Miniatures of intimate poetry - Sergei Babayan presents new DG album

On 7 August 2020, pianist Sergei Babayan will release his latest solo recording on Deutsche Grammophon: "Rachmaninoff" (as the composer's name is correctly spelled) will present an inimate selection of precious miniatures, including selected Études-Tableaux, Préludes and Moments Musicaux as well as various song transcriptions from Rachmaninoff's own hand. "A small detail, a single bar with a different touch can change the entire piece", said Babayan who works obsessively on the smallest aspects of his interpretations before sharing them with the public. The works selected for his Deutsche Grammophon solo début have accompanied him for many years. Their combination aims at telling a musical tale as in a song cycle of his own.


Sergei Babayan at Verbier Festival 2019

Daniil Trifonov and Sergei Babayan on fire: 'Under no circumstances whatsoever would I have missed this concert', a senior gentleman stated at the entrance. He was not alone. Mischa Maisky was there. Valery Gergiev showed 86 year old Rodion Shchedrin to his place. This would prove a concert of rare intensity. (...) In Schumann's Andante and Vatiations Op. 46, the piercing theme travelled from one keyboard to the other with a natural ease and a sense of unity that were almost disturbing. Nothing was left to chance here. The master and his former student seemed to share the same understanding of the scores, while approaching it in different style: Sergei Babayan's is dense and warm; that of Daniil Trifonov is uplifted and intense. (...) It came as no surprise that so complementary artists would choose Mozart's Concerto for two pianos to conclude this programme: the Salzburg genius had written it for his sister and himself. The two artists made us understand Michel Bouquet's saying: 'Mozart is music of the spheres.'

source: Le Figaro, 22 July 2019 (


Sergei Babayan tupft Etüden in den Hall der Rellinger Kirche

In a small church in Rellingen, Sergei Babayan interprets pieces by Arvo Pärt, Liszt and Bach during the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival.

Babayan had composed his programme in masterly fashion around his core competence: to play all-in, with wonderful sensuality and clarity in detail, without losing himself in wide-ranging virtuoso clowneries that would only distract from the essentials. The entire first half of the programme saw Babayan sitting motionless, letting his hands do all the work: like a Japanese calligrapher who contemplates the white paper in front of himself in complete silence until, in the exact right moment, he dashes his brush in a perfect swing. Babayan had carefully woven his programmatic leitmotif into the network of ideas: After Arvo Pärt's meditative miniature of contemplativeness, „Für Alina“, which he speckled softly into the hall as a tenderly floating etude for small bells, Babayan thundered away into the exact opposite with Liszt's B Minor Ballad, presenting crashing bass lines swirling around euphorically sung melodies; it takes nerves of steel to keep all this under control. Babayan even managed to let all this wild rustle and run appear as a spontaneous vision like a large and impulsive mass of lava. Even more striking was this impression with the fantasy „In memoriam Maria Yudina“, composed in 1983 by Khachaturian's student Vladimir Ryabov, completely unknown, filled to bursting with the highest pianistic difficulties and concentrated quotes from late romantic virtuoso repertoire. If this insane piece were a climbing wall, it would be worse than vertical. And yet, here again, Babayan remained entirely calm and focused: unbelievable. And as if nothing had happened until now, he then let his uber-virtuoso self leave for an early interval, and continued instead as the discrete racconteur forming from three charming Chopin pieces a dreamy suite of episodes lost in reverie. His concluding Goldberg Variations might have appeared as a surprising turning back to the baroque, but here again he followed the motto 'As beautiful as possible, as much as strictly necessary'. The aria already was a paradigm of unintrusive elegance, and the subsequent variations kept their softly elastic pulse throughout, as a guideline through this music that never appeared as an artificial construction, but blossomed from within, breathing in self-sufficient delight.

published by Joachim Mischke in the newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt on July 13 2019 (see for reference)


Classical review: Daniil Trifonov, Barbican; Sergei Babayan and Chineke! Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

In that venue a couple of days later, another Russian — or, rather, a Soviet-born Armenian — the pianist Sergei Babayan, Trifonov’s teacher at the Cleveland Institute of Music, proved himself a member of that supreme class of players.
His programme was the not so uncommon ploy of an all-Chopin evening, but the items fell into an interesting succession. He structured the first half around two polonaises, one of them the magnificent A flat Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op 61. Three waltzes were entwined, along with Impromptu No 1 in A flat, an A flat Prelude and the Barcarolle.
Key connections were palpable, and all the more so in the second half’s unfolding of 18 mazurkas and a waltz. Babayan’s playing was bristlingly alive, authoritative yet ever surprising, his effortless technical mastery never obtruding as an end in itself.
It was a pity, though, that he did not leave proper pauses between the pieces (being reluctant, I assume, to be stopped by applause), for the second half tended to blur into one super-mazurka, with an inner tonal coherence, and it was hard to register the difference between a brief dance and the extended ones. But this was a fundamentally superb recital, capped by the curiously satisfying encore of Rameau’s Le Rappel des oiseaux.

published by Paul Driver in the UK Sunday Times on 30 June 2019


Sergei Babayan signs exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon

Sergei Babayan, hailed for his charismatic and emotionally charged artistry, has signed an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. The new relationship was announced on 19 July 2018 at the Verbier Festival. Last March saw the release on the yellow label of Prokofiev for Two, an album of Babayan’s transcriptions of a dozen pieces from Romeo and Juliet and of excerpts from other works by the Russian composer, recorded in partnership with Martha Argerich. Now the 57-year-old Armenian-American pianist is set to expand his DG discography with a groundbreaking project that will pair Mozart piano sonatas with a variety of pieces from different periods. Future recordings will explore works by other composers essential to Sergei Babayan’s musical identity, Bach and Rachmaninov among them. The pianist’s plans will also reflect his profound knowledge of rarely heard repertoire, commitment to works by contemporary composers and skills as composer and arranger.

“I was first introduced to Deutsche Grammophon when I was fourteen,” comments Sergei Babayan, “through Martha Argerich’s recording of Chopin’s E minor Concerto. That formed me as a musician and to this day continues to be one of my guiding lights. This label represents the world and works of the artists I’ve admired most deeply throughout my life. Other recordings deeply etched in my mind from those early years are by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Vladimir Horowitz. To be a Deutsche Grammophon artist myself today is, for me, the highest possible privilege. I am deeply grateful to my destiny for giving me such a great honour.”

Babayan has been a regular guest at the Verbier Festival for years. Last year, in company with the young players of the Verbier Festival Orchestra, he gave a sensational performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.25 in C major. This summer, the breadth and depth of his repertoire are once again mirrored in his programmes, which span everything from music by Louis Couperin and Rameau to Pärt and Shostakovich. He will also join a galaxy of classical stars, Martha Argerich and his pupil Daniil Trifonov among them, for the Festival’s 25th-anniversary gala concert on 25 July.

Critical acclaim has followed Sergei Babayan since his victory in the 1989 Cleveland International Piano Competition. Le Figaro recently praised his “unequalled touch, perfectly harmonious phrasing and breathtaking virtuosity”, while Montreal’s Le Devoir declared that “Sergei Babayan is a genius. Period.” He began piano lessons in his native Armenia as a child and went on to study at the Moscow Conservatory, where his teachers included Mikhail Pletnev, Vera Gornostayeva and Lev Naumov. Following his move to the United States, he joined the Cleveland Institute of Music as artist-in-residence in 1992.

Babayan has built a distinguished career as concerto soloist, chamber musician and recitalist. He has appeared as soloist with many of the world’s leading orchestras, among them the London Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. In 2015 he joined the LSO and Valery Gergiev at the BBC Proms for a day-long survey of Prokofiev’s five piano concertos.

“Dazzling virtuosity, the utmost expressive honesty and exquisite eloquence belong to the essential ingredients that make Sergei Babayan’s playing so unique,” observes Dr Clemens Trautmann, President Deutsche Grammophon. “His creativity stems from both his virtuosic mastery of his instrument and his in-depth understanding of music and intellectual history. Away from the keyboard, Sergei is an incredibly inspiring communicator, a teacher who imparts knowledge with enormous energy and intelligence. His duo partnerships with Martha Argerich and Daniil Trifonov on Prokofiev for Two and Chopin Evocations underlined what we already knew about his musicianship, revealing the incredible depth of his passion and compassion as an artist. These qualities will also be a feature of his solo albums. We welcome him to the yellow label and are determined to share his artistic insights with the widest possible audience.”