The perfect art of chamber music

Vanguard Concerts presents clarinetist Narek Arutyunian

By Rick Eichhorn

Photo: Narek Arutyunian will perform at 4 p.m. Oct. 26 at the DAI; photo: Christian Steiner

When talking about all the work and effort that’s gone into more than 52 years of Vanguard Concerts, George W. Houk wants to make one thing perfectly clear: “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Houk was one of the original guarantors for the chamber concerts that were the brainchild of Vince and Elana Bolling. The Bollings, both devoted music lovers, met at Ohio State University, married and landed in Dayton. Mr. Bolling settled into the role of a young chief executive of a family-owned energy firm, while Mrs. Bolling volunteered as a docent at the Dayton Art Institute. Their combined love of the visual and performing arts fueled a dream of bringing to Dayton the finest ensembles, soloists and small orchestras from around the world.

Although a bit cautious at first, they soon found a fast ally in Thomas C. Colt Jr., who was the director of the Dayton Art Institute. Skeptics told the Bollings it would take at least three years to present a season of world-class concerts. They achieved it in six months. Armed with Mr. Bolling’s powerful persuasive skills, they visited talent agencies in New York City, obtaining and presenting Colt with yet-unsigned contracts for a series of six concerts featuring musical greats. From there, everything fell into place, including securing the beautiful, 500-seat Renaissance Auditorium at the DAI.

“It’s one of the most acoustically perfect venues for chamber music in the U.S.,” Houk said, adding, “ … the clarity, the accuracy and precision of chamber music, the intimate connection between the audience and the musician. You can see the body language. “

In addition to writing an entertaining and detailed book chronicling the first 50 years of the Vanguard Concerts titled, “Innocent Impresarios,” Houk has helped with publicity and writes program notes. Today, he’s working on the notes for this Sunday’s performance of young clarinetist, Narek Arutyunian, who’s managed by the New York talent agency, Young Concert Artists, Inc. Founded in 1961 by Susan Wadsworth, YCA is dedicated to discovering and launching the careers of exceptional young prodigies from around the world. To get in, musicians must win an international audition, and then they’re booked for performances all over the world.

“What YCA does is give musicians passes to the music world, to the music business,” Arutyunian said. “It opens the doors. Also, the experience is amazing. I’ve changed so much and progressed so much. I’ve become a better musician and met amazing people.”

Arutyunian has played in more countries than he can list, as well as in 14 states. The Washington Post wrote that he “reaches passionate depths with seemingly effortless technical prowess and beguiling sensitivity.”

Accompanying Arutyunian at the Renaissance Auditorium will be young pianist Yekwon Sunwoo. They have played two concerts together, the most recent at Germany’s Usedomer Musikfestival. The program is mostly contemporary or late 20th century music and is designed to appeal to audiences of all ages. Arutyunian noted the concert in Dayton will be similar to the German performance, although he teased, “I’m thinking of playing some new pieces as well.”

Born in 1992 in Gyumri, Armenia, Arutyunian grew up listening to his father play folk music on the clarinet. His first instrument was the recorder, a woodwind, although he always loved the way the clarinet sounded and looked. Soon, he picked up the clarinet at the “kind of late” age of 10. His parents told him he had to learn the basics first, which was classical music. Unlike most kids, his parents never had to nag him to practice.

“I was always practicing,” he said. “I would lock myself in my room and practice.”

These days, Arutyunian is finishing his undergraduate degree at Juilliard and now considers New York City “his number one city in the world.” In his spare time, he loves to explore the city, watch movies, catch up on Breaking Bad and study languages. This will be his first performance in Ohio, and he was quick to say he’s “very excited to be coming to Dayton.”

The Bollings became involved with YCA in the 1960s, and the arrangement fit nicely with their goal of bringing a vibrant mix of extraordinarily talented musicians of all ages and renown. Houk credits the Bollings with introducing him to chamber music, which he describes as “music written for a small venue, a small space – a personal space. It can range from a single musician to a piano trio, a string quartet, up to a chamber orchestra. We’ve had as many as 21 musicians on our stage.”

Remarked Arutyunian, “Chamber is the perfect way of music. It is the core of everything.” He quickly added, “There is no life for chamber music without the clarinet.”

The YCA also fit nicely into the Vanguard’s goal of community outreach. Often, musicians from YCA are able to spend extra time to visit Dayton area schools, performing and holding master classes, which play an instrumental role in continuing to bring chamber music to new audiences. On a different level of community outreach, throughout the years, Vanguard’s volunteers have been known to host post-concert dinners in downtown restaurants or one another’s homes. In addition to offering an opportunity for music lovers to network, Houk noted the word soon got out that musicians “will be very well treated and well fed in Dayton.”

Mrs. Bolling once wrote that she found the Dayton Art Institute to be a haven of beauty and restoration of spirit. The Bollings enriched that sentiment by creating more than 50 years of exquisite chamber music, with their legacy still unfolding.

“It sort of rounds out the DAI offerings to the community,” Houk said.

Narek Arutyunian will perform at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 26 in the Renaissance Auditorium at the Dayton Art Institute, located at 456 Belmonte Park North. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students. Parking is free in an adjacent lot. For more information please visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Rick Eichhorn at

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