them starts with an ‘untraining’: no homework but play from within. This play is cultivated under a systematic guidance to become natural, which he has developed on his own. And to make this difference work Hovhannes (Armenian version of his name) envisages the establishment of a school. The school will take place somewhere physically and online so as to be able to spread the message far and wide.

We met the blessed violinist playing in the street during Corona times. He shies no hardship and no standoff to make his vision work as best as he can for the benefit of grateful pupils and grateful audiences alike – we are wishing him to succeed, which sure he will.

Basel, February 2021, tap