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Musicianship in Peril: Collaboration between Aram Khachaturian Competition-Cultural Foundation and Richard Wagner Conservatory

Hetq’s article regarding the personal machinations and favoritism evidenced at the XI Aram Khachaturian International Violin Competition 2015 (6-14 June) in Yerevan garnered a strong reader response.

The article was reprinted in a Russian news site. Prominent British classical music critic Norman Lebrecht expressed his viewpoint on the matter by posing the following rhetorical question – Why would any sensible artist take part in such a sham?

The Hetq article was about the low level of musicianship displayed by the competition winners, their links to the jury members, and how the competition benefitted the Smbatyan family. Further investigation revealed that desirable competition results were ensured due to the collaboration of the Aram Khachaturian-Competition Cultural Foundation and Vienna’s Richard Wagner Conservatory.

Below, we’ll describe the standards according to which the jury members at the XI Aram Khachaturian International Violin Competition were selected; some of them have a suspect past. The selection criteria were to ensure beneficial results for the Smbatyans. Our investigation revealed serious conflict of interest among the jury – most jury members had links to one another and to Armen Smbatyan.

Five of the seven jury members were either members of the board of trustees or the teaching staff at the Richard Wagner Conservatory (the official partner of the Aram Khachaturian Competition), or had been members at one time – Ino Mirkovic, Igor Petruschevsky, Paolo Petrocelli, Tong Weidong and Sergey Kravchenko. As for Jury President Eduard Tadevosyan, he’s a professor and dean at the Yerevan State Conservatory, an institution also controlled by Armen Smbatyan, its former rector and current president of the board of trustees.

Jury- 11th Aram Khachaturian Competition / paolopetrocelli.com

Ino Mirkovic - Smbatyan family’s longtime partner. He’s the director of Swiss Global Art Management (SwissGart or Gart - an agency that manages and promotes artists and orchestras) that promotes Sergey Smbatyan. Until recently, the SwissGart logo appeared on the Richard Wagner Conservatory website’s homepage. After we started to make inquiries regarding the Conservatory and interviewing the parties engaged, the logo disappeared, but it remains in the internet archives and in our saved files.

Mirkovic was also listed as a jury member of the Richard Wagner International Competition. For more than fifteen years, Mirkovic was also a president/member of the jury overseeing final exams at the Yerevan State Conservatory (once Armen Smbatyan became rector), and a permanent jury member for the Aram Khachaturian Competition.

Ino Mirkovic also founded and served as director of the private Ino Mirkovic Academy, whose activities are very similar to the Richard Wagner Conservatory. 

Since its founding in 2013, SwissGart relocated three times in a two-year period and twice changed its executive director. In two cases, those directors were employees of Swiss offshore consulting company, named Swiss Financial Yard or Global Financial Yard (http://www.swissfinancialyard.ch/), and the company itself served as a “silent partner”. The company offers assistance for starting offshore companies, opening foreign bank accounts or transferring money to foreign bank accounts in countries like Switzerland, UAE, Singapore or Liechtenstein. Ino and Olivera Mirkovic are the only executive directors as of the end of 2015.

Clients listed in the SwissGart website include prominent artists such as the Italian conductor Riccardo Muti and even the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. It turns out that the representatives of Muti and the Orchestra knew nothing about it.

“As you know, Maestro Muti has no personal manager, nor is he represented by any agency. Any portal or information claiming the contrary is false,” wrote a staffer at Riccardo Muti Music in response to our inquiry. All the rights to the conductor’s recordings and photos belong to Ricardo Muti Music.

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (VPO) was also flabbergasted upon seeing the SwissGart assertion that it too was listed as one of its clients. In April 2015, the VPO appeared on stage with Riccardo Muti, but according to managing director Harald Krumpöck, “That was a onetime project. Besides this, there were no joint projects’’.

As one digs deeper into SwissGart, the path always leads to the Del Gesu Foundation. Mikhail Bereznitsky, the representative of Del Gesu in Russia, served as the artistic director for the Chamber Orchestra of Korea (listed in the SwissGart website as a client) during its 2012 Russian tour. The Del Gesu Foundation was one of the tour’s sponsors.

