Harout Fazlian: Born on Stage

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Fazlian also contributed to reviving the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra in Lebanon and establishing and organizing the music department at Haigazian University.

By: Kamel Jaber

Published Sunday, July 22, 2012

Maestro Harout Fazlian, the son of director Berj Fazlian and painter Sirvart Gregorian, would have easily believed he was born backstage in a theater if his parents not told him where he was actually born.

All he remembers about his early childhood is the theater and art that were his parents' obsession. Harout Fazlian grew up with the children of Assi, Mansour, and Elias Rahbani, experiencing the theater and all the backstage action that came with the Rahbani Brothers.

"Ever since then, I have been comfortable with the theater, where I drew the blueprint for my professional career," Fazlian tells Al-Akhbar in an interview in one of the halls at the National Higher Conservatory of Music in Beirut.

In addition to acting and painting, Fazlian's mother played the piano. So did her sister. His mother's grandfather was a singer. This environment was enough for the maestro to take his first steps onto the Rahbani Brothers' theater stage, where his father directed most of their work.

The music was always blasting in his head throughout his childhood. "It's hardly strange that I fell in love with music, having grown up in a dynamic environment of art, song, music, and the theater," Fazlian says.

He remembers his first instrument was a cooking pot, which he banged with a stick to create the sound of a drum. Plus, "I still vividly remember the colors of my mother's paintings that covered, and continue to cover, the walls of the house," Fazlian says.

He was only seven years old when his parents sent him to the music conservatory. The family lived in Beirut's Zarif neighborhood and the young Fazlian would walk to the conservatory in Zokak al-Blat to learn how to play the violin, in addition to his piano lessons at home.

Seeking safety one year after the eruption of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, Fazlian's family immigrated to Montreal, Canada.

"I suddenly found myself in a country so totally different from Lebanon," Fazlian recalls. "But there, I learned art forms that changed the course of my life." He started to listen to rock and American folk music.

He took up the guitar “for my new friends," and together created a band. They toured Canada and the United States, where they performed six days a week as he found familiar comfort on the stage.

After Fazlian finished high school in Canada in 1983, his father decided to teach the teen "proper and original music." The dad called his friends in Yerevan, Armenia, which was still part of the Soviet Union at the time.

"I remember coming home one day and my father said, 'You have a visa to Armenia. Go there and try your luck with music for six months. If you don't like it, come back and you will have nothing to lose,'" Fazlian remembers.

Life in Armenia was different from Lebanon and Canada. The future maestro had to adapt with the new situation, where he sensed more seriousness. His music teachers were "much smarter than those in Canada and they loved to read," Fazlian says, adding that he was influenced by their "serious and dedicated environment."

Instead of the six months his father gave him in Armenia, the young Fazlian ended up staying seven years, where he spent time between operas, ballets, and reading. His routine was "from the house to the institute and back," he says.

The maestro adds that he learned in seven years what others might not have learned in 11, considering he did not see much of Armenia. "I just shut the door on myself and decided to learn music until the end," he says.

Fazlian says that Argentina, the teacher who taught him to lead the choir, sympathized with him. "That's why she took good care of me, encouraged and guided me," he explains.

By the end of his musical education in Yerevan in 1990, Fazlian received his Bachelor's and Master's with honors in symphony, philharmonic, and opera conducting.

Because the maestro could not find a theater for his art in Canada, he began teaching at the music conservatory in Montreal and other cities in the country.

He had not visited Lebanon since he left in 1976 and had forgotten Arabic by the time he returned in 1997. He could not even communicate with a shopkeeper. So why did he return?

Fazlian says that his father ran into the late Walid Gholmiyeh, director of the National Higher Conservatory of Music in Lebanon. When the older Fazlian briefed him on his son's education and specialization, Gholmiyeh told him that Harout had a place at the conservatory if he decided to return to the country. "We don't have an orchestra in Lebanon and I want Harout by my side in establishing this orchestra," the late musician told Fazlian.

Thus, the young maestro and Gholmiyeh embarked on forming the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, which was officially established in 1999 under Fazlian's leadership. Foreign musicians joined the orchestra the following year, raising its members to more than 100.

Fazlian also contributed to reviving the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra in Lebanon and establishing and organizing the music department at Haigazian University.

Meanwhile, Elias Abu-Saab, singer Julia Boutros' husband, contacted Fazlian and invited him to lead her orchestra in a live concert in the southern Lebanese town of Arnoun for Liberation Day. "Who is Julia Boutros?" Fazlian asked at the time.

He had been back less than three years and had not heard about Lebanese artists. "My wife, Nora, scolded me for not knowing Julia Boutros," Fazlian says.

He met Ziad Boutros, who gave him a CD of his sister Julia's work. After hearing her songs Ya Qussas (O Stories) and Rubbama (Maybe), he immediately called Ziad and told him, "I'm with you." Julia's songs were "extraordinary, in terms of her voice, the melody, and arrangement," Fazlian says. "And it has now been 12 years of cooperation and trust between us."

The maestro also conducted orchestras for Fairouz concerts in 2010 and 2011. He also conducted his first live musical on stage, titled "From the Days of Saladin" by Farid and Maher al-Sabbagh during the Baalbeck Festival last year.

On February 4 this year, he conducted Julia Boutros' orchestra at a festival on the stage of Platea Theater in Jounieh. Last May, he presented a special evening of Zarzuelas music at St. Joseph Cathedral in Achrafieh, where the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra played.

In addition to management tasks at the conservatory after the demise of its director Gholmiyeh, Fazlian has been busy as the lead conductor of the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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