This year will see the International Beethoven Piano Competition Vienna held for the 16th time. Its sixth edition, which took place around 40 years ago, was won by an exceptional young musician who can now look back upon an outstanding career as a concert pianist, chamber musician, and university professor: we’re talking about the mdw’s own Avedis Kouyoumdjian.
“Beethoven says that an artist has to work, not to think of success—because success will then come on its own.” It’s a maxim that held true for the young Avedis Kouyoumdjian in every possible respect. He was born in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, the son of an Armenian aristocratic family. At age 12, he entered the piano performance degree programme of what was then the Academy of Music and Performing Arts Vienna as its youngest student. His participation in the 6th International Beethoven Piano Competition Vienna in 1981 took place at short notice—and with his somewhat less than six months of preparation, he’d doubted having any chance at winning. What’s more, “I had to return to my homeland right after the competition, anyway, no matter how far I’d gotten! And since I hadn’t figured on winning, I was rather relaxed and didn’t even feel like I had to compete with the other participants.” But in actual fact, Kouyoumdjian ended up making it to the final round. Lots were drawn for the piece to be played, and his piece turned out to be the First Piano Concerto. He’d only prepared the Third, though. “I had just 48 hours until the first rehearsal with the orchestra, and I had to practice 17 hours a day for two days straight just in order to be able to play the piece from memory.” But the points earned in the preceding rounds had put him far ahead, and his likewise-outstanding performance in the final round ultimately assured him the competition’s 1st prize.
“Initially, this win was of existential significance to me. For the first time in my life, I had an instrument of my own—a Bösendorfer grand. And I was also then given the opportunity to play concerts worldwide and establish myself as an artist.” In general, Avedis Kouyoumdjian considers participating in competitions to be very important. “Competitions allow one not only to gather stage experience under stressful conditions, but also to practice dealing with nervousness and work up lots of repertoire that, once it’s been successfully presented, can also be played at regular concerts.” Kouyoumdjian therefore encourages all gifted young musicians to take part in competitions so that they can see for themselves how far they can go, how much pressure they can take, and whether this really is the profession in which they want to work.
Avedis Kouyoumdjian can look back upon an active concert career since his successful participation in the International Beethoven Piano Competition Vienna—a career that has taken him to numerous renowned concert halls across Europe, the USA, Canada, and Japan. He also regularly brings his many years’ worth of experience to bear in international competition juries and the numerous master classes that he gives both in Austria and abroad. He has been part of the mdw staff since his acceptance of a teaching contract in 1987; his appointment as a full professor followed ten years later.
In 2001, Kouyoumdjian initiated the first Joseph Haydn Chamber Music Competition—”a further way of offering young, up-and-coming ensembles from all over the world a platform in Vienna, the city of music, as well as some help in launching their international careers.” What’s more, he was able to contribute his extensive chamber music expertise to the mdw as head of the Joseph Haydn Department of Chamber Music, Early Music, and Contemporary music. And in 2010, he continued these activities as deputy department head in order to do full justice to his new responsibilities as Dean of Instrumental Studies.
The next things to which this dedicated teacher is looking forward are the many wonderful projects planned for the present Beethoven Year, some of which also involve the Joseph Haydn Department. And last but not least: after around forty years, it is a special joy indeed for Avedis Kouyoumdjian to once again be part of the International Beethoven Piano Competition—this time, however, as a member of the jury.