Iyad Sughayer is an award-winning concert pianist who has performed across the United Kingdom, the United States, Europe and the Middle East.
In this interview with Close-up Culture, the Jordanian-Palestinian rising star talks about his recently released debut album, which features the solo works of Aram Khachaturian.
Q: Tell us about the album and why it felt like the right time to make it?
A: I’ve loved Khachaturian’s music from a very young age. The exotic improvisatory song-like melodies and exciting rhythms I find very attractive. After performing a few of his piano works, I felt the time was right to record the first album of two of his complete piano music.
The album contains most of his works for solo piano; from the large-scale demanding Piano Sonata (1961) to the famous party piece, the Toccata, whilst passing through stunning works such as the Poem, Sonatina, Two Pieces and his first Children’s Album.
Q: What are your early memories of taking an interest in Aram Khachaturian’s work?
A: I played one of the Khachaturian Children’s pieces when I was 8 years old. It wasn’t until I was 12 that I discovered the Toccata, and immediately fell in love with it. After moving to the UK, I put Khachaturian on the side, until I rediscovered my love for his music a few years ago. Performing the Concerto and Sonata sparked an interest in exploring the rest of his works. I’m so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to record a disc of his music!
Q: You grew up in Jordan before moving to the UK at the age of fourteen. I imagine Khachaturian’s work has always offered a warm connection to your time in Jordan. Is that the case?
A: Armenian folk music has many similarities with Arabic music and Khachaturian uses a lot of folk tunes and melodies. There is certainly a feeling of ‘home’ when performing Khachaturian. There is no doubt that this connection contributed towards my interest in his music.
Q: How has your relationship with and outlook on Khachaturian’s work evolved over the years?
A: Exploring Khachaturian’s piano works led me to research his other works, such as the Ballets and Symphonies. The more I listen, the more I realise what a great composer he is! It’s amazing how his musical ideas and unique musical language appears in many of his works, one can immediately recognise his style through a pattern or music idea he had previously used in another work!
Q: What does this personal connection bring to the album and its sound?
A: Preparing for the recording was a wonderful experience. In order to immerse myself in Khachaturian’s sound world, I spent a lot of time listening to a wide range of Armenian music to understand better the musical language and form of expression. I truly hope this comes across in the album.
Q: The album was produced by Rita Hermeyer and recorded in Stoller Hall at Chetham’s. Can you tell us about your experience working with Rita and how you found the recording process?
A: Working with Rita was an absolute joy. She is amazing! The sound she captured is truly remarkable. It was a treat working with a great and accomplished musician. Recording the album at my school, Chetham’s, also made the recording more special. The state-of-the-art concert hall has a fantastic acoustic and an excellent piano.
Q: How does it feel to have your first album out there and to see the global response it is getting?
A: My favourite comments so far have been; Why is this music not performed more often? Seeing many surprised to discover that Khachaturian even wrote piano music is extremely rewarding. Knowing that I have given this unfairly neglected composer some well-deserved attention is a great feeling.
Q: I’m sure this album is a wonderful high note for you to end this decade on. How do you reflect on your journey and growth over the last ten years?
A: Seeing a year of hard work as a finished result is a very satisfying feeling! It is inspiring me to want to record more and more! It’s amazing to think about how much has happened in the last ten years, I’m very thankful.
Q: What are your hopes and ambitions heading into 2020?
A: 2020 is a very exiting year for me with many performances coming up! I’m also hoping to continue my journey of recording the complete Khachaturian piano music as well as recording works by other composers!
Title Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega