It was in the eighties at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. I was teaching Italian diction at the Opera School and for a short period my classroom was transferred to the first floor, opposite a class from where strange piano noises were filtering out. It turned out that it was a new course of piano tuning, sponsored by Yamaha, and the young teacher was Ara Vartoukian. We started talking a little and I remember that I asked how did he manage to put the piano out of tune every day so that his students could tune it again. Simple, he said, all you do you is move the A up or down and the tuning is done with reference to that A! At the time I was playing a Bechstein and was not happy with my piano tuner, Ara came to tune it and has been looking after my son’s Bechstein and my Steinway ever since. Time goes by, Ara has a family with Nyree and my husband and I are always very pleased to see them and spend some time with them not only professionally but as good and ever interesting friends. We are delighted to see Ara’s recognition for his long services to music.
Fiorella and Phillip de Boos-Smith
Steinway pianos are often highly revered and held at a higher level in the mind of pianists. So it seems incredibly fitting to me that to me Ara and steinways are more or less synonymous in these same minds. I can say without doubt that if it were not for Ara and his amazing work I would not be the pianist I am today.
Recipient, 2015 Theme & Variations Foundation Award
Ara must be one of Sydney’s most devoted music enthusiasts. He is seen everywhere good live classical music is performed. His support is genuinely appreciated by the music community at large and it is wonderful to see his contribution recognised by the award of an OAM.
Warmest congratulations, Ara, on your recent OAM and thanks for all the ways you have enriched musical life in Sydney over many years. Personally, I have many fond memories of lovely musical and social occasions at the magnificent T&V, Opera House and Angel Place. Your contribution to the development of young pianists through the financial support of the Foundation and opportunities to perform has been tremendous and greatly appreciated.
University of NSW Department of Music
For me one of Ara’s greatest contributions for pianism in Sydney has been his support and initiative for the International Pianists Series in conjunction with the SSO. It is of great importance for Australians to hear today’s great pianists live in recital and he has helped greatly to facilitate this. My long held wish would be renewal for a parallel, well publicised, public Masterclass series from as many as possible of these visiting artists at the Con – a really powerful resource for our up and coming generation – and I would be happy to do anything I can here at the Con to help if this became a possibility.
I wish him well on his special day.
Associate Professor of Piano, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney
It is no exaggeration to say that Ara is a legend in the Australian piano world who prepares pianos for the greatest international pianists of our time….without doubt he is the consummate practitioner and an artist in his own field. His ears….. his knowledge of how a piano should sound and feel are amazing….. his expertise is sought worldwide. He is a genius at what he does…. quite simply outstanding….the best! As well…. he is one of the most humble and self-effacing of men. His encouragement of aspiring young Australian pianists a practical example of his acknowledged debt to his craft and an investment in the musical future. Bravo Ara !!…. Congratulations on the award of the OAM…..Thank you for who you are…. for what you have done… and for what you continue to do!
Professor of Music, Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres
I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting Ara three times. The most recent was just last month at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville (the piano kids would all try and sneak in and practise on an ‘Ara’ piano). Before then, it was late last year when I was auditioning for the Theme & Variations Foundation Award. But the experience I remember most vividly was the first time I met him. When I first crossed paths with Ara, it was two minutes before I was scheduled to walk onstage to perform my first recital at the Lev Vlassenko Piano Competition. I was nervous and fidgety and didn’t even notice Ara sitting on a nearby bench. As I paced around backstage, he whispered, “You look good! Have fun out there. I would say fingers crossed but…don’t do that!”. Ara may not have realised this at the time, but what he said had an instant calming and inspiring influence on me, undoubtedly improving my performance. In the few words I managed with him after my playing, I could immediately gather that he was a passionate and radiant individual, and this definitely reflects in Ara’s work. If there was one phrase I would use to describe Ara, it would be ‘a professional’s professional’ – hard-working, devoted and humble – something I aspire to be one day.
