Maria Gambarian

Maria Gambarian was born in Yerevan, in the family of a well-known chemist. She studied at Moscow Conservatory with Prof. Igumnov, then Prof. G. G. Neuhaus and Prof. L. N. Oborin. Her longstanding vast musical activity includes a hundred recitals, performances in different ensembles and with symphonic orchestras leaded by distinguished conductors. She toured in Russia, Switzerland, France, Spain, Yugoslavia, South Korea, Japan and other countries.

Playing harpsichord, Maria Gambarian gained a reputation of a high-class master of this instrument. She successfully combines her musical activity with the pedagogical work (Professor of Leningrad Conservatory and at present she is a Professor of Gnesin Music Academy), she gives master-classes in Russia and other countries. She also makes appearances in the charity concerts in favour of the victims of the Genocide in Armenia and Japan.

The press expressed admiration about her. She recorded the main part of her repertoire for the Moscow Radio and record companies. Maria Gambarian is an Honoured Artist of RA.


(125 years since the outstanding pianist was born)

by Olga Bobrova who is from the third generation of Igumnov`s pupils

The old professors of Moscow Conservatory, such as Neigauz, Gedike, Yankelevich, Kozolupov, were viewed as legends of Russian music, as the highest judges of talent, dignity and professionalism. One of the most revered among them was Professor Konstantin Igumnov. Olga Bobrova devotes her report to his 125th birth anniversary marked on May 1.

Konstantin Igumnov gave his last concert in the Grand Hall of Moscow Conservatory on December 3, 1947. The audience never suspected that the pianist was seriously ill, and that it was his swan-song. Igumnov played his favourite composers – Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven; he played five encores. Three months later, on March 24, 1948 Professor Igumnov died.

Maria Gambarian remembers the last concert of Konstantin Igumnov. At that time she was one of his students. Today she is a professor at Russia’s Academy of Music.

It was an unusually inspired performance, said Maria Gambarian. I had the impression that he was playing for me alone, because his music was so soulful, so inmost. I cannot remember any other performer possessing this quality – special intimacy. By the way, his manner of teaching was the same. His lessons were truly intimate. Strangers and fans never turned up in his class, though Professor Igumnov’s prestige was very high: he simply did not like it.

He was a real intellectual. All who knew Igumnov thought so. In spirit he was a Muscovite, though he was born in a small provincial town, Lebedyan, in the south of Russia. His town had neither theaters nor libraries, not even a high school. Instead it was full of such heavenly quietness, such untouched nature, that one could get lost even in a garden. One of his childish recollections was connected with such an incident. Igumnov came to Moscow at the age of 14. He joined a high school and the class of the famous pianist Zverev. Several years later he joined Moscow University and Moscow Conservatory. “I was a dilettante,” he joked later. When he was serious, he said: “I would not say that I was interested solely in music. What moved me was nature, arts and moral and religious sentiments.”

Igumnov graduated from Moscow Conservatory with a gold medal. At the finals the Principal, Vassily Safonov, used to give a gold five-copeck coin to the students he considered the best. Igumnov received a ten-copeck coin for his performance of Beethoven.

One of his favourite students was Leo Oborin, whose temperament resembled that of his teacher.

In 1899 Konstantin Igumnov was invited to teach at Moscow Conservatory. He was only 26 years old at that time. Not long before that he received an honorary diploma at the International Anton Rubinstein Contest in Berlin. Professor Igumnov taught at the Conservatory for almost half a century. His students included more than 500 pianists, whom he viewed as his musical grandsons and great-grandsons. He formed a whole performing school, the school of Professor Igumnov. His students were not like him, but they had one thing in common: a romantic attitude to music, which made the piano sound like human voice. Their professor told them: “I want music to sound as human language, in which poems, stories and verses are written. The task of performers is to recite these poems and verses.” Igumnov’s students accomplished that task, each in his own fashion.

Igumnov as a teacher was a legendary phenomenon that was duly appreciated. His life continued in his students. As for Igumnov as a pianist, little is known about that now. There are only a few dozen reviews even in the conservatory’s library, though he gave concerts for more than half a century.

His performances were not too frequent. He gave concerts mostly in Moscow, in big Russian cities and in the Caucasus. Sometimes he played abroad – in Germany and Italy. He was a unique pianist. Such pianists were rare even at the turn of the century. Later they disappeared altogether.

His former student Maria Gambarian recollects: He was a romantic pianist, of course. And his repertoire was romantic: Schubert, Schuman, Chopin, Liszt. He played intuitively, from the botton of his heart. His performances were extremely sincere. He was particularly wonderful when playing Tchaikovsky. For instance, no one before him took notice of Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons. He played them, and today everybody knows those pieces, simply everyone.

Igumnov was a romantic pianist, though he never admitted it. He was surprisingly modest and shy. “I spent my life meditating, trying, searching, and I found myself only recently.” Igumnov made that statement only two years before his death. According to him, the first part of his life was academic: he continued to accumulate his professional and cultural baggage till about 1908. At that time his friends were Rakhmaninov, Skriabin and other musicians. He adored Maria Yermolova – the tragic prima donna of Moscow’s Drama Theater. He was on friendly terms with the great novelist Leo Tolstoy. He liked to read Charles Dickens. He described the next phase of his life, till 1917, as the time of searchings stimulated by his friendship with Russian painters from the World of Art association: Somov, Benua, Bakst. At that time Igumnov was very keen on Valery Briusov’s poetry. He was immersed in the stream of new trends in Russian art of the early 20th century – symbolism, modernism. But this proved to be alien to Igumnov the musician. The new period of his creative life lasted till 1930. It was the time of reassessing all his values. “The revolution in Russia made an enormous psychological shift,” he wrote. “It emboldened people. Old traditions no longer seem so unshakable.” Strange as it was considering his reserved disposition, Igumnov accepted the new life. He even led the Conservatory in the 1920s. Under his leadership the Conservatory became more democratic. In the 1930s Igumnov entered the last, mature phase of his life. The critics refer to the late period of his creative style as “the charm of restfulness”. As the years went by, Igumnov became more laconic, more severe. But he did not lose what he valued most of all – his romanticism. In his music, as in his day-to-day life, Konstantin Igumnov continued to be meditative, sad, nostalgic and very lonely.

Very few records of his performances have been preserved. He did not like to make them. One of his last performances was probably a historical one: it was recorded on June 21, 1941 – the day before the Nazi troops invaded the USSR.