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Sergei Babayan Photo: Marco Borggreve
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Music & Comedy

Babayan Plays Bach: The ‘Goldberg Variations’

Bringing the Bach Week Festival’s 50th season to close, Sergei Babayan, the celebrated Armenian American pianist praised by The New York Times for his “consummate technique and insight,” will play Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 14, at Nichols Concert Hall.

Written as a set of exercises for accomplished harpsichordists, the legendary “Goldbergs” consists of an aria, or opening theme, followed by 30 variations on its bass line and ending with a repeat of the original aria.

National Public Radio has described the work as “an iconic monument in Western music. On one level, it’s simply a beautiful keyboard work, and on another, it’s a Rubik’s Cube of invention and architecture.”

A Bach Week favorite, Babayan, who is based in New York, is an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon recording artist. His album “Rachmaninoff” was hailed by the international press as a groundbreaking recording and received numerous awards including BBC Recording of the Month. His first album for the label, “Prokofiev for Two,” was a duo partnership with Martha Argerich and features Babayan’s own transcriptions for two pianos of movements from Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” and other works.

Babayan’s Bach Week recital comes during a break from his international concert tour with young piano superstar Daniil Trifonov, one of his former students, with whom he’s performing Rachmaninov’s major works for two pianos and the composer’s own arrangement of his “Symphonic Dances in London, Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels, and beyond.

Babayan’s passion for Bach’s music led him to study with German conductor Helmuth Rilling, co-founder and longtime music director of the venerable Oregon Bach Festival.

In June, Babayan will perform the “Goldberg Variations” in Leipzig, Germany, the city where Bach composed them.

“When Sergei plays Bach on the piano, his range of expression is equal to the range of expression in all of Bach’s music,” Bach Week’s music director Richard Webster says. “The sounds he gets out of the piano are sounds I’ve never heard before in Bach’s keyboard works. And he does it in the most convincing way.”

Babayan’s recital is sponsored by the Howard S. Dubin Family Foundation.

Tickets and Information

Single tickets are $50 for VIP seating. General admission is $35 for adults, $25 seniors, and $15 students with ID.

Tickets and information are available at, by phone (847) 269-9050, and by emailing the festival at Mail orders can be sent to Bach Week Festival, 1555 Sherman Avenue, Suite 312, Evanston, Illinois 60201.


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