Recipient, 2015 Theme & Variations Foundation Award
I can’t imagine what Sydney’s classical music landscape would have been like over the last 30 or so years if we had not been blessed with having Ara Vartoukian in our lives, nor do any of us wish to even contemplate it. Ara has been with City Recital Hall since our beginning. Ara is not just part of our family, he is part of the fabric of this venue. When he’s not working, he’s in the audience, in fact, I do believe he’s here more hours than I am! I’ve not met anyone more passionate about music. Ara – you’re a quiet man and not one for the limelight, but if you take a peek over your shoulder you’ll see us all there raising a glass to you, the pianist’s best friend, and I’m proud to say, my friend.
CEO City Recital Hall
Ara Vartoukian has been for decades the saviour of our dear Steinway. A 1975 Model B, it has lived for thirty years at Lovett Bay, with seawater lapping underfloor. Ara arrives by boat, diagnoses, medicates. In January 1994, the Eastern seaboard fires that had destroyed many neighbouring properties, were fast travelling towards us. In an operation of speed and skill, the Steinway was loaded on a barge right at our jetty and disappeared in a Dantesque smoke storm on the way to Church Point Wharf. The house remained empty. Eventually we were safe again. The Steinway came back. And so did Ara. The dear piano is not played nowadays -sadly- but is kept in fine health through Ara’s service. Ara Vartoukian OAM, welcome to our Order.
Paolo Totaro AM and Patrizia Ravalico-Totaro
Our first connection with Ara was when we returned from the USA in 1980 with, to Ara’s slight disappointment, an American built Model ‘M’ Steinway piano. He and his associates have tended the instrument since through tuning repairs, renovation and support. I made enquiries in 1980 through the Sydney music intelligentsia as to who could look after such an instrument and I was guided to the Piano Tuning Workshop at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney which Ara was leading at the time. From those early days when he personally tended the piano through the decades we have remained firm friends and have valued the contribution he has made to our family interests and the broader environment. We applaud his public recognition and wish him and Nyree well ahead.
I first met Ara and Nyree when I was in year 10 back in 1989 (pre Tro and Haig). I spent one week with Ara at Theme and Variations for my work experience week. At the time I remember being amazed at how complex the inside of a piano is and at how many different ways it is connected and can be pulled apart. I developed a daily routine of coming back home and to repeat what I had learned at home on my little Yamaha upright. My parents may have been slightly unimpressed when I was unable to reconstruct the poor piano……help, ARA! During my week of work experience with Ara & Nyree I travelled around Sydney, into people’s homes, shopping centres, schools, halls and workshops. Ara is always kind, fun, serious and passionate about his pianos. Despite his expertise and all I experienced, I remember that week for something else. I am not sure if many people know this, but Ara is a petrol head at heart. Ara would talk about cars with the same type of enthusiasm as he does about pianos. He also knew every side street and short cut to almost anywhere in Sydney. I am sure he twilights as an UBER driver just for his driving kicks. Ara also shared with me his passion for Armenian folk songs. He introduced me to repertoire I would not have otherwise heard. He generously opened his showroom for me to use as a rehearsal venue with a small choir of friends from university, none of whom were Armenian. To this day my uni friends all speak so fondly of Armenian songs. Ara and I were proudly sharing Armenian songs with the greater community and this was very cool. Ara encouraged me to lead his community choir to gain experience here and he supported my own passion for Armenian choral music. I now teach as Head of Junior School Music at Abbotsleigh and I acknowledge that he is certainly one of the many influential figures I was fortunate to have met during my formative years as a student. Dear Ara, Congratulations on the formal recognition and for everything you do for the community.
Head of Junior School Music, Abbotsleigh
I first met Ara when I began having piano lessons at Theme and Variation many years ago. From the very beginning, I was struck by the warm and welcoming atmosphere he and Nyree had created at Theme and Variations. My piano lessons, and catching up with them both, became a highlight of my week. Of course, Ara was often away, sourcing, tuning and repairing pianos. His devotion to his craft was evident from the beginning and remains extraordinary. He is the most genuine lover imaginable of pianos and piano music. But it is Ara’s generosity that really sets him apart. For example, Ara always made the magnificent instruments at the Theme and Variations showroom available for me and other pianists for practise, particularly when more than one piano was needed. Accessing these beautiful instruments was never an issue. In fact, we almost took it for granted that they were always available to us. I’m aware that this one small example of generosity has been replicated many times over to other musicians and musical organisations throughout Australia. Furthermore, in setting up the Theme and Variations Foundation, Ara is ensuring talented students are given opportunities to study and practise that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Ara’s generous and selfless nurturing of young talent over many years has been and remains quite remarkable. And then there is Ara’s ability to find exactly the right piano for his clients. When I finally made the big decision a few years ago to purchase a Steinway of my own, Ara went to a tremendous effort to find the perfect piano for me. The piano Ara recommended has enriched my life beyond measure. I cannot thank him enough for his care and thoughtfulness throughout this process, nor could I imagine buying such a precious instrument from anyone else. I was absolutely delighted to hear Ara has been awarded an OAM. It is a most well deserved and timely honour for a man who gives so much. Congratulations Ara – and thank you for everything!
