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Rhymes With 'Knock Your Socks Off': Horn prodigy Sergei Nakariakov puts his lips together and blows.

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Sergei Nakariakov deserves all the trumpeting

By Greg Cahill

Nothing is easy to do well in this life, I suppose," says 26-year-old classical trumpet and flugelhorn phenom Sergei Nakariakov, who makes the most heavenly sounds seem deceptively simple. "Of course, it can be great performing in front of an audience, but this is a very demanding profession that requires me to stay in shape all the time."

Since Nakariakov first took to the stage at age 10, the combination of enormous talent and dedication has dazzled critics and audiences alike. In concert, Nakariakov displays a pure, heavenly tone and exudes an air of confidence that belies his youth. His press clippings show the media is smitten by this virtuoso with boyish good looks. "God was looking for a trumpet player," French music critic Jean-Jacques Roth has enthused. "He chose Sergei Nakariakov."

Adds Lloyd Dykk of the Vancouver Sun, "Nakariakov has been called 'the Paganini of the trumpet,' and he deserves all the trumpeting. He's a poet, his unbelievable technique matched by lucid clarity, exquisite phrasing, pin-point attacks at high register and a line as eloquently shaded as you'd hear from the most sensitive singer."

Nakariakov is unfazed by all this hyperbole. During a midnight interview from a Phoenix hotel room, he is soft-spoken, polite and self-effacing about his relaxed stage persona. "Well, most of the time, yes, I feel confident," he says with an infectious laugh. "But sometimes it happens that I don't have time to prepare for certain concerts, and at those times I can feel very tense."

The former child prodigy, who resides in Paris, performs about 50 concerts a year and visits the United States annually. On Sunday, Feb. 8, and Tuesday, Feb. 10, Nakariakov will join the Marin Symphony, under conductor Alasdair Neale, for a performance of Arutiunian's Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra. The concert will be broadcast on Tuesday, Feb. 24, at 1pm on KRCB radio 91.1 FM.

"That is one of the most important concertos ever written for the trumpet," he says of the classic work by 20th-century Armenian composer Alexander Arutiunian. "The music is very tonal, so it's easy listening."

While Nakariakov embraces the standard trumpet repertoire, he is known to plunder concertos written for other instruments in search of interesting material. Those include a trumpet transcription of the famous Mendelssohn Violin Concerto arranged by his father, Mikhail Nakariakov.

"I play a lot of arrangements [from outside the standard trumpet repertoire]," he explains. "I like the music written in the 18th and 19th centuries, and at that time Mozart, Schumann, Brahms and Schubert, for example, didn't write for trumpet as a solo instrument."

In August he plans to record Mozart's concertos for flugelhorn for the Warner Classics label, the lone remnant of the now-defunct Teldec/Erato group that originally signed Nakariakov under the watchful gaze of his father. "It's a pity that they could not keep the classical division going," he says, echoing the sentiment of so many classical music lovers dismayed over the wholesale dismantling of a once-prominent part of the recording industry. "Obviously, it was a financial decision."

Born in Gorky in the former Soviet Union in 1977, Nakariakov studied the piano as a young child (his sister, Vera, plays it professionally), but moved on to trumpet in 1986 after a spinal injury caused by a car accident curtailed his piano studies. His father, Mikhail, a highly regarded piano teacher, plays a pivotal role in his son's career, remaining Sergei's manager and sole teacher. "Our opinions don't always correspond," the trumpeter says, "but nevertheless, he is the one who made of me what I am now."

Most recently, Nakariakov has entered a new phase in his career, commissioning new works for his instruments. "I will begin playing them in concert within the next three years," he says.

When asked whom he admires among his peers, Nakariakov names several big-name classical players, including Russian cellist Mischa Maisky, but no classical trumpet players. "There are so many, actually, and in naming those few I immediately start to think about jazz, because jazz is my passion. I don't play jazz, but it is something that gives me lots of inspiration."

Has he ever thought of playing jazz? "I do not improvise," he says, adding that even his cadenzas are scored, "so I can just listen and enjoy others playing."

But would he like to learn improvisation, so he can join the jazz world? "I'd like to say yes, but I don't know when," he concludes. "Maybe that's another challenge I will face soon."


The Marin Symphony with Sergei Nakariakov perform Sunday, Feb. 8, and Tuesday, Feb. 10, at 7:30pm. The Marin Center, Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. $22-$49; students, half price. 415.479.8100.

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From the February 5-11, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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