The ridiculously talented violinist opens up about his family, his Armenian roots, a certain famous competition, and his dream collaboration.
Where does your love of the violin come from?
Sergey Khachatryan: ‘Well, I should say this up front: I do indeed love the violin now, but that actually came quite late – after I’d been playing it for many years! The violin was my parents’ choice. My older sister, Lusine, like my parents, already played the piano, and they thought four pianists in the house would be one too many (laughs)! That’s how I ended up with the violin. It was, and still is, the tradition in Armenia for children to start learning music at a very early age; music is part of their upbringing. So I started playing very early on.’
‘I had a passion for performing from the outset! Even as a child I fell madly in love with that special atmosphere you get during a performance: standing on stage, listening to the applause. It was just breathtaking!’
‘My love for the violin, and music in general, came much later on, when I was already performing in concerts. At a certain point, I really fell for the beauty of music and, since then, the violin has been my voice, the best way for me to express my emotions. But I would have probably found the same passion for music through a different instrument, eventually.’
You come from Armenia, and you’re keen to draw attention to this fact: you regularly play Armenian music at your concerts and the title and subject of your latest album, with your sister Lusine, speaks for itself: My Armenia. What does your native country mean to you as a musician?
SK: ‘It’s really hard to put my link with my country into words. It’s obvious that this connection – not just with Armenian music, but with Armenia in general – is intense. But you wouldn’t necessarily expect that to be the case, seeing as I’ve spent a lot more years in Germany than I have in Armenia!’
‘But every time I set foot on Armenian soil, I feel this indescribable sensation. Then I feel “this is my country”. I have more of a connection with the dry, rocky Armenian countryside than I do with the cities.’
‘I also have a special bond with Armenia when it comes to music. As I said, music has a strong presence in our culture, especially folk music, which our country has an abundance of. In Armenia, our music is also a vehicle for the country’s often tragic history. As a result, Armenian folk music frequently has a hint of nostalgia and this can also be felt in contemporary Armenian classical music, which draws a lot of inspiration from that same folk music.’
In 2005, you won the Queen Elisabeth Competition here in Brussels. How does it feel to be returning to the stage of the Henry Le Bœuf Great Hall, more than 10 years on?
SK: ‘Returning to Brussels is always special. It feels a bit like a homecoming every time I’m here. The warmth I receive from the audience has a lot to do with it. I’ve played in Brussels many times since the competition and it’s always very enjoyable.’
‘The hall is, of course, very special in itself. It’s a vast space yet extremely well-suited to chamber music - truly unique for an auditorium of that size.’
Your sister Lusine, with whom you perform a lot of recitals, is your regular partner in crime. How easy, or difficult, is it to perform with family?
SK: ‘Performing with family members has a dynamic and challenges all of its own. But in the case of Lusine and me it’s definitely an advantage. We’re very different but we have a close musical connection; there’s a unique harmony between us in spite of our differences and that’s vital in chamber music; that chemistry enables us to get more out of the music.’
‘It’s possible to achieve the same results with musicians who aren’t members of your family but it takes a lot more time. After all, when you’re playing in such close ensembles, you have to know each other well, as musicians but also as individuals. And it helps if you’ve grown up together…’
Who do you dream of performing with?
SK: ‘It’s hard to say… I’d love to perform with Carlos Kleiber, but unfortunately the chances of that are pretty slim… (laughs)! The name or status isn’t really important to me. I’ve never been one for that kind of idolatry, not even when I was younger. I would be just as happy, more so even, to work with an unknown conductor who I have a good rapport with.’