I’ve known Ara for many years, since I joined the ACO in 2003. Theme and Variations has supported the ACO most generously over the years, with pianos, recitals and most importantly, the enthusiastic involvement of Ara (and Nyree!) – from piano tuning, recital attendance and through invitations to unforgettable events like Ashkenazy playing for a small group of guests…of which I was lucky to be one. Congratulations to Ara on this richly deserved award and warmest wishes from all of us at the ACO! Best, Jessica
Deputy General Manager, Australian Chamber Orchestra
Not only has Ara, the quiet genius, devoted his career to perfecting the sound from pianos for pianists and audiences here and overseas, he is also a generous supporter of young pianistic talent. Your OAM is richly deserved Ara – congratulations. Best wishes,
Phil and Helen Meddings
I first met Ara in either 1985 or 1986, when he presented a lecture/demonstration on the structural and mechanical components of the piano to an ADMT class at the Sydney Conservatorium. Needless to say, the presentation was outstandingly instructive. Across the ensuing years, my husband Emanuel and I have developed a friendship with both Ara and Nyree. Ara has proven to be an honourable and extremely generous professional who has on many occasion provided much invaluable assistance to me. This assistance has come in multiple forms and briefly summarized thus: Providing several years of sponsorship for the Zonta Club of Hornsby Kur-ring-gai (of which I am and have been an active member), via complimentary delivery of a baby grand piano to the Zonta Young Performer Encouragement Award performance venue in Killara, and in addition personally being on hand to ensure that the instrument was professionally tuned immediately prior to the performances. More recently, providing the audition venue for this year’s award. Several years of providing the concert venue for my students, via his generosity in enabling me to conduct my annual studio end of year concert within his beautiful showroom. His professional care and diligence across the many years in his servicing of my four pianos. Following our recent home/studio relocation, facilitating for me the transportation and delivery to his showroom of my three (suddenly unnecessary) pianos, and the (no fuss) delivery of my fourth piano to my residence. Arranging the delivery of my new Steinway plus accessories to my new residence and taking on board my newly obsolete Yamaha plus accessories. These are just a few examples of his generosity and professionalism. We are indeed privileged to have had experienced his generosity and friendship. We consider that this recent Award to Ara was indeed justifiably deserved. Our sincere congratulations Ara. Well done indeed!
Kathie and I were delighted to hear that Ara has been awarded an OAM. It is always a great pleasure to see that someone’s work is recognised by the community as a whole, and Ara is a wonderful example of this. Ara so defines the term “the quiet achiever” – he is diligent in his work within his business, as well as with all the artists he has worked with. Together with Nyree, their initiative in forming their Foundation to encourage young Australian pianists has been inspiring. So, big congratulations in this award, and we wish him, together with Nyree, even greater success with their enterprise into the future.
Kathie and Reg Grinberg
When I think of Ara I don’t get a picture of a man with a piano spanner in one hand while continually and noisily hitting keys with the other. Instead, I see a man who exudes calm. He listens rather than speaks. He hears music rather than making it. His opinions, when he does give them, are considered and quiet. Even more than his unparalleled technical knowledge about pianos, the qualities of calm and kindness are what attracts people to Ara. I believe this was at the heart of his OAM.
Theme and Variations Foundation
Without Ara my twenty years with the Sydney International Piano Competition would have been difficult. ARA provided me with extra pianos, practise rooms, wise counselling, and friendship and support. The music world has been enriched by his generosity. He deserves every award in the book.
