Since the fall of 2012, Farkhad Khudyev has made an indelible mark in Monterey County as music director of Youth Music Monterey’s Junior Youth and Honors Orchestras. Their concerts at Sunset Center in Carmel consistently sell out. Khudyev’s programming is boldly adventuresome and he challenges the Junior orchestra with full, professional scores and stretches the Honors group with unfamiliar music. Last November he brought in Imamyar Hasanov (pictured right with Khudyev), a virtuoso on the Azeri kamancha, to solo in works by Haji Khanmammadov and Hasanov himself. In February this year, he and the Honors Orchestra gave the regional premiere of the Seventh Symphony by Jean Sibelius, the great Finnish composer active in the first three decades of the 20th century.
Ethnically Azerbaijani, Khudyev was born and raised in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, a former member state of the Soviet Union with borders on Iran and Afghanistan. His proficiency as a violinist won him, at age 10, the youngest-ever membership in the nation’s elite National Violin Ensemble which performs for the president and all visiting heads of state. At age 12 he won a scholarship to attend the New Names Festival in Suzdal, Russia, sponsored by the Moscow Conservatory. He won the scholarship three years in a row. During the 2000 festival he dedicated an original composition to the Russian opera star Irina Arkhipova and played it on stage right next to her. During that period he performed in several major Soviet cities, in the Violin Ensemble and as a soloist.
He remained in Turkmenistan through the 9th grade, then, at age 15 in 2001, came to the U.S. with a full scholarship from the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. He took his BA at Oberlin Conservatory and his MA in orchestral conducting at Yale. In 2007, he won the grand prize and gold medal in the National Fischoff Chamber Music Competition as the then-violinist of the Prima Trio. Khudyev has conducted many orchestral concerts, including the Yale Symphony Orchestra, the Greenwich Village Orchestra in New York City, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra. He has worked closely with many world-renowned musicians including composer Krzysztof Penderecki, clarinetist David Shifrin, violinist/conductor Peter Oundjian and conductor Kurt Masur. He has won additional prizes and been acclaimed as a soloist and composer. His two brothers, who enjoyed many of the same opportunities in Turkmenistan and the U.S., are also musicians, violinist Eldar and clarinetist Emil. This November, he will perform with Emil and his sister-in-law Nozomi at Evermay Chamber, Washington D.C., in the S&R Foundation concert series.
For the 2014-15 YMM season, rehearsals started at the end of August. “This is a rebuilding year because a lot of people graduated last spring and quite a few were from military families that left the area,” Khudyev says. “Two thirds of the Honors Orchestra was gone. We had to do a lot of recruiting.” Now, he reports, “We have a full orchestra, ninety young musicians, mostly in the Junior Youth Orchestra, but with full instrumentation.” The Honors Orchestra at this point is a chamber orchestra.
Khudyev says there is often a misunderstanding about the role of music. “This area doesn’t have a lot of professional activity so in the minds of some, music has been considered ‘fun.’ I teach the students that music relates to life, to everything that happens in their lives.” At the dress rehearsal of the Sibelius symphony last winter he says the Honors Orchestra struggled with a difficult part in the middle. “They weren’t really getting it,” he says. “I told them they had to use their imagination, to picture this different world of Finland at the beginning of the 20th century, and where the winters are cold and dark.” Suddenly they understood, he says, and the music came to life with “a very different sound.”
Of course, there are always technical issues Khudyev has to correct. “But I always let the musicians know that now it’s how they think about the music.” During weekly rehearsals, which are held in the music building at Monterey High School, he has one and half hours with the Junior Youth and two hours with the Honors Orchestra. For the November 9 concert, the junior group is working on movements from Schubert’s Rosamunde and Bacchanale by Saint-Saens. The Honors Orchestra is preparing another, more challenging, movement from Rosamunde, along with Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture and Shostakovich’s Festival Overture.
For the spring 2015 concert, “Discovery of Central Asia,” Khudyev plans to include Symphonic Pictures Turkmenistan by that nation’s most celebrated composer, Nury Khalmamedov—which in one movement calls on the orchestra to imitate the long-necked, two string dutar—and Turkish Fragments by Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, the 19th century Russian best known for his colorfully orchestrated Caucasian Sketches.
YMM has enjoyed a close relationship with the Monterey Symphony, which was cultivated by Max Bragado when he became its music director. Khudyev has further cemented the relationship and anticipates exciting things to come.