Ara Malikian as likely to blow his audience away as beguile them

Grammy-nominated eclectic violinist mixes Bach and Led Zeppelin to sublime effect

ARA MALIKIAN performs classical pieces in a decidedly unclassical way. (photo credit: RODRIGO MENA)
ARA MALIKIAN performs classical pieces in a decidedly unclassical way.
(photo credit: RODRIGO MENA)
Imagine a hybrid of Bach, a gypsy musician Jimi Hendrix and a klezmer player, all rolled into one highly energized performer, and you might just have some idea of how Ara Malikian earns a living.
The 51-year-old Lebanese-born Spanish-resident violinist, who will be at Tel Aviv’s Charles Bronfman Auditorium Tuesday evening (8:30 p.m.), is just as likely to blow his audience away as beguile them with plaintive heartstring-tugging airs.
Put simply, Malikian plays almost anything and everything, and does it in his inimitable decidedly eye-catching style.
So, how can one categorize what he puts out there?
“I don’t know what I do,” he states unceremoniously. “I’m completely lost. I just do what comes, and I do what I see. I like many styles. I get inspired by many styles. I don’t do anything concrete. I just do anything in my own style. I don’t know what it is called. It’s just music. What is transmitted is the main thing. You don’t need to know what it is, or analyze it, or find what the form is. It’s just music. It needs to be transmitted with soul, and everybody’s happy. ”
“Style” is probably the operative word here. The man has plenty of that, and puts body, heart, soul and no little dexterous finesse into his live work. Add to that a dynamic, no-holds-barred unapologetically showman mien, with an eight piece band in tow, and you have yourself one gripping totally entertaining offering.
MALIKIAN, WHO has Armenian roots, has come a long, long way since he first laid his infant fingers on a violin, in Beirut, at the age of five. His father, a classical violinist himself, was the initial driving force behind the boy’s early start to his long and winding musical road which eventually took him to Europe and across the globe, wowing audiences of all cultures and musical tastes.
The man seems to be able to do it all. Over the past two-plus decades or so he has mixed it with symphonic orchestras, rock musicians, jazz artists and flamenco players with seamless aplomb. You are just as likely to find the Grammy-nominated fiddler spinning out works by the likes of Bach, Schumann and Vivaldi, as producing singular renditions of numbers by Radiohead or Led Zeppelin.
That, he says, is not only the result of an eclectic childhood musical diet but everything that he has encountered over the years.
“It’s not only the music but [rather] everything you live is part of you, whether you want it or not,” Malikian observes. “What you have experienced is part of you and, of course, it is very important what you do with it.”
It is, he says, about personal growth, which can be achieved only by venturing out of your comfort zone. “I think it is very important not to just stay in whatever you learned when you were young, but [you have to] keep on learning and keep on reaching with your knowledge and inspiration, and try to do something new with the things you know.”
That, he says, comes with his breadwinning territory. “That is the interesting thing about my profession. We shouldn’t think we have reached a point where you have success; one should never think: I have reached what I will do with the rest of my life. You should always reach out and try to get some inspiration. You should always be open.”
The Lebanese entertainer may now be reaping the rewards of his steep career trajectory, but he says it has not come without sacrifice.
“My father was a violinist. Although he was in love with classical music, he used to earn his living by playing Armenian or Arabic music.”
In fact, Malikian Sr. mixed in heady musical circles. “He used to play in the band of Fairuz,” says the violinist, referencing the now-85-year-old Lebanese-born diva. “I saw her in concert once, when I was very young. My father went with her all over the world – to Australia, the States, Europe. That was his job. I saw her in Lebanon.”
DNA and live musical offerings notwithstanding, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the youngster, and his eventual career choice was not evident from the word go. “I never really thought about it [becoming a professional musician]. My father was strict; he was very severe with me. He used to oblige me to practice and study. I remember I liked music, I liked the violin, but I hated it when he obliged me to practice and I wasn’t allowed to go and play with my friends. That was quite depressing for me when I was 10 years old, but nowadays I am very thankful for it. Because of that I learned to sacrifice; and I think if you want to reach a level, you need discipline.”
As a kid, Malikian also absorbed other sounds and vibes, which eventually informed his creative development and his entertainment fare.
“Yes, I heard pop and rock music, too, when I was a child,” he recalls. “I have two sisters and they hated classical music,” he laughs. “They listened to rock music and pop music and, at the time, disco.”
He also wrapped an infant ear around the hits of the day, although it took a while longer before he became serious about incorporating that into his output.
“I really found out about other kinds of music when I came to Europe. To make a living I started playing in clubs and at weddings.” That was after he relocated to Germany at the tender age of 15. Lebanon was still reeling from the economic and sociopolitical aftershocks of the mid-seventies civil war; and the First Lebanon War, which broke out in 1982, had also left its mark on the country. Malikian’s parents realized their talented son was not going to get very far in Lebanon, so he was sent to Hannover, Germany, to study classical music, while they themselves moved to France.
While he advanced his formal training at the academy, he got his real life education out in the real world. He took his fair share of knocks but eventually came through, and learned some lessons that helped paved the way to his current lofty standing.
“I had to make living. It was quite difficult, but I was very lucky because I started working in different sorts of situations. For me that was the best school, the best knowledge I could get.” It was a matter of needs must. “People used to come to the club [where he was performing] and say to me, ‘Play some song of [’60s-’70s American rock group] The Doors.’ I didn’t know who The Doors were, so I had to invent things and to learn all this music. For me that was wonderful.”
This, of course, was long before the advent of the Internet and easy-access music.
“I also played at Jewish weddings,” he chuckles. “I enjoyed that.”
MALIKIAN HAS maintained that broadly sweeping stylistic purview, and uses it to stunningly entertaining effect across the globe. Tuesday evening, his Heichal Hatarbut audience can expect to bop and groove to emotive and let-it-all-out readings of classical compositions, betwixt numbers by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Bjork and Guns and Roses.
The instrumental lineup will be suitably variegated with the violinist backed by a string quintet, a guitarist who alternates between classical and electric versions, a pianist and a drummer.
Malikian promises to give us “everything – heart and soul” in a show that will stretch way past the two-hour mark. Above all, he is delighted to have the chance to strut his stuff in a former neighboring country, which he thought he would never get to see.
“For me, when I was living in Lebanon, it was unimaginable to go to Israel. Now it is possible because I have Spanish nationality. When I was in Lebanon, it was impossible. It was so near, but it was so far.”
My money is on the bighearted performer and his audience getting pretty close this evening.
For tickets and more information: *8780 and visit here.