Raffi Armenian

Raffi Armenian.

Armenian, Raffi

Raffi Armenian. Conductor, pianist, composer, teacher, b Cairo 4 Jun 1942, naturalized Canadian 1971; Piano Diploma (Vienna Academy) 1962, B SC (London) 1965, Conducting Diploma (Vienna Academy) 1968, Composition Diploma (Vienna Academy) 1969, honorary LLD (Waterloo) 1980, honorary LLD (Wilfrid Laurier) 1991. In Cairo Raffi Armenian studied piano with Ettore Puglisi and theory with Minatto Pompeo, and at 15 he played Mozart's Concerto in A, K488, with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra under Franz Litschauer. In 1959 he went to Vienna to study piano with Bruno Seidlhofer. After graduating he set music aside and attended the University of London 1962-5, majoring in metallurgy. He returned to music and studied 1965-9 at the Vienna Academy of Music with Hans Swarowsky (orchestral conducting), Reinhold Schmidt (choral conducting), Alfred Uhl (composition), and Ferdinand Grossmann (voice). In 1968 he was one of two finalists in the International Competition for Young Conductors at Besançon, France.

Armenian visited Canada in 1962, and after his graduation from Swarowsky's class he moved to Halifax to become assistant conductor 1969-71 of the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra. During those years he also conducted the Maritime performances of the Canadian Opera Company (COC) Touring Company's The Barber of Seville and led the Dalhousie Chorale 1970-1. Armenian became conductor of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra in 1971, a position he held until 1993. The orchestra's emergence by the mid-1970s as one of the most vital in Canada was attributed to his shrewd assembling of players, his resourceful programming, and his growing reputation as a conductor and pianist. As music director 1973-6 for the Stratford Festival, he conducted such works as Charles Wilson's masque-opera The Summoning of Everyman and Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire (1974). The Stratford Festival Ensemble (later Canadian Chamber Ensemble), which he founded in 1974 to accompany such performances, served also as a professional nucleus in the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra.

Armenian made guest-conducting appearances with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra in 1974 and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and National Arts Centre Orchestra in 1975, and conducted Wozzeck for the COC in Toronto and Ottawa in 1977. He helped to establish the Centre Opera Studio in Waterloo in 1977, serving also as its adviser and guest conductor. In 1981 he began the Oktoberfest Operetta in Kitchener-Waterloo, for which he conducted Strauss's Die Fledermaus, Lehár's The Merry Widow, Strauss's The Gypsy Baron and Night in Venice, and Offenbach's Grand Duchess of Gerolstein. In 1982 he researched Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen in Europe. Armenian was music director of Opéra de Montréal's studio for young singers 1982-5, and for that company he conducted Lucia di Lamermoor, La Bohème, The Magic Flute, Così fan tutte, Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges, and La Traviata. He conducted The Rake's Progress at the Banff Centre for the Arts in 1985. For Opera Columbus (Ohio) he conducted Madama Butterfly in 1986 and Verdi's Don Carlos in 1988. He conducted the premiere of István Anhalt'sWinthrop in 1986. After his 1993 departure from the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, he concentrated on teaching and guest-conducting; by 2003 he had appeared as guest conductor with the Calgary and Hamilton philharmonics, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg and Victoria symphony orchestras, and the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, and was principal guest conductor of Symphony Nova Scotia. Overseas, he conducted in Armenia, Belgium, Italy, and Romania. As music director laureate for the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, he guest-conducted that orchestra on a number of occasions. He continued to direct operas, including La Belle Hélène for L'Opéra de Québec, Così Fan Tutte for Opera Hamilton, Il Trovatore and Rigoletto for Fresno International Grand Opera, and Armen Tigranian's Anoush for Michigan Opera Theater.

Armenian was also active as a teacher of conducting; he was professor at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec 1981-96 and again from 1999, as well as at Austria's Hochschule für Musik 1997-8. He also held teaching appointments at the University of Waterloo, and at the University of Toronto beginning in 1999. In 2008 he became director of the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal.

He was the pianist, with Gerard Kantarjian and Gisela Depkat, in the Ararat Trio (1971-4). His compositions include a Passion Cantata (1969) for solo tenor, choir, and orchestra, and Progressions I (1972) for flute, cello, and piano. He took a sabbatical from the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra in 1988 to begin writing an opera based on Stefan Zweig's novel Beware of Pity. He was an associate of the Canadian Music Centre. A concert, 5 Oct 1991, honoured Armenian's 20 years with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, and was broadcast by CBC radio. He was married to Agnes Grossmann. Armenian was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 1986.


Further Reading

  • 'Armenian's Farewell Season,' Orchestra Canada, April/May 1992 'At home with Agnes Grossmann and Raffi Armenian,' Montreal Gazette, 30 March 1997

    Wah Keung, Chan. "Armenian takes helm at Montreal Conservatory," La Scena Musicale, Nov 2008