Widely considered one of the harp world’s great pedagogues, Milda Agazarian shares her insights about her life and career at the top of Russia’s music education system.
—by Nicole Brady
In the summer of 1999, after 14 years of studying the harp in the United States, I boarded a plane for Moscow, Russia, to study with Milda Agazarian. It was a life-changing decision. In the United States, the Russian school of harp playing is largely unknown, even today. Yet, after just a few weeks of study there, it was clear that I had only scratched the surface of what this amazing pedagogue could teach me about the Russian method. I entered Milda’s class and spent two years under her tutelage, becoming one of the few Americans to ever study at the Russian Gnessin’s Academy of Music. During that time, I had several hours of lessons each week, delving deep into the Russian technical method and expanding my repertoire significantly. Milda was demanding and kind, always explaining the reasons behind what she requested, and never letting me leave the studio before I was capable of doing what she asked. Milda Agazarian is easily one of the world’s greatest harp pedagogues, having produced numerous prize-winning harpists, sat on the board of many festivals, and regularly judged international competitions. The keys to her great success lie in her absolute dedication to the art of teaching and in the sincerity with which she approaches her students and her work. She is both genuine and genius. I had the pleasure of catching up with Milda over a Zoom call during a brief vacation from her rigorous teaching schedule.
Click to view slideshow and captions.
Harp Column: Let’s talk about your early life and harp studies. Where did you grow up?
Milda Agazarian: I was born in Yerevan in Armenia in the middle of the Second World War. But when I was only 1 year old, my parents moved to Moscow, and now I have been living here almost all of my life.
HC: And when did you start studying the harp?
MA: Such a story! I entered the Moscow Gnessin’s Special Music School [Gnesinka] when I was 7, but I began to study music at the age of 6. From 6 until the age of 11, my main instrument was the piano because, at that time, it was the tradition to start harp, not at 6, but later. Since this is a school for high-level professionals, there were competitive classes where they determined which instrument was the most promising for each individual student. At this time, they determined that my abilities for a musical career were good, but it became obvious that my hands were too small for the piano. Then, the head of our school—a fantastic musician, like a father to me—advised my parents to consider the harp. No one in my family knew anything about the harp. I entered the class of the wonderful teacher, Mark Rubin, my first harp teacher, and I became a harpist. I never regretted it later. I fell in love with this unique instrument with all of my heart. I also continued to study the piano. I was very dedicated to both.