Syrian classical guitarist receives new scholarship

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Sako Dermenjian is a classical guitarist of Syrian descent who studies at the Sydney Conservatory of Music, but this description certainly does an injustice to his multifaceted talent.

He recently won the new Greta Davis Equity Scholarship, designed for students who study performance and who may demonstrate a disadvantage; Dermenjian says that receiving the scholarship meant that “[it’s] so much easier to focus on my playing. It’s great that there are people out there who enjoy music and want to help others tell their stories through music. I am very grateful for this financial support.

Sako Dermenjian. Photo provided

Commenting on the creation of her scholarship, Greta Davis said, “It is not easy to meet Con’s high admission standards and refugees and First Nations people have so many other challenges to overcome. It takes a lot of work to be really good at music and I wanted to recognize and help people who have achieved it under difficult circumstances ”.

Dermenjian’s journey with the guitar started early. Attending classical concerts in Syria, his interest was piqued and at the age of six, his grandmother gave him a guitar which, he notes, “I didn’t. [put] declining since ”. While studying with classical guitarist Mazen Al-Saleh, Dermenjian found the guitar a natural fit, reporting that Al-Saleh described his rapid progress as skipping learning stages, rather than taking them one at a time. At 15, Dermenjian was teaching at the Higher Institute of Music, Syria’s main conservatory, and by 20, Dermenjian had given a TEDx talk (and performance).

Dermenjian and his family, who are of Armenian descent, fled Syria in 2014 when war broke out, meaning Dermenjian had to complete his final year of high school on his trip from Syria to Australia via the Lebanon. Dermenjian describes his arrival saying, “I had mixed feelings when we arrived in Australia. We didn’t know anyone here, but we were happy to be in such a beautiful country. Instead of the beaches being a five hour drive away, we now lived five minutes from glorious beaches.

Moving to Wollongong, Dermenjian started a TAFE course to lead to college. However, one of his lecturers there was Dr Michael Barker, who himself had studied at the Sydney Conservatorium. Encouraged by Barker, Dermenjian applied to Con upon graduation and was delighted to be accepted to continue his master’s degree with guitar lecturer Dr Vladimir Gorbach. (Dermenjian says of Gorbach’s game: “I knew how unique it was to play like that, and I wanted him to teach me more”).

In addition to studying what might be considered the “traditional” classical guitar repertoire, Dermenjian also performs his own compositions (and improvisations). Dermenjian notes that for guitarists, unlike most other classical instruments, the repertoire is relatively small. Drawing on his Armenian and Middle Eastern cultural heritage in his music, he points out that the other advantage of composing for your own instrument is being able to adapt the music to your own skills; “Music composed by guitarists is often more playable and goes better under the fingers. Since Paganini knew what was possible at the extremes of the violin, every guitarist has a working relationship with his instrument, and thus can know exactly what is possible and forge a new path for the repertoire ”.

Dermenjian is also a Yamaha Approved Artist who was born while performing at the Melbourne Guitar Festival, where he was approached by Yamaha. Their support meant that Dermenjian had access to unusual instruments, like the skeletal Yamaha silent guitar. Capable of being played almost silently without an amplifier, but also of full, rich sound when plugged in, Dermenjian states that “I have always loved playing Yamaha guitars, especially during my engagements in contemporary music, so it’s great to have such access to their range ”.

So what’s next for Dermenjian? He thinks big – besides preparing the classical guitarist Mt. Everest of Joaquín Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez, he is also considering new music. He would like to collaborate with a composer to “develop a concerto for classical guitar and orchestra influenced by sounds from the Middle East and Armenia”, but concludes by saying that he also enjoys “writing and improvising new things all the time. with music producers, and collaboration with contemporary artists ”. Dermenjian emphasizes how important collaboration is for musicians, saying that “when I came to Australia I met most of my best friends through music. . . classical guitar is usually solo, but I also like to play with other musicians and groups ”.

Dermenjian’s impressive breadth of skill means he establishes an enviable range of musical styles to play with and engage with, whether as a performer or as a composer; as he puts it, “every time I play my guitar it takes me from one reality to another. I reflect on my past, present and future and it shows me that six strings can really change the world.

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