Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ruben Vartanyan (1936-2008)

Ruben Zavenovich Vartanyan, the Russian-born conductor who since 1992 had led the Arlington Symphony and its successor, the Arlington Philharmonic, and conducted the Williamsburg Symphonia from 1993 until 2003, has died at the age of 71.

Vartanyan, a native of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and graduate of Moscow Conservatory, assisted Herbert von Karajan at the Vienna State Opera and Vienna Philharmonic and Kirill Kondrashin at the Moscow Philharmonic. He was principal conductor of the Armenian State Symphony from 1967 until 1971, when he was named principal conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Bolivia.

He fell afoul of Soviet authorities after refusing to spy on Bolivia’s government. The Brezhnev regime allowed him to return to conducting at Moscow’s Bolshoi Opera in 1980. During a 1988 guest-conducting engagement in Bolivia, he defected and emigrated to the U.S., settling in Northern Virginia.

Vartanyan taught at Shenandoah College and Conservatory of Music in Winchester and George Mason University in Fairfax. He guest-conducted the Richmond Symphony in 1991.

Vartanyan’s obituary in The Washington Post: