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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
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
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
2540 Brunswick Pike, Lawrence, 609-434-0222. $10; $5 students under
25. Sunday, January 13, 4 p.m.
Nassau Street, 609-924-0103. Free. Sunday, February 17, 6 p.m.
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