Since Domingo Hindoyan arrived at Liverpool he says there has only been one difficult day. The date was May 28 and his problem was not caused by musical problems, as you would expect from a new conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, but by football. It was the night Liverpool lost to Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
“I support Real Madrid,” says Hindoyan. “Everyone in the city knows that because of that great game and I felt a bit guilty at the time.” But he credits the friendliness of the Scousers – as Liverpool locals are known – for not making it a problem.
Beyond that, settling into the rhythm of Liverpool life doesn’t seem to have been a problem. From 2006 to 2021, the RLPO enjoyed 15 successful years under Russian-British conductor Vasily Petrenko, a difficult act to follow, but since Hindoyan’s arrival last year he has promised to to be an inspired choice as a successor.
He dove straight into the full range of musical pursuits the city has to offer. Alongside the main symphony orchestra, he not only conducted the Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, but also performed there himself. Hindoyan is a violinist and sat alongside a girl he rated as a strong player. Was she nervous? “Not at all,” he said, impressed.
He also mentions In Harmony Liverpool. Founded in 2009, this project encourages children from disadvantaged areas of the city to learn a musical instrument. More than 2,500 young people have taken part so far. “It does a fantastic job with the development of children,” says Hindoyan. “I grew up a bit that way myself and that’s why I like to get involved.”
In his early years, Hindoyan played in the two most politically charged youth orchestras in the world. Born in Venezuela, he had a direct route to El Sistema, the country’s internationally acclaimed program for bringing music to young people, tarnished in recent years by accusations of sexual abuse. The system’s flagship, the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, has produced such star musicians as conductors Gustavo Dudamel, Rafael Payare and now Hindoyan himself.
From there, a chance meeting with Daniel Barenboim leads him to be associated with Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. This was established in 1999 to promote peaceful dialogue in the Middle East by bringing together an equal number of young Israeli and Arab musicians as the core of the orchestra. Like El Sistema, it spawned similar projects elsewhere and was a breeding ground for the next generation of international musicians.
Today, at 42, Hindoyan is able to appreciate the value of these formative experiences. “Exporting the El Sistema philosophy outside of Venezuela has been a great success,” he says, “but it has to be adapted to each country. . . Perhaps the defining characteristic of El Sistema is its impact in poor neighborhoods, but in fact, it’s for everyone in Venezuela, not just the poor.
The rewards of the program are not material but personal and social. “You don’t get richer day by day when you pick up a violin. It’s the young person’s soul that gets richer. This in turn influences their family, because they see a young person who is part of a community peaceful.Music gets under the skin and children become more disciplined and find a passion for something.
This, he says, is a benefit that can be replicated anywhere. “I told the kids in Liverpool, ‘You move the bow, you read your score, you watch the conductor – so many disciplines at once, and it’s rewarding.’ Later, they may not necessarily work as professional musicians, but they may have other opportunities in the music profession or simply become music lovers among the public.
Hindoyan qualified for the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra because his mother was born in Aleppo to a Syrian-Armenian family and he spoke Arabic at home with his grandmother. His seven-year association there, from 2006 to 2013, included Beethoven’s Symphonic Cycle at the BBC Proms in 2012. After the Ninth Symphony, Barenboim raced from the Royal Albert Hall to the Olympic Stadium, where he was one of the eight bearers of the Olympic flag during the opening ceremony. “And then he came back and joined us at an Indian restaurant,” adds Hindoyan.
“The conflict disappears inside this orchestra. People who disagree on politics outside of the orchestra agree on everything in music.
It was his experience in these two high-level youth orchestras, and above all the influence of Barenboim, that decided Hindoyan to embark on a career as a conductor. Here is a mentor, he says, who taught him to make connections between music and philosophy and between music and its contexts because “the magic moment of performance must be built on a deep level of understanding”.
Thanks to Barenboim and his Staatsoper Berlin, Hindoyan now devotes a large part of his professional life to opera. He is married to Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva and upcoming opera dates include a return to the Metropolitan Opera in New York for a revival of Puccini. Tosca.
Opera also features in his plans for Liverpool. Hindoyan is aiming for one opera a year and this upcoming season, which opens in September, has Puccini Gianni Schicchi with Bryn Terfel. There will also be concerts marking the 150th anniversary of Vaughan Williams, new commissions and a touch of Latin American music, reflecting Hindoyan’s roots. A special highlight will be Barenboim’s rare UK appearance as a concerto soloist, a coup for Liverpool.
“My goal is to build a city on stage, where the stage is a perfect example of how the community should function,” he says. “I grew up that way and I believe an orchestra is a perfect society where we all need to know when to play, when to lead or follow in a positive way, and how to listen to each other.”
The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s season opens on September 17. His first recording with Domingo Hindoyan will be released on September 23. liverpoolphil.com
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