Violinist and visionary – Mikhail Simonyan

Violinist Mikhail Simonyan combines life as an international soloist with a talent for spearheading cultural and social projects

Mikhail Simonyan’s career has taken some exciting turns since 2011, when he last toured with the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, or the Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic as it was then. As well as performing concertos with leading orchestras around the world, he has created and led a youth orchestra in Russia, and become president of a new international cultural and educational foundation. For an artist still in his early thirties, such entrepreneurial credentials say a lot about his character and charisma. ‘Some musicians are happy just playing in an orchestra, or travelling the globe as soloists,’ he says, ‘but if you want to create your own team, and build an army of great people around you, you just have to go ahead and do it.’

Mikhail shares a natural talent for leadership with Kristjan Järvi, one of his closest friends and collaborators. The two have worked together often since meeting in 1999, notably partnering for the violinist’s 2011 Deutsche Grammophon recording of the Khachaturian and Barber concertos. ‘Kristjan is like no other conductor,’ says Mikhail. ‘There is a freedom about his way of making music that I love. The whole process of rehearsing and performing is so alive with him.’

The violinist finds a special freedom too in Glass’s Violin Concerto No.2. The music’s repetition of themes and phrases offers huge opportunities to create a singular interpretation, he says, but that same freedom makes the piece challenging: ‘In a way it makes your soul quite naked, because people can judge what kind of person you are by how you shape the music and play the phrases.’

As he reunites with Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, Mikhail is acutely conscious that the orchestra’s message of unity and international cooperation remains a vital one: ‘Political bridges have been burned across the Baltic region, but we will always be neighbours. The cultural bond between our countries can never be broken, and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic is making that bond stronger.’ The healing power of music is something Mikhail has seen first-hand, when he set up a project to support the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in battle-scarred Kabul. He would like to see more young musicians taking up social, educational and charitable initiatives. ‘These kinds of projects are far more important than signing a record deal or working for a big agency,’ he says. ‘You’re investing your talent, time and passion to reach a much broader range of society, an audience that will never judge you for what you’re doing, but will love you for doing it.’

Biography:
Born in Novosibirsk in 1985, Mikhail Simonyan started violin lessons at the age of five. He played his first solo concert at New York’s Lincoln Center at the age of 13, and made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2000. In 2001 Leonard Slatkin invited him to perform with America’s National Symphony Orchestra at the 30th anniversary of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC; and in 2002 he entertained guests at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on the invitation of Yehudi Menuhin.

Currently Mikhail spends most of his time touring Russia and abroad. He has worked with such conductors as Valery Gergiev, Mikhail Pletnev, Kristjan Järvi and Cristian Măcelaru; performed at Carnegie Hall, the Concertgebouw, and the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory; and played with the world’s best orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, Austria’s Tonkünstler Orchestra, and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra.

In 2014 Mikhail created and led the Kaluga Youth Symphony Orchestra in Russia. A year later he became president of the Open Sea Cultural and Educational Programs Foundation, which supports more than a dozen cultural projects in Russia and abroad. The Foundation is particularly active in international cultural cooperation, and one of its most significant projects is a unique semi-staged interpretation of Bizet’s Carmen, uniting performers from Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Ossetia.

In 2016 the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs appointed Mikhail the Head of Workgroup on Entrepreneurship in Culture.