by Ian Peart, Saadat Ibrahimova and Fiona Maclachlan
Javid Samadov’s is quite a remarkable story. As reported in ‘Visions’ July/August 2010, he first entertained us at this summer’s Qabala International Music Festival with some lively operatic duets at a vocal concert and then with an emotional rendering of Muslum Magomayev’s ‘Azerbaijan’, accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
His stage presence and range of expression – from outrageous Mozartian flirt to passionate patriot – marked him out as someone beyond the ordinary; it was impossible not to be affected by his performance – or to want to find out more about where it came from. We sat outside next day; it was one of those beautiful summer days made perfect by the backdrop – the lush, green foothills of the Great Caucasus - with the obligatory glass of tea, and chewed the (walnut) jam with this young baritone.
As usual, we kicked off with basic biography and were almost immediately knocked off course by the revelation that he was just 23 years old and had been singing for barely 5 years. This was hard to believe, but he assured us it was true. He had excelled in physics at school, with a career as an architect in mind – that ran in the family. He won a Physics Olympiad in 2004 and had completed perfectly an 11th grade task in the 9th grade. As he put it, “I felt I was at the peak, and I don’t like peaks...”
So, in 2005, he decided he wanted to be a singer and switched to the Baku Music Academy. He says that only once before had his singing attracted any attention. When he was 8 or 9 years old, his teachers had singled him out to sing the national anthem solo, but then that had gradually been forgotten and at 13 his voice changed to baritone.
Sudden change is, of course, the kind of thing that teenagers do, and it usually drives their parents crazy. Javid laughs as he says,
“Sometimes people thank my mother when I am successful, but she smiles and says, ‘I didn’t bring him up – he didn’t follow the rules!’”
However, she certainly looked the proud mother when we were introduced after her son’s performance in Qabala.
... but youngest winner...twice
Shortly after this career swerve, there was talk that the renowned Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (widow of Baku-born Mstislav Rostropovich) was in town looking for talented singers for the Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Centre; she went to the Opera and Ballet Theatre. Javid was the only student among the professionals at the auditions. The result was an invitation to study in Moscow – which he did, for one year, funded by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. One of the highlights of that year was a master class by the American baritone Thomas Hampson – much admired by the young Azerbaijani. Back in his hometown, Baku, in 2006, Javid took first place in the International Bulbul competition, despite being the youngest entrant.
After Moscow, it was off to the International Osimo Opera Art Academy in Italy, again sponsored by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Again there were opportunities for master classes – and competition. In April this year, Samadov’s second foray into international competition, the Rosa Ponselle International Competition in Matera, Italy, produced the same result as the first one – first place for the youngest competitor, this time with a score of 98 out of 100.
The search for wider learning experience continued in October this year, when Javid entered the Accademia Internazionale di Canto in Pesaro, Italy.
He is highly appreciative of the training he has received so far and now feels it is time to move on and spread his wings – a feeling supported by his new school.
“School is like a golden cage, now it is time to compete and get experience,” he says.
Before linking up with the Accademia, he was flying to give a concert in Athens at the end of September.
Ecstasy of performance
Given the strength and vibrancy of his personality, it is not difficult to see why he chose a more publicly expressive career than architecture. He describes the excitement of performance:
“Before going on stage, I feel that my heart will fall out, but still I am preparing for a good experience. On stage, I am relaxed, finding my way and then…. ecstasy! Afterwards, I can’t tell if it’s been good or bad; I can’t sleep for thinking about the response.”
Naturally, and despite his professed unhappiness with ‘peaks’, that is what he is aiming for in the music world, although his ambition is not solely personal. As with many young Azerbaijanis who step onto a global stage, a responsibility to his country is not far from his thoughts.
“I want to reach the heights as a vocalist. Azerbaijan is not well-known and I want to help my country to advance. If I win competitions, they might not remember my name, but they will remember Azerbaijan.”
Perhaps like many other ‘big city’ visitors to the Qabala International Music Festival, Samadov was surprised by the level of organization – and the splendour of the location.
“I didn’t expect it to be so well organised, and people’s treatment of us is excellent – they take so much care, it’s twice what I’ve experienced in other places. And it is so very beautiful here.”
As we mentioned, what caught our attention was Javid’s evident pleasure in communicating the mood of the music to an audience which was by no means all musicologists. He told us that this had been anticipated and that some thought had gone into devising a programme accessible to all.
“90% of people come to enjoy the music, not to analyse, they are not experts. I am always glad to see people at opera for the first time and I want them to come back, to see them a second and third time.”
Thus the very successful duet in the vocal concert, with Javid Samadov as Malatesta and Farida Mammadova as Norina, from Donizetti’s comic opera ‘Don Pasquale’.
“I just thought about what I would do in Malatesta’s situation”
It sounds simple enough, but to convince as an operatic doctor scheming cheekily with the wily and enamoured Norina to get her to the altar with her love is no easy matter in a conference room. The cheek, the glint in the eye and the ‘joie de vivre’, along with the quality of the singing, were, however, irresistible and we’re sure few in the audience would turn down a chance to see them again.
Where Magomayev leads
Nor will the audience easily forget the passion he poured into the finale of the Gala concert which welcomed the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) to Qabala’s festival stage. Performing before your president is no easy matter either, but Samadov’s rendering of Muslim Magomayev’s ‘Azerbaijan’ left no one in any doubt as to his feelings for his country or his love of its music. The combination of his resonant depth of tone and the excellence of the RPO, the setting and the occasion made for quite an emotional closure. We learned over that glass of tea, that he had actually been to his illustrious baritone predecessor’s home and had sung that song to his accompaniment – a brave venture, given that ‘Azerbaijan’ was for so long only associated with its composer.
By coincidence, as we were writing this we heard that Javid had sealed another connection with the maestro – he had made it through the selection procedure to reach the final 14 in the 1st Muslim Magomayev International Vocalists’ Competition. This was due to take place in Moscow’s 6,000-seat Crocus City Hall on 23 and 24 October, with a Grand Prix prize of $30,000. This is a highly prestigious competition and is remarkable for the range of music it covers. Reflecting the great Azerbaijani baritone’s versatility, the competition final requires singers to perform from his huge repertoire of popular songs, as well as his range of operatic arias. Again, Javid will be one of the least experienced and possibly again the youngest participant but, given the exalted company this time, his eye was on experience rather than prizes.
Meanwhile, our advice is to keep an ear open for a chance to hear this exciting young singer – preferably live, of course, but to get some idea of his performance at Qabala, try this link:
Late news – we almost literally stop the press to report the remarkable news that Javid Samadov continued his perfect run in competitions. His quest for experience actually ended in victory in the Muslim Magomayev competition in Moscow; the judges placing him equal first with Belarus singer Ilya Silchukov. Azerbaijan’s other finalist in the competition, tenor Samir Jafarov, took second place, to confirm the depth of talent in this country of continual creative surprise.
We had just time for a couple of quick questions. Asked if he was surprised by his victory, Javid said, “I didn’t go there thinking about winning. My country has done a lot to help me and it was simply my responsibility towards Azerbaijan; but it certainly stimulates me to continue my work.”
Asked how it was that the 2 Azerbaijani singers finished 1st and 2nd, he answered, “Singing is in the blood in the Caucasus – the region is well-known for its singers. It doesn’t really matter whether it was me or Samir. It could have been Ali, Veli, Mammad... anybody.”
Our heartiest congratulations to this most engaging of young artistes!