Peter Oundjian | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Peter Oundjian

Peter (Haig) Oundjian. Conductor, violinist, teacher, b Toronto 21 Dec 1955 to an Armenian-British father and a British mother; B MUS (Juilliard), M MUS (Juilliard) 1981, honorary doctorate (San Francisco Conservatory) 2009.

Oundjian, Peter

Peter (Haig) Oundjian. Conductor, violinist, teacher, b Toronto 21 Dec 1955 to an Armenian-British father and a British mother; B MUS (Juilliard), M MUS (Juilliard) 1981, honorary doctorate (San Francisco Conservatory) 2009. Raised from 1960 in the south London suburb of Purley, Peter Oundjian initially played the piano, like his father and two sisters. In 1963, he began violin lessons at his school, where he also sang in the choir. During this period he met the composer Benjamin Britten, who inspired Oundjian's interest in conducting and included the young musician on three of his recordings. Oundjian also was a boy soprano in the choir of Westminster Abbey. Later, while a student at the Charterhouse boys' school in Surrey, he took violin lessons 1968-70 in London with Bela Katona, and 1970-2 studied with Manoug Parikian.

Oundjian attended London's Royal College of Music 1974-5, winning the gold medal for most distinguished student and the Stoutzker Prize for excellence in violin playing. Endorsements from Yehudi Menuhin and a master class with Pinchas Zukerman led to him studying at the Juilliard School of Music 1975-81. There, Oundjian studied violin with Ivan Galamian (1975-7), Itzhak Perlman (1977-8), and Dorothy Delay (1978-80), as well as conducting.

Initially intending a career as a violin soloist, which included performances with various orchestras including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (1980 and 1981), a tour with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (1985), and first prize at the 1980 International Violin Competition in Viña del Mar, Chile, Oundjian instead became first violinist 1981-95 of the Tokyo String Quartet, a leading chamber ensemble based in New York. He also taught starting in 1981 as an adjunct violin instructor at Yale University. During the late 1980s, Oundjian began to suffer from focal dystonia, a muscle condition that affected his left hand. Therefore, he decided to apply his musicianship, familiarity, and connections to a new career in orchestral conducting, and took lessons with André Previn in 1995.

Conducting Career

Peter Oundjian's conducting debut took place 15 Jul 1995 at the Caramoor International Music Festival's 50th anniversary concert with the Orchestra of St. Luke's, for which he shared the podium with Previn. The reviews, such as that in the New York Times, praised the arrival of a "musically gifted conductor." The festival invited him back to conduct several additional concerts; Oundjian then served 1997-2003 as its artistic director, in addition to serving 1998-2003 as music director of Amsterdam's Nieuw Sinfonietta, principal guest conductor 2003-6 of Denver's Colorado Symphony, and principal guest conductor 2006-9 of the Detroit Symphony (including the 8 Days in June festival). He guest-conducted in Berlin, Birmingham, Chicago (the Ravinia Festival), Cincinnati, Detroit, Hanover, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Paris, Philadelphia (including the Absolutely Mozart festival), Pittsburgh, Saarbrücken, San Francisco, St. Louis, Toronto, Washington, and Zürich.

In January 2003 the Toronto Symphony appointed Peter Oundjian as its music director, beginning in 2004 (making Oundjian the first Canadian to hold the position since Sir Ernest MacMillan); in 2007 his contract was renewed until 2012. In 2004-5, he launched the TSO's Mozart Festival and its New Creations Festival, and during June 2007's Luminato Festival he debuted the comic oratorio Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy), by his cousin Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame) and John Du Prez. Alec Scott (in Toronto Life, September 2004) aptly referred to Oundjian's conducting style as "restrained Energizer Bunny."

Selected Discography

As Violinist:

Champagne, Dela, Debussy, Ravel, Messiaen. Violin Sonatas. William Tritt piano. 1993. CBC Records, MVCD 1060

Beethoven: The Late String Quartets, Opp. 127, 130, 131, 133, 135. Tokyo String Quartet. 1992. RCA Victor RD 60975

plus additional recordings with the Tokyo String Quartet

As Conductor:

Beethoven: String Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131 and Grosse Fugue, Op. 133. Nieuw Sinfonietta Amsterdam. 2002. BIS-CD-1218

Portraits: Edward Elgar, Enigma Variations, Modest Mussorgsky/orch. Ravel, Pictures at an Exhibition.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra. 2008. TSO Live TSO-0108

Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 4. Toronto Symphony Orchestra. 2008. TSO Live TSO-0608

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 4. Barbara Hannigan soprano, Toronto Symphony Orchestra. 2008. TSO Live


Five Days in September: The Rebirth of an Orchestra (Rhombus Media, 2005)

Further Reading