Cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan: A Seasoned Phenom

The 20-year-old Armenian virtuoso, who thrilled the Terrace Theater crowd.
The 20-year-old Armenian virtuoso, who thrilled the Terrace Theater crowd. (By Woodrow Leung)
Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Narek Hakhnazaryan, a phenomenal Armenian cellist who first appeared here in 2006 as the winner of the Johansen International Competition, just turned 20 years old. His recital Monday at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, presented by the Young Concert Artists of Washington, was packed, and the audience giddy. Watching talent of this age on this level is always a thrill.

Gangly and self-conscious, Hakhnazaryan actually appears even younger, but his way with the instrument is that of a seasoned professional.

He produces a powerful and colorful sound in all registers, nails every big shift and flashes all the virtuoso's tricks (flying staccato, artificial harmonics, jeté, etc.) with insolent ease.

Even if Hakhnazaryan has nothing left to learn technically, there are aspects of his playing that should improve still further with experience. He sometimes suspends the motion of his bow when stretching a musical phrase -- intuitively right but instrumentally wrong, since the sound is drained rather than sustained. Intonation with piano is a different animal than when playing solo or with other strings.

Musically, he clearly came into his own when playing Armenian and Russian works, with looser body language, creative ideas and often a smile of contentment. If he can attain that same level of involvement and understanding with music from all eras and cultures, he should have a stellar career.

Pianist Noreen Polera was a graceful and imaginative partner, though sometimes too reticent in the Schumann and Beethoven works on the program.

-- Robert Battey

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