This interview was conducted with Sergey Smbatyan and Alexander Yesayan in July of this year, nearly a week before the announcement of the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Armenia regarding the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra.
The Honorary Board of Trustees of the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra Support Foundation was established in April 2022 and is headed by the Chairman of the Board, Alexandr Yesayan, President of the Union of Advanced Technology Enterprises (UATE) and Co-Founder of Team Telecom Armenia. The board includes leaders and founders of tech companies PicsArt, ServiceTitan, SADA, COAF.
Mediamax’s talk with the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Alexandr Yesayan, and Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra, Sergey Smbatyan, evolved around the grounds for this cooperation, synchronicity between arts and tech-oriented thinking, and about dreaming big.
“Musical notes stand for a second alphabet for Armenian children.”
The establishment of the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra Support Foundation was certainly motivated by the willingness to help the orchestra in its endeavors. We want to see Armenian culture better represented around the world, especially amidst the transformations we witness in the world today, as digitization prevails in all areas of life. Having a good understanding of this and by employing digital tools in intelligent ways to represent our culture, we will be able to attract attention in the global market. Today’s technologies allow high quality sharing and transfer of emotions received through art. That’s not to say they can replace the impressions you get at a live concert, but digital tools enable us to convey similar feelings to more people.
The willingness to help, however, is just one aspect of our cooperation with the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra. It has been through the alignment of tech and cultural elements that unique and unparalleled talents have emerged throughout our history. Through this cooperation and the attempts of incorporating technological and artistic insights, we are trying to re-imagine our identity and further empower each of these domains.
The tendency to love and appreciate music and other arts is an inheritance from the Soviet era. Among the USSR countries, Armenia was the one where most pianos were bought by families. Almost everyone had one at home and when planning to buy furniture, piano was perhaps the third item on the list. This speaks to a value system that I am trying hard to believe still exists today. It may be implanted in us at the subconscious level, but it hasn't perished altogether. As a guest conductor, I lead an orchestra in Europe as well, I have organized numerous festivals in other countries, interacted with people of diverse mentalities, and I haven’t encountered such a propensity for music. Musical notes stand for a second alphabet for Armenian children and it looks quite natural to us that a child should learn musical notes along with letters of the alphabet. During the Soviet years, our little Armenia had the largest number of music schools, amounting to 280. Even today, six out of ten children in our society learn to play this or that musical instrument, and this really makes it a part of our identity, which should be trusted and uncovered.
I'm a musician and music is my world, and I'm grateful to people who represent the seemingly distant world of technology, and yet believe in music as a value that we need. I share the opinion that today's digital world makes self-expression and displaying talents much easier. I believe music streaming technologies can have a massive impact on the quality of our life. The 21st century is not only about technologies, but also about emotions.
Why technology and arts?
Wherever we go, we come across the idea that the future belongs to good specialists, yet there’s far more to being a good specialist than just mastering the knowledge. The modern world's transformations urge individuals, regardless of their profession, to develop creative thinking or cultivate alternative modes of thinking to handle complex problems. What else deals with these issues if not the domain of technology? To be technologically advanced, rather than turning into a society of tech-savvy talents with limited outlooks, we are rescued by the inspiration one can get from culture, national elements, one's social environment and networks. This is what is shaping the successful and versatile professionals of the future, which itself is our goal.
Arts and music in particular are capable of disclosing the human spirit like nothing else. This enriches us as humans and inspires new ideas to be put in use in radically different areas, such as technological, scientific, social domains and the like.
Art helps us reveal a better version of ourselves, as we become more warm-hearted, more understanding and open to new ideas. Meanwhile technologies, however counterintuitive it may seem, are intended to foster precisely the same qualities. Our human nature should be the driving force of positive technological progress.
Aside from the larger goal of promoting our culture, we strive to create a new social microclimate in our country by supporting ArmSymphony. It is the young people who live and grow in this microclimate and who may imagine their future in the fields of technology and science that we will empower from a very young age to develop the potential that stems from the synergy of their rational and emotional selves.