Congratulations Ara . An honour so well deserved. You bring to us a feeling of joy and fulfilment which benefits us all. We see a gentle man. Non judgemental. We see you accept change and quietly make the most of it. We know you are true to yourself. A great example to us all. I always think “Ara and Nyree”. “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. You can’t have one without the other”! Your generosity of spirit is without exception. There is always a warm beautiful welcome. It is like coming home! I have been privileged to enjoy special events in your beautiful showroom. We love you Ara and Nyree.
Ara’s piano knowledge and expertise goes back such a long way. I remember Ara working slavishly out of a small space in the (old) Con in the early 80s. From there, he built not only a national, but international reputation in the art of piano tuning. However, there is so much more to him; he is a wonderfully generous man who gives time and respect to everyone he meets. When I can call in to see Ara and his wonderful team, it is always a joy. I am so glad he has been honoured with this award, which is so richly deserved.
Director of Music, The King’s School
If you own a beloved piano, Steinway or any other make, the only person I know who really can improve and maintain your piano is Ara Vartoukian. Ara has looked after our beloved US Steinway baby grand for over 25 years. It needed extensive repairs after we returned from the USA as it had been very badly stored by so-called premium piano storage company. Ara quietly explained, in his reassuring and careful way, that the piano was very seriously damaged but he felt it would be as good as new in time. Unplayable to nearly new – and this is what transpired. Ara is a superhero. As a superhero he doesn’t have a garish uniform or red cape, has no strange quirks and affectations and has no fancy way of getting around. He just has his uniquely quiet, gentle and thoroughly calm competence. Congratulations on your OAM, Ara, you have finally been officially recognised for what we have all known for ages. You really are an outstanding human being, husband, father and genius concert technician … and a really good friend.
Ara has serviced our pianos here at St Andrew’s Cathedral School for years. He has always been generous of spirit and helped us out when needed. He has sponsored pianos for special events and provided “emergency” tunings at short notice. I noticed his gentle nature especially when we had an event at the big city venue. We booked Ara to tune the pianos and the venue booked someone else. Although the other tuner was quite angry at the situation, Ara took it in his stride and calmly did what we asked him to do. It has been a pleasure to know Ara and I am sure we will value the relationship in the years to come.
Head of Music, St Andrew’s Cathedral School
Whether it is as he delivers a new Steinway Concert Grand and runs his fingers across the keyboard, playing a final tune (like a doctor smacking a new born baby) before sending it in the right direction out into the wide world of performance; In the middle of a quiet stage, with no one around – the repetitive strumming of the key and the binding effect of the tuning tools. Or across a glass of Red Wine in the middle of a meal in some dark restaurant on just about any night of the week or in a crowded foyer extolling the virtues of the performance. The face of Ara is and should be full of pride, love and joy for his work, his dedication, his love of life and devotion to his beautiful wife and family. I have known all of these faces of Ara and hope for many years into the future that I will continue to be greeted by each and every one of them through work, life and happiness.
Events Operations, Sydney Opera House
We have known Ara for quite a few years mostly through his involvement with the Lev Vlassenko Piano Competition. Ara is the most responsible, highly professional and caring person. He has great love for music, pianos and and perfect understanding of what musicians want and need. Whenever we have asked Ara for help with pianos he was always available and happy to work at any time of day or night. Most of the times there was no need for anything as the pianos were always perfectly prepared. Ara is also well known for his wonderful support to younger generation of pianists in Australia. And of course he is a warm and friendly person, great to share a drink and meal with and have a meaningful conversation. Congratulations Ara, well deserved !
Natasha Vlassenko and Oleg Stepanov
Head of Keyboard, Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University
Ara Vartoukian is the most kind and generous person we have ever met. He always has a friendly smile which is always so charming and warm. His generosity and love of music draws so many people together. Ara and Nyree have a passion to nurture our young musicians and they are always willing to find any opportunity to celebrate talent. Ara has given us so much support to the Music community, that he is worthy of such honour to be awarded an OAM. Congratulations Ara and may you continue on with your good work!
