Vartan Manoogian- violinist and pedagogue

 By Jacob Stockinger The Capital Times

Virtuoso violinist and longtime University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Vartan Manoogian died Thursday in Spain. He was 71.

Manoogian was also the director of the annual Madeleine Island Chamber Music Festival, held each summer in the Apostle Islands in northern Wisconsin on Lake Superior. He returned each summer to a festival in Spain where he taught and performed and frequently performed at festivals in Germany, Italy and Switzerland.

“We are shocked and devastated. This was such a surprise,” said John Schaffer, director of the UW School of Music, who has worked with Manoogian for 20 years. “Yesterday there was a pall over the whole school. Vartan was so alive and vibrant. He was such an elegant and kind man.”

According to Schaffer, the cause of death is still not known, although cardiac problems are suspected.

“Vartan was one of the most valuable members of the music faculty,” Schaffer said. “He is going to be seriously missed. I think that’s the sentiment all my colleagues feel. It’s a sudden loss, and he left such a legacy. To replace him and move on just won’t be possible. Whatever happens will have to be different.”

At the time of his death, Manoogian was working on a multiple-CD recording project of violin trios for students. He wrote a four-volume series of books on violin technique and created a video guide to orchestral bowing. He also recorded the complete solo sonatas and partitas of J.S. Bach, which he performed together for the first time in 2000 in Madison.

Manoogian was known for his devotion to both the classical repertoire and new music, and he enjoyed unusual crossover performances, such as playing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the UW Marching Band and doing improvisational performances with UW jazz saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell.

Manoogian was born in 1936 in Baghdad to Armenian parents, who had sought political asylum there. At age 16 he went to France to study at the National Conservatory in Paris, where he won top prizes and took master classes from composer and violinist George Enescu. He then came to America and studied under master violin teacher Ivan Galamian at the Juilliard School of Music in New York.

He returned to Europe, where he took a post with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra in Switzerland and then became the concertmaster of the renowned Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under famed conductor Ernest Ansermet.

Back in the United States, Manoogian taught at the prestigious North Carolina School of the Arts, where he also played in the Claremont String Quartet, and at Indiana University. In 1976 he won an Emmy for a performance of a Mozart violin concerto on educational television.  Many prominent composers dedicated new works to him.

He came to the UW-Madison in 1980, where he performed solo, and often wth other faculty members. He quickly established a reputation for teaching top-ranking students who went on to major professional music careers.

Manoogian is survived by his wife of 40 years, artist Brigitte Manoogian, and their son, Avedis, a pianist in Minneapolis who often performed with his father.

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American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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5 comments on “Vartan Manoogian- violinist and pedagogue”

  1. avedis

    Just surfing about and found you ken.

    I just got back from Spain where I played in a memorial concert and then the day after, we did the actual funeral.
    The concert included 25 of the 35 or so students who had studied with my father over the last 20 years. I performed the Debussy Violin sonata with Manuel Guillen, the first spaniard to go to madison in 1986. Byron Wallis played the adagio from the Bach Gm solo sonata. Santi played as well even with his hand condition.

    We gathered at a port in Valencia the following day and boarded a catameran with my father’s urn. My aunt and uncle sang from the Armenian Badarak a funeral song. Olvido Lanza who you may remember played a gypsy song, stunningly. My mother kissed my father goodbye and with terrible reluctance, let him go into the Mediterranean Sea. Then everyone launched flower after flower. It was beautiful in its own way but an awful tragedy for my mother and I not to mention all the students he nurtured and developed over the last 37 years.

    He was always so happy to hear from Parry about you from time to time. You certainly overcame challenges over the years and have succeeded as you more than well deserve. I belatedly congratulate you after so many years and thank you for your consideration and respect for my father. Let his sacred dedication to music continue through you. In this, you are kindred spirits for all eternity.

    Take care.


  2. Kenneth Woods

    Dear Avedis

    Thanks so much for your comment. I’m so glad to hear from you again, but deeply sad that it comes in such tragic circumstances. Your father was a great musician, and I learned so much from him- watching him teach, listening to him perform as a soloist and chamber musician, seeing him demonstrate and working with him one-on-one. It’s hard to overstate how much one could learn from just going to lunch with him.

    Parry was just here for a week and we both had so many stories about Vartan- he was truly larger than life for all of us.

    I hope you’re taking care of yourself and that you and mother are both managing to sustain yourselves in a painful time.

    Be well, and hope to see you soon under happier circumstances


  3. Cheryl Trace

    Dear Avedis,

    I just learned about your father’s death. I am so shocked and saddened. I studied violin with him in Indianapolis (Butler University) years ago-late 70’s-and always held a very special place in my heart for him. He always spoke lovingly of you, and he was a major violin force to be reckoned with-such talent and love for music. I am thankful that I had the little contact that I did and that my memories are so strong.
    My best to you and your mother-
    Cheryl Trace

  4. Kenneth Woods

    Dear Cheryl

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts- I’ve forwarded your message on to Avedis directly. In the months since Vartan’s passing I’ve continued to run into so many of his students and colleagues, all of whom have been so saddened. I don’t think there can be many jobs in life that offer a greater opportunity to help people than being a studio teacher- it is such a close relationship and what the teacher imparts literally shapes the rest of the student’s life going forward. In a very real sense, someone like Vartan, who taught so long and at such a high level, is still very much with us and always will be.


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