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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the January 9,

2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Nazarian’s Solo Career

Slightly more than two years ago, pianist Mariam


then only 16, made a dramatic splash of a Carnegie Hall debut, playing

Bach’s thorny "Goldberg Variations," with all the indicated

repeats (U.S. 1, October 20, 1999). Now her task is equally demanding,

though less sensational, as she focuses on securing her musical


As a guest of the Steinway Society, Nazarian can be heard close to

home when she performs at Jacobs Music in Lawrenceville on Sunday,

January 13, at 4 p.m. Her program includes pieces by Bach, Beethoven

and Chopin.

In a telephone interview from her Plainsboro home, Nazarian notes

that the core of her concert consists of the pieces that she will

play when she auditions in March for Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute,

the premiere training ground for performing musicians in America.

The Curtis components are Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude and Fugue

in A minor from Book II of the Well Tempered Clavichord; Ludwig van

Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat major, Op 31, No.3; and Frederic Chopin’s

B minor Scherzo Op. 20, as well as his Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17,

No. 4. To give the concert the right dimensions for the Steinway


she has also programmed Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B flat major.

The Curtis piano audition format has remained unchanged since its

prescription by the renowned Josef Hofmann, who was invited to be

the head of the institution’s piano department when the school was

founded in 1924. Hofmann’s scheme gives hopeful pianists considerable

leeway within the bounds of classical piano repertoire. He called

for a Prelude and Fugue from Bach’s 48 in the Well Tempered


a sonata by Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven; and two contrasting works

by Chopin.

Nazarian was steered toward Curtis as her school of choice by Andras

Schiff and Claude Frank, two leading pianists with whom she has


She attended the master classes of Schiff, a recognized Bach


in Lucerne, Switzerland, in September, 2000, and delighted in lively

interchanges both at and away from the piano with the Hungarian-born

pianist (U.S. 1, November 1, 2000).

Nazarian’s most consistent mentor at the moment is Zaven Parsamyan,

her teacher when she was a child in Yerevan, Armenia. Parsamyan is

also an emigre who now lives in Kingsport, Tennessee. Student and

teacher meet once or twice a month for three or four days at time.

"The lessons stretch to two to four hours," Nazarian explains.

"And besides the lessons, there’s his presence. We talk and listen

to records together. With regular hourly lessons it would be very


Nazarian makes the 10-hour car trip to Tennessee with her father,

Aram, a composer. "My father drives," she says. "I have

a license but he doesn’t let me drive on Route 81. Maybe he’s


for a car race. We talk about books and everyday problems and practice

schedules. There’s plenty of time. We listen to the radio. It’s hard

to find classical music, so sometimes we listen to jazz and sometimes


Born in Yerevan, Armenia, Nazarian, now 18, grew up in a musical


with a composer father and a musicologist mother. She began studying

piano at age five with Parsamyan at the city’s Tchaikovsky School

of Music for Gifted Children. Her first public performance was at

age eight, when she played Mozart’s Concert No. 1 in F major with

the Yerevan State Chamber Orchestra. A year later she appeared at

St. Petersburg’s Grand Philharmonic Hall.

"St. Petersburg was my first inspiration," she says. "It

made me want to go on stage. It was one of the greatest halls, and

there I was, sitting down at that huge piano. I could barely put my

foot on the pedal. I got a taste of being a performer. It was an


reward. I liked the clapping and receiving flowers. Now performing

is more of a spiritual experience."

Her first U.S. performance was at Nassau Presbyterian Church in


where she appeared as a guest in 1995. The following year the family

came to West Windsor, where Nazarian pursued an independent study

program at the high school in order to find time for her piano


In September she finished high school on a home


basis. "I had the help of my parents and a tutor, but basically

I did it myself," she says. "The program comes from Nebraska

and homework was sent there for grading. The pace is decided by the

student. You can take a test within two weeks or within two months.

I studied English, math, Spanish, and science. Science was the most

difficult. They sent me lab materials for physical science. It was

part physics and part chemistry."

To Nazarian, exploring music is the kind of education she relishes.

Sometimes the unanticipated brings happy results. Take the story of

her agreement with Bosendorfer to supply pianos for her concerts.

"I like to try out different pianos," she says. "So I

went to New York and dropped in on Klavierhouse on 58th Street. They

had the Backhaus Boesendorfer piano and a replica of the piano played

by Franz Liszt. I completely lost myself in the Bosendorfer. It


who you are; it reflects the good things and the bad things. Some

people are afraid of the Bosendorfer; they prefer a more even piano,

like the Steinway, the standard. But the Bosendorfers sound magic.

They have a range that fits all styles of music."

Eventually, Nazarian’s curiosity about pianos led to an arrangement

worked out with Gerhardt Feldmann, the Bosendorfer representative

in the United States.

Not that there is always a Bosendorfer in her life. At the Steinway

Society on Sunday, January 13, she will play a Steinway. And when

she performs at Nassau Presbyterian Church on Sunday, February 17,

she will use the church’s Yamaha piano. In London however, at the

end of May, she looks forward to a Bosendorfer for her performance

of Bach’s "Goldberg Variations."

The Yamaha at Nassau Presbyterian Church continues to play a large

part in Nazarian’s life. The church has made it available to her as

a practice instrument. And she drives herself there to use it. These

days, she says, she spends her time "primarily practicing."

Besides that, with a little help from her composer father and her

musicologist mother, she devotes herself to "going to concerts,

listening to recordings, and reading books about music."

— Elaine Strauss

Mariam Nazarian, Steinway Society, Jacobs Music,

2540 Brunswick Pike, Lawrence, 609-434-0222. $10; $5 students under

25. Sunday, January 13, 4 p.m.

Mariam Nazarian, Nassau Presbyterian Church, 61

Nassau Street, 609-924-0103. Free. Sunday, February 17, 6 p.m.

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