Head of Keyboard and College Accompanist, The Scots College Sydney
I can’t remember when I first met Ara but being in the classical piano profession we have run into each over many years now in Sydney both on and off stage at concerts in the Con, Angel Place or SOH. He is a master craftsman and a lovely kind man. He undertook to rebuild our Steinway piano (built in the early 1920s) which had been in the family for many years, had been passed down to me from my parents and obviously had great sentimental value. Ara took the piano the year my husband and I went to NZ to take up a position at the University of Auckland and he worked on it during the course of the year so it would be ready when we came back. We were thrilled with the final result. Ara had done a magnificent job on restoring it and had been able to bring out its full potential while still preserving the character and sound quality of the old instrument..it was everything we had hoped for and more! More than that, he showed great commitment and dedication in coming back on several visits to put the final touches on his rebuilding work and was always willing and helpful in attending to any concerns we had. Ara and his lovely wife Nyree have always impressed me with their kindness and generosity and philanthropic efforts on behalf of young piano students in the community. A number of my students have benefited enormously by the opportunities provided to them in the Emerging Artists Series at Ara’s showroom….this is an important platform for young talented artists to gain performance experience and prizes and a great initiative in nurturing the development and careers of young musicians. I’m sure many in Sydney’s musical community join me in congratulating Ara on his recent well-deserved honour of receiving an OAM award and acknowledging the wonderful contribution he has made to Sydney’s classical music scene.
Lecturer, Piano Unit, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney
Ara has been awarded an OAM! What great news! How to comment on this breaking news? That’s not easy, because knowing Ara now for more than 30 years we became not only business partners but also friends. I first met Ara in the early 1980s. After working in administration for the first 10 years, my career at Steinway had just begun when I was appointed to Sales Manager for the Asia Pacific Region. No one from Steinway had ever visited the region before. All contact had been by correspondence: no internet or Faxes, just a Telex machine which was a breath-taking innovation at that time. One of my principal strategies is to not only sell pianos but to take care of after-sales service. That was a real challenge knowing that Australia was so far away from Hamburg and the factory. Consequently you need technicians. Not just good technicians, but the best. They’re very hard to find, particularly Down Under. During my first visit to Sydney I heard about a man who had a fine reputation in providing piano services at the Sydney Conservatorium as well as taking care of the pianos used during the Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia. The only obstacle was that he was not part of our distribution organisation, mostly working for our main competitor from Japan. From the first moment I met Ara I had this comfortable feeling of talking with someone who has values which I share. He is interested in anything which will help him to improve. He has a clear focus on what’s important when it comes to pianos and even more in their maintenance. A happy owner of a piano meant more to him than making a lot of money. But don’t get me wrong: he was and still is an astute businessman, creating success by selling his values, not by price cutting but by providing outstanding service. In his belief you build your business by convincing people to purchase a piano by offering the highest quality in every field, not with noisy advertising and promotion. He was fully aware that by this philosophy it would take longer to grow but the growth would be more sustainable. Because his philosophies matched those of Steinway I invited Ara to come to our Hamburg factory to participate in an intensive Technical Maintenance Course in 1982. He was the first technician ever to come from outside our corporate worldwide organisation to be invited to the heart of making our magnificent piano. Quite a sensation at that time! And we have still his diary where he made detailed notes about what he learned. That was the start of our very strong and successful relationship. From maintenance to refurbishing pianos, from selling new Steinways and later Boston and Essex pianos, Ara never forgot where he came from. He honed his craft of providing quality service to his customers on highest level. And very important to mention: from the very beginning, he was willing to share his experience. He always was willing to train and educate other technicians first in Australia and later in the rest of Asia. He became a mentor for many young talents. Some of them have their own businesses today and hopefully will follow not only his advice but also his philosophies. On the personal side, my friendship with Ara and of course his wonderful wife Nyree and the whole family, spans more than three decades over a distance of more than 10,000 miles. The times we met as friends were filled with harmony and we talked of many things outside of the piano business. I always enjoy meeting with people who have a big heart. Regardless of all the ups and downs in the world during this period, our close relationship continues. I’m looking forward to our future relationship and I know the best is yet to come.
Vice President and Managing Director Steinway Europe,
President Steinway Asia-Pacific
Steinway & Sons