Music should be made widespread. We pursue this endeavor with the Armenian Diaspora starting next year, as our board considers making arrangements for ArmSymphony’s concerts in the US that will feature Aram Khachaturian’s music. You would assume all Armenians have decent appreciation and knowledge of Khachaturian, but do they really?! I, for one, had no idea there’s a Japanese orchestra that has an annual concert featuring Khachaturian’s music and this is one of the best-selling concerts in Japan. Apart from having good knowledge, I think we haven’t effectively made it known to the world that Khachaturian is Armenian and that his music embodies Armenian culture. This is an ultimate value that we haven’t managed to monetize properly in the world. So, this cooperation aims to take action to address this issue as well, and members of the Board, despite their busy lives, work hard in this direction, exchanging and coming up with ideas on how to achieve this.
There’s an element of self-knowledge involved here as well. The technological sphere is inherently cosmopolitan and it is highly important for professionals to possess profound self-awareness as Armenian representatives of the high-tech industry. It is imperative for us to know how to effectively introduce ourselves and to identify as Armenians. This is the focal point of our cooperation. We firmly believe that the proper representation of the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra will translate into favorable self-representation as well.
We are speaking of strong chemistry today. The chemistry found in the world of technologies differs significantly from that in art, yet it undeniably exists in both domains. There is a common thread that unites them - it is talent that lies in the foundation for chemistry in both.
My life's mission is to instill love for ArmSymphony in people, because ArmSymphony is not just about the complex music of Mahler or Bruckner. For instance, we offer our “Symphonic Mansuryan” program or film music by John Williams as well. The power of classical music transcends far beyond its traditional boundaries, and it’s not about our repertoire alone, but about the instruments as a medium that can perform various genres such as rock, jazz, and pop. And so, we take pride in that people who’ve had great experience at a film scores performance, return to the concert hall for Bruckner's 9th Symphony, which is a pinnacle of symphonic art.
My big dream is that children in our society not only feel the desire but also the need to attend a concert at least twice a year. I firmly believe that if children come to the concert hall to listen to the 7th Symphony “Leningrad” by Shostakovich, which we introduce to them beforehand as a theme related to the wartime blockade, they will find a special interest in it and will later discuss the symphony with friends. This is the right chemistry I am talking about and this is the way to convey it effectively. This is my dream. Having the support of able and talented people who stand by our side today, enables us to dream big. That’s all because without a dream in the art you create, there is no art.
Help ourselves through helping ArmSymphony
We consider support for ArmSymphony as support reflected back to ourselves, as it significantly impacts the environment we live in. This, we hope, will serve as an incentive for other companies and young individuals to recognize that, along with success in the technological field, it is equally important to preserve our culture. Unfortunately, over the last thirty years, our value system has undergone dramatic transformations, and we must work diligently to set things on the right track. Taking care of our culture will ensure a positive effect. Society should see that both successful business professionals and accomplished players in the IT community place great significance on our culture.
Uncovering Our Identity
I frequently engage with children, and I can say with confidence that their intelligence is faster and sharper than most of us may boast. They have a much better understanding of their desires and how to achieve them. While I cannot pinpoint the origins of this phenomenon, it is an undeniable fact. When these children, along with the broader society, witness globally esteemed and established individuals standing by the orchestra, they begin to embrace our ideas. To succeed, we need to stop the traditional way of "teaching" people how to live; instead, what we need to do is to live the way we preach. At ArmSymphony, we see this as our task. At ArmSymphony, we consider this our mission. Our goal is not to persuade people to attend concerts in the hall; rather, we aspire to evoke emotions from the stage that compel them to return willingly. Although the value system may not adhere to the highest standards, we must acknowledge our current position and use it as a starting point. We are equipped with a solid roadmap and I believe in the journey that awaits us.
In the world of art, an orchestra represents a prime example of teamwork and how a team of talented individuals should act. It operates as an instrument capable of conveying our country's messages, ideologies, and embodying our identity from the stage.