The collaboration of the Smbatyans and Mirkovic is ongoing and mutually beneficial. The Aram Khachaturian Competition-Cultural Foundation, with funding from the Armenian government, periodically promotes and invites SwissGart clients to perform at concerts with the State Youth Orchestra of Armenia (SYOA). One such example is the upcoming October 11 appearance of actor John Malkovich with the SYOA at the opening evening of the 5th Khachaturian International Festival in Yerevan.

Investigations into the activities of the Ino Mirkovic Academy also revealed similar deception. In 2001, Aleksandr Sokolov, rector of Moscow’s Tchaikovsky State Conservatory, said, “…a certain Ino Mirkovic…founded a small provincial private school in Yugoslavia. We were dumbstruck to learn that he works with the license by Moscow State Conservatory with a license that nobody gave to him.”

Sokolov then recounted how Ino Mirkovic, encouraged by former conductor Vladimir Ovchinnikov (a jury member of the 2017 Armenia International Music Festival and Competition, co-organized by Sergey Smbatyan) also created a Swiss company called Tchaikovsky Conservatory A.G., and how he continued to illegally grant Moscow State Conservatory diplomas. Sokolov described the actions of Mirkovic as “banditry”, declaring that he and his colleagues had contacted international legal authorities to look into the issue.

Mirkovic’s activities with the academy were halted in 2003, presumably due to these issues and the fact that the Croatia Ministry of Education and Science had deemed the quality level of the academy as unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, years later in Armenia, Ino Mirkovic is still advertised as the rector of the Ino Mirkovich Academy.  

Yerevan State Conservatory employees relate that at the same time, conservatory rector Armen Smbatyan handed out conservatory diplomas to former students of the Ino Mirkovic Academy; people who had never attended Yerevan State Conservatory, but who were no longer able to receive diplomas from the Ino Mirkovic Academy or the Moscow State Orchestra.

For example, Croatian musician Vladimir Bodegrajac studied at the Ino Mirkovic Academy, and completed his graduate studies at the Yerevan State Conservatory. At the same time, he worked as the assistant to Rector Armen Smbatyan. Instructors at the Yerevan Conservatory, however, claim that Smbatyan never had a Croatian assistant.

Armen Smbatyan describes the above as merely an exchange of students. Responding to a Hetq inquiry, Armenia’s Ministry of Education and Science and the Yerevan Conservatory said that duplicate diplomas weren’t issued as a result of the collaboration. Nevertheless, they claimed that a cooperation agreement was signed by Yerevan Conservatory Rector Armen Smbatyan and Ino Mirkovic (founder of the Ino Mirkovic Academy), that included a clause about an exchange of students and instructors between 2000 and 2002.

Igor Petruschevski – He is a professor/partner at the Richard Wagner Conservatory and jury president of the 2015 Wagner Competition.

He has collaborated with Armen Smbatyan at the Yerevan State Conservatory and served as a jury member (for violins) at the Aram Khachaturian International Competition for some ten years. Jaroslaw Nadrzyski, Petruschevski’s student, won the Aram Khachaturian Competition in 2010. (Petruschevski served on the jury). Nadrzyski is now on the teaching staff at the Richard Wagner Conservatory, and Sergey Smbatyan periodically invites him to perform at concerts.

When the Royal Academy of London discontinued its work contract with Petruschevski for “confidential” reasons, he founded the International Academy of Vienna (in Vienna), with assistance from the Russian Cultural Center (RCC) in Vienna. The academy, registered at the RCC’s address, offered similar musical training resources, with the same instructors and partners, as those offered by the Richard Wagner Conservatory.

Today, some three years later, no one can remember the International Academy of Vienna ever operating. Not Petruschevski, nor the RCI responded to the questions posed by Dossier, Hetq’s Austrian investigative partner.

Paolo Petrocelli – Currently a member of the Richard Wagner Conservatory’s Board of Trustees, he was vice-president of IMG Artists when a securities fraud scandal rocked the company in 2009, and when it promoted Sergey Smbatyan.

Barrett Wissman, a hedge fund manager who also served as Chairman of IMG Artists, pled guilty to securities fraud and agreed to pay $12 million in penalties relating to an alleged kickback scheme involving a New York state pension fund.

