Composer Konstantin Orbelian Dies Aged 86

Konstantin Orbelian conducts the Armenian State Pop Orchestra at Moscow's 'Russia' Concert Hall, 1984.


LOS ANGELES—Renowned composer Konstantin Orbelian passed away on Friday in his residence in the US, aged 86.

A talented composer of classical music (symphony, ballet, chamber ensemble), jazz, and popular songs, Konstantin Orbelian was one of the brightest phenomena of Soviet and post-Soviet musical culture. He is the recipient of significant awards in the former Soviet Union, the Armenian Republic, and the international musical community. He has received the highest accolades from the three Soviet presidents: the award “For Services to Labor” from Khrushchev; the title “People’s Artist of the USSR” from Brezhnev, and, finally, the “Friendship of Peoples” prize from Gorbachev in 1989.

Konstantin Orbelian has been acknowledged as a pianist and improviser since he was in his teens. At age fifteen, he was invited to perform with the Armenian State Pop Orchestra; and subsequently became its conductor. Under his able direction for thirty-six years, the Orchestra rose to become one of the most accomplished of its kind. As a result, it came to represent Soviet jazz in more than thirty countries in Eastern and Western Europe, the Near East, Africa, and Southeast Asia. One of the Orchestra’s highlights was its American tour in 1975, which included twenty-five concerts in major cities from coast to coast.

Graduating in composition and piano from Edward Mirzoyan’s class of composition at Yerevan’s Komitas Conservatory in 1963, Orbelian achieved early recognition for his String Quartet, winning the coveted First Prize at the International Competition in Moscow, where the chairman of the Competition’s panel of judges was the composer Dmitri Shostakovich. As a result, Orbelian’s rising talent and success were noted with great appreciation by the doyen of Armenian music of the time, Aram Khachaturian.

Next followed the premiere of Orbelian’s First Symphony in Moscow’s famous Tchaikovsky Hall by the USSR State Symphony Orchestra. For this Symphony, Orbelian was awarded the title “Laureate of the All-Union Competition.” His subsequent Celebration Overture achieved the same acclaim. His ballet symphony “Immortality” was composed in 1975 and performed by the Yerevan Opera and Ballet Theater. This work, too, won First Prize in an All-Union Competition devoted to music for the stage.

Ever versatile in the scope of his repertoire, Konstantin Orbelian has written musical scores for a number of films, including Krkesi Chanaparhin (On the Way to the Circus) and Sirte Yergum e (The Heart Sings); music for the theater; pop songs; jazz; and scores for stage musicals. Several of these compositions have won prestigious prizes. The subject of two documentary films in Russian, Orbelian was vice-president of the International Association of the Union of Musicians in Moscow.

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