Canadian pianist and composer Serouj Kradjian is also the co-artistic director of Amici Chamber Ensemble, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary season this year. Leading up to the release of Levant, Amici’s latest ATMA Classique recording, Serouj spoke with ATMA Classique about his musical interests and inspirations.
How was your musical talent discovered?
Well it started in Lebanon, of all places, during the civil war. I was five years old and my dad—even though there was a war going on—had the brilliant idea of bringing home a piano. Everybody thought he was crazy for doing it, but my parents had recognized this musical talent in me and they wanted to encourage it at all costs. Later on, I got a scholarship to study in Vienna. Then I moved to Canada and I continued my studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music first and then University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. Then I moved to Germany and later to Spain, and that’s where my career developed.
Many musicians would be fully satisfied with a career as a soloist, or an accompanist, or a chamber musician or composer. You are juggling all of these! How do you make it work?
I love doing all of them, and in a way I feel limited when I do only one type of performing. For me, they complete each other. Through composing, I’ve learned a lot, from vocal accompanying, I’ve learned a lot… these are elements of my personality as a musician, and most of all, they don’t allow me to get bored! As long as it’s good music—what I’m performing, what I’m writing and the projects I’m devising.
As a composer, where do you draw your inspiration?
From different sources. Ethnic music and folk music of various cultures is very important in my pieces. Lately, medieval troubadour music has been an inspiration. In fact, my latest full scale work, Trobairitz Ysabella, for soprano and orchestra is inspired by the songs of medieval female troubadours.
Amici had been long-established in its earlier configuration with founding member Patricia Parr before you were invited to join them. What were the challenges of being the new guy in such a tight-knit ensemble?
Well, not only the new guy, but actually Pat Parr was my chamber music teacher at university! Amici was my very first introduction to chamber music when I was attending the University of Toronto, Faculty of Music. I used to go to their concerts and I had always seen them on stage as a student. So when I was invited to join in, I had big shoes to fill. In a way, I had to combine what had been happening with Amici over the last 20 years in chamber music programming with my new ideas of how chamber music should be presented at the present time, when the competition to attract audiences is fierce. You have to come up with very original ideas, to combine the obscure with the well-known and create projects which are interesting for different audiences.
How did you come up with the concept for Levant, Amici’s new ATMA Classique recording?
I was born in Lebanon and music from the Middle East—Arabic music, Armenian music, Jewish music—was a big part of my musical development, early on. And I noticed that not many chamber ensembles had ventured out to make a recording, which introduces compositions inspired by, or coming from that part of the world. The repertoire featured in this recording will truly take you on an exotic musical voyage.
You’ve toured extensively with your wife, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian. What are the challenges when both partners have demanding musical careers and are balancing that with raising a family?
The good thing about it is that we came into the relationship, the marriage, with music on our hands already. It wasn’t like all of a sudden the career of one person blossoms and you think, wait a second, where am I in the equation? You come into the relationship and form a family with the understanding that music and all the requirements that it has—the travelling, the touring, the rehearsing and the time you spend developing projects—has to be a part of your life and you love it and that’s why you do it. You always tend to program that into your daily life and you don’t let it disturb the personal part of your life. I think we have found a good balance in setting the two apart, yet living together with the two—the personal and the career.
If music had not been possible as a career, what would you most likely be doing now?
History and politics have been a very big interest of mine and my minor at university was international relations. So most probably I would be a diplomat or a political lobbyist for cultural issues.
What projects are you most looking forward to at the moment?
We have the 25th anniversary season coming up with Amici, which is very important. It’s a very interesting lineup of concerts including our Koerner Hall debut on March 1st 2013. We are also doing a co-production with the Toronto International Film Festival where I am composing music for silent films by Canadian director Guy Maddin. The music will be performed live while the silent films are screened. And later on in 2013, a new album entirely of my compositions and arrangements for soprano and orchestra, will be released on Avie Records in time for a North American concert tour.
©ATMA Classique, 2012