The career of pianist Sergei Babayan flowered after he moved to the U.S. in 1989. Since then, he has been a major presence on the American concert and educational scenes without neglecting his roots in Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Babayan was born in Gyumri, in Soviet-controlled Armenia, on January 1, 1961. His family was musical, and he began his studies at age six in Armenia, taking lessons there with Georgi Semerdjiev. At the Moscow Conservatory, his teachers were Mikhail Pletnev, Vera Gornostayeva, and Lev Naumov. Babayan took his first trip outside the Soviet Union in 1989, which produced a breakthrough in the form of a consecutive series of competition victories at the Cleveland International Piano Competition, the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition, and the Scottish International Piano Competition. These prizes brought him engagements in the West with the Cleveland Orchestra and the National Orchestra of Belgium. In 1996, he founded the Sergey Babayan International Piano Academy at the Cleveland Institute of Music and has served as artist-in-residence there. Among his students have been pianist Grace Fong, herself an important instructor; Tchaikovsky Competition and Arthur Rubinstein International Competition First Prize winner Daniil Trifonov; and Rubinstein Competition winner Ching-Yun Hu. Babayan has since taken American citizenship and settled in New York. He has built a broad repertoire encompassing well over 60 concertos and other works by composