Conductor Sergey Smbatyan leads the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra on their new album CONTEMPORARY COLOURS. Featuring music exclusively by Maltese composers, the album combines full orchestration with pre-recorded elements, traditional instruments, and contemporary sounds to bring the pieces to life.
Today, Sergey is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to discover what’s behind Sergey’s love of working with living 21st-Century composers…
Who was your first favorite artist(s) growing up?
I have always admired Yehudi Menuhin because of his unique and rich sound, great interpretation, philosophy, as well as for his phenomenally talented character and the starting point of his career. He possessed an exceptional musical flair and sense of style. His performance was distinguished by an exceptional intelligence. I have also been fascinated by conductors Valery Gergiev and Claudio Abbado, who are role models for me. I was lucky to meet them in person to get their professional advice.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?
I was just four years old when I asked my grandmother, who was a violin teacher, to give me a small violin to learn how to play. I owe her for becoming a musician, as she was the one that laid the foundation. My grandmother had a significant influence on my future career from the very beginning. Her critical remarks and advice have always been of great importance to me. I have always given meaningful weight to her opinion throughout the way of my personality development as a violinist and later as a conductor. It is always exciting to communicate with people who have been in contact with famous musicians of the twentieth century, and so had my grandmother. Her advice and thoughts on various professional topics have had a strong impact on me as a conductor. In general, all the values that I carry in me, the most important of which is the love for music, is due to my grandmother.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I enjoy trying to find new interpretations or new ideas while working on a very popular repertoire. Even if the program is one of the most rehearsed ones, I always try to take to the concert with a slightly different arrangement and tempo. It both makes the performance interesting and keeps the orchestra in a constant exciting drive.
I think the crucial part is that the work with the conductor should always be interesting for an orchestra.
Very often, I focus on a specific fragment and practice it for quite a long time. No doubt, musicians get tired or maybe feel some tension, but this is how we get the perfect sound that I could imagine, and it’s the way we represent our interpretation of the piece.
If you could make a living at any job in the world, what would that job be?
It is interesting, but I have never had the thought of choosing any other profession. Everything happened so naturally, like flowing water, as it could never even be a matter of discussion if I was to become a musician or not. When taking the violin in my hands back when I was 4, the only thought that I was having was that I have to become a musician. With this, I am blessed to have always definitely known what I want. So, I would still repeat my path. I would start with learning violin and later would become a conductor. In my perception it is the same profession: one should become a violinist first and then a conductor. For me, being a conductor is not a profession but a lifestyle.
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
The composer-performer and the composer-conductor relationships get a different shade in the twenty-first century. It is a great pleasure to work with composers who know exactly what they imagine and what they want to hear. And indeed, we, the conductors, must realize that we are given a rare opportunity to be living at the same time with the composers, whose works we are interpreting together with the orchestra.
It is not easy to point out only one musical moment because I enjoyed the whole process. Especially the moments when I was having discussions with the composers, during which they were explaining the message of their music. I relished the moments before and during the rehearsals when they tried to explain their perception of the music, as it was different from the orchestra’s and my understanding. I enjoyed how organic the name of the album sounds and, of course, enjoyed all the colors coming from the composers.
Contemporary Maltese composers, indeed, have unique compositional styles, which are perfectly combined in the album.
Is there a specific feeling that you would like communicated to audiences in this work?
I would like to communicate to audiences the feeling of contemporary Maltese colors. It is precisely what we tried to deliver with the album’s title. The album is about new ideas and colors that arise from contemporary Maltese works. The title is all about Maltese music, spirit, attitude – and I want audiences to feel all these with the help of talented and gifted Maltese composers. Their works occupy a genuinely unique place among the twenty-first century European compositions. These works contain parts of Maltese traditional music and a national description of the Maltese people, which is why they differ from other European composers’ works in many ways. The inclusion of Maltese folk music gives a compelling and unique vibration to the works.