The conductor and pianist Constantin Orbelian (b. 1956) was appointed conductor and leader of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra in 1991, and kept the position until he was succeeded by Alexi Utkin in 2010. When Orbelian was appointed, he became the first ever United States-born person to hold any major conducting position in Russia.
Examples of notable performances by Orbelian with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra:
- In 1995, at the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of the United Nations in San Francisco, USA.
- In the spring of 2003, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, led by Orbelian, performed in front of an audience of 6,000 people at the Kremlin Palace in Moscow, as a part of the programme “Where Are You, My Brothers?” The program was broadcasted by Russian Television and seen by over 90 million viewers. The performance included new arrangements of songs from the World War II era, with Russian operatic baritone Dmitry Hvorostovsky as singer.
- In 2004, at the U.S. State Department event commemorating 70 years of diplomatic relations between Washington and Moscow.
- During the 2010 Cultural Olympics in Sochi, Orbelian led the opening Ceremonial Concert. This event was one of several events intending to set the stage for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.
Early life and studies
Constantine Garrievich Orbelian, Jr. was born in San Francisco, USA, on 27 August 1956. He is of both Russian and Armenian descent, with both his parents being immigrants to the United States. He was named after his paternal uncle Konstantin Orbelyan, an Armenian composer with a tragic background – at age 11, he and his older brother Harry became homeless as their parents were arrested. Already a skilled pianist, the young Konstantin managed to get a job playing the piano at a circus. Eventually, he became a renowned composer of popular songs and Russian film music.
Constantine Garrievich Orbelian, Jr. showed remarkable musical talent at an early age, and when he was just 11 years old he got a chance to do a piano performance with the San Francisco Symphony.
Orbelian studied music at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City.
After graduating from Julliard, Orbelian started working as a concert pianist. He performed with many major symphony orchestras in North America and Europe, including the United Kingdom and Russia.
When Orbelian was appiointed Music Director of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra in 1991, it was the first time ever a United States-born musician was appointed music director of a Russian ensamble.
As Russia emerged from the ruins of the collapsed Soviet Union, Orbelian worked tirelessly to improve and strenghten the Russian-USA cultural exchange in a post-Cold War world, and he has been a driving force behind the increase of foreign performance by the Moscow Camber Orchestra.
Among other things, Orbelian is also noted for his devotion to cultural enrichment programs for young people in Russia and the United States.
Orbelian became chief conductor of the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra in Lithuania in 2014.
Orbelian became artistic director for the Yerevan Opera Theatre in Armenia in 2016.
Exampels of accolades
- In 2001, Orbelian was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. This is an award given to immigrants, and children of immigrants, who have made outstanding contributions to the United States.
- In 2004, Orbelian was awarded the prestigious title “Honored Artist of Russia”. Never before had this title been bestowed upon a non-Russian citizen.
- In 2012, the Consulate in San Francisco awarded him the Russian Order of Friendship Medal. It is an award for non-Russians whose work contributes to the improvement of international relations with Russia.
- In 2015, he was awarded the Order of Friendship of Armenia.
Most of Orbelian’s recordings have been made for Delos Productions, one of the earliest classical labels to embrace digital recording. With them, he has built up an extensive discography.
- In the United Kingdom, Orbelian’s recording of the Soviet composers Aram Khachaturian’s piano concerto, conducted by Neeme Järvi, won the award “Best Concerto Recording of the Year”.
- His 2014 recording of Virtuoso Rossini Arias with tenor Lawrence Brownlee was nominated for a Classical Solo Vocal Album Grammy Award. The same recording was also nominated for a 2015 Vocal Recital International Classical Music Awards.