Her dream to be a concert pianist began early and by the time she was eight, she knew she would be a professional musician. Mariam Nazarian, 25, of Plainsboro was born into a family of musicians in Armenia.
Her mother, Anna, a musicologist, and her father, Aram, a composer, nurtured and shaped her early years as a musician. She began demonstrating prodigious musical abilities at an early age, and at the age of six began formal studies in piano performance at the Tchaikovsky School of Music for gifted children. When she was eight she made her debut with the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia.
When she was 12 her parents began to seek a teacher for her in the United States. “They felt that America would offer the best opportunities for me,” she says. “It would not have been possible in my native Armenia as life was much more prosperous here then.” They were attracted to Princeton’s location between Philadelphia and New York, the WW-P district’s schools, and, she says, “the safety and serenity of the area, which are both comforting and inspiring, especially for a family of musicians.”
Her U.S. debut in 1995 included solo recitals in Washington, D.C., New York, Princeton, and Philadelphia, followed by appearances at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto, as well as in Spain, Italy, and Switzerland. She has since performed with the St. Petersburg Symphony, Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra, Princeton Symphony, and Boston Pops.
Nazarian is working hard in her dual role for the benefit concert to celebrate William H. Scheide’s 95th birthday on Friday, January 23, at 8 p.m. at Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall. Scheide, a Bach scholar, philanthropist, and humanitarian is sponsoring the all Bach concert featuring Bach-Collegium Stuttgart and soloists conducted by Mark Laycock. Nazarian will play Keyboard Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052.
“The whole family came with me (to the States) as they did not want me to be here alone.” Although she did not speak any English at the time, she attended both Johnson Park and Stuart schools intermittently. When the family moved to Plainsboro she attended Community Middle School and learned English.
Nazarian, who entered High School North with classmates in the school’s first graduating class (2001), attended classes as a freshman and sophomore. “The district was very kind and gracious in creating a special schedule for me,” she says. Since her academic classes were in the morning with study halls in the afternoon, she usually left at lunchtime to go home to practice her music and do homework. She was not involved in any musical activities at school.
“I really loved basketball and soccer,” she says. “Sports and exercise are important but I have to be careful.”
By the time she was a junior her performing activities were taking off and she was missing too much school. She was home-schooled for her last two years.
Until recently Nazarian practiced six hours a day on the piano. More recently she has decreased to two to four hours a day with a focus on the quality of performance.
Nazarian graduated cum laude from the Mannes College of Music (New York) in 2005. Although she is currently pursuing a graduate degree at Harvard University, she is taking a year off to promote the concert series and act as the assistant director to the Scheide Fund. Nazarian is testing her organizational skills by multi-tasking in all aspects of the concerts including ticket sales, the website, travel arrangements for the 30 musicians, and the biggest challenge, obtaining visas for the visitors. “It has been very stressful, but rewarding,” she says.
Her sister, Hegine, is a senior at High School North. Although she is the only non-professional musician in the family, she is a member of Trinity Church Choir and plays both the piano and the violin. “My parents refused to give her violin lessons so she is self-taught,” says Mariam. “If you really want to do something nothing will stop you.” Hegine also excels in drawing, photography, and poetry. “My sister took my photograph (the one used in the story),” she says. “I feel very relaxed with her.”
“I am grateful that the concert is coming together and I’m looking forward to my dual role,” she says. “This is an amazing opportunity for West Windsor and Plainsboro residents to attend a concert featuring high caliber orchestrations.”
The concert will also feature violinist Kristof Barati from Budapest performing Sinfonia in D Major, BWV 1045, as well as four American vocalists appearing courtesy of Opera New Jersey (based in West Windsor). They are soprano Layla Claire of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; mezzo-soprano Emily Langford Johnson of New York City; tenor Scott Ramsay of Chicago, Illinois; and baritone Daniel Mobbs of Louisville, Kentucky.
Nazarian met Scheide a “very long time ago” — when she was playing J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations BWV 988. “He was interested and came to my debut with the Steinway Society,” she says. “I was fascinated by him; I practiced at his home and went to the library with him to study manuscripts.” At 16, Nazarian made her Carnegie Hall debut (under stage name Marie Nazar) as the youngest pianist in Carnegie’s history to have performed Bach’s Goldberg Variations. In the same year, she recorded her debut CD of the Goldberg Variations. Her performances have been broadcast on WFLN-FM and WRTI-FM in Philadelphia, and WQXR-FM and the MetroGuide TV Channel in New York.
Although Scheide was her mentor, she now considers him to be a friend. “I grew up in front of his eyes and it grew into something special,” she says.
The Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, Centurion Ministries, Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University. $35. 609-921-9334. www.centurionministries.org. Friday, January 23, 8 p.m.
Scheide will donate all proceeds from the concert to Centurion Ministries, a non-profit organization based in Princeton dedicated to freeing wrongly convicted individuals.