Petrocelli failed to respond to Hetq’s query regarding details of the 2015 Aram Khachaturian International Competition. The only response Hetq received from Petrocelli said that he left IMG Artists in 2013 and witnessed no significant violations during jury deliberations and selection of the winners, describing the processes as democratic and fair.

Petrocelli also founded and is the president of EMMA (Euro Mediterranean Music Academy) For Peace, based in Rome. Italian conductor Riccardo Muti acts as the organization’s honorary president and Ino Mirkovic, among other artists, is a member. Conductor Gianluca Marcianò, who was being promoted by the Smbatyans for the post of chief conductor at Yerevan’s National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, is also a member of EMMA for Peace.

He’s also a jury member for the Richard Wagner Competition organized by the Richard Wagner Conservatory.

Tong Weidong – Once listed as a member of the teaching staff at Richard Wagner Conservatory and even Head of String Department at the Conservatory in 2015. But this link is currently inactive, reading- IM Bau/Under Construction. He did not respond to Hetq’s questions regarding the Aram Khachaturian International Competition. Kurt Sassmannshaus, founder and president of the Great Wall International Music Academy (Beijing, China), where Weidong was listed as an instructor, also refrained from commenting on Weidong’s silence.

Sergey Kravchenko – Listed on the teaching staff at the Richard Wagner Conservatory, and served as a jury member for past Aram Khachaturian International Competitions.

Eduard Tadevosyan – The student of Tatyana Hayrapetyan (Armen Smbatyan’s mother), Tadevosyan is professor and dean at Yerevan State Conservatory, controlled by Armen Smbatyan.

Infographic by Hrant Galstyan

As we can see, the results at the Aram Khachaturian International Competition were guaranteed by the “pre-selection” of jury members.

This investigation indirectly responds to the remark made by Didier Schnorhk, President of WFIMC (World Federation of International Music Competitions) who, when turning a blind eye to the poor performances of the Khachaturian Competition winners, their links to jury members, and other violations marring the Competition’s transparency, answered Hetq’s findings by saying: “…we cannot imagine how it could be possible for any of us to influence well known jury members in a way that would be politically suitable. You certainly don’t know musicians and jury members to only imagine this being possible.”

For its success in discrediting Aram Khachaturian International Competition, the WFIMC expanded the list disciplines included in Aram Khachaturian Competition by adding vocal and conducting. The Armenian government’s annual financial allocations also encourage the foundation to continue its corrupt activities.  

For example, in 2014 Armenia’s Ministry of Culture allocated 43.170 million AMD directly, and 8.784 million AMD indirectly, to the Khachaturian Competition. (The latter came from the International Foundation for Humanitarian Cooperation Among CIS Member States, but the amount had been previously transferred to it by the Ministry). In 2015, following the same route, the ministry financed the Khachaturian Competition by 52.106 million AMD, and the International Foundation for Humanitarian Cooperation allocated 7.568 million, of which 5.880 million had been previously transferred from the Ministry.

In 2015, the Yerevan State Conservatory also allocated 10 million AMD to the Khachaturian Competition’s account. As a comparison, the Conservatory pays a paltry hourly wage of AMD 1,300, 1,500 and 2,000 ($2.70, $3.11 and $4.15) AMD to its professors based on whether they were without titles, or if they had been awarded the title of “Meritorious” or People’s Artist” respectively.

The Ministry also pays the Aram Khachaturian International Competition’s yearly 4.989 million AMD membership fee to the WFIMC.

Top photo (from left): Tong Weidong, Ino Mirkovic, Paolo Petrocelli and Igor Petruschevski / akhic.am, Lusi Sargsyan

Comments (1)

Уважаемая редакция, низкий Вам поклон за Вашу добросовестную и кропотливую борьбу сразу во всех фронтах, которую Вы ведете во имя спасения нашей родины в буквальном смысле! По моему глубокому убеждению, Ваши ГРОМКИЕ разоблачения не смогут послужить поводом для проведения расследования со стороны властей Армении и тем более никто не будет привлечён к ответственности. Учитывая факты, приведенные в Ваших статьях, действует международная преступная организация и привлечение их к ответственности исходит из интересов не одного государства. Мое личное мнение: необходимо направлять все материалы во все соответствующие службы всех заинтересованных государств, иностранные посольства и представительства в РА.

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