April 13, 2015
Daniel Hautzinger

This profile is one in a series focusing on the careers of conservatory students after Oberlin.

By the time he reached his 30th birthday, Boris Allakhverdyan ’06 had been named principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra—a coveted role that countless others pursue and precious few ever actually achieve.

Allakhverdyan’s step into the Met followed a standout career at Oberlin, where he earned two degrees and cofounded an acclaimed ensemble that vaulted to prominence by winning the 2007 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition.

Exactly what did Allakhverdyan learn at Oberlin that set him on his remarkably fruitful journey?

“All of it!” he exclaims with a glee he’s unable to contain.

An Armenian born in Azerbaijan and raised in Russia, Allakhverdyan grew up surrounded by orchestral music: His father was principal clarinetist in the Baku Opera House. “I remember him practicing opera excerpts when I was a child,” the son says today. “I am fortunate to follow in his footsteps.”

After studying at the Moscow Conservatory, Allakhverdyan arrived in Oberlin at age 19. Four years later, he had earned an artist diploma and performance diploma, then went to the Cleveland Institute of Music for a master’s. In his first year at CIM, he earned a full-time orchestral position as associate principal clarinetist of the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra. In 2013, after four years in Kansas City, he won his job at the Met.

“It’s really a dream come true. I love it,” Allakhverdyan says in a burst of enthusiasm that is typical whenever the subject is music. The Met is “fantastic,” “wonderful,” and “unreal,” he says—though he admits that it’s also a great challenge. As principal, he performs three or four times per week. “Playing for an opera is definitely more challenging physically than playing in a symphony, because you play a lot more. In December, we were doing [Wagner’s] Meistersinger, which is six hours long.

“In a way, it’s closer to chamber music, because most of the time you’re accompanying somebody. You have to be very flexible, and sometimes you have multiple casts, so you have to adjust to a new singer who might do things differently.”

Allakhverdyan is equally effusive about his exceptional experiences in Kansas City and Oberlin. “The size of the organization doesn’t always matter,” he says. “Sometimes the small organizations can create something extraordinary too.”

In Oberlin, extraordinary things were made possible through the support of the conservatory faculty—especially violin professor Milan Vitek, who prepared Allakhverdyan's ensemble, the Prima Trio, for Fischoff; and Richard Hawkins, the clarinet professor who introduced Allakhverdyan to orchestral playing.

“Hawkins was the main reason I became successful in the orchestral world,” the former student says today.

In January 2015, Allakhverdyan and the Prima Trio returned to Oberlin to take part in the Winter Term Chamber Music Festival. He performed on the stages he had played on as a student, and he rekindled old friendships with his mentors, Hawkins and Vitek.

“It was all memorable,” he says in his typically ebullient fashion. “Oberlin will always be the most special place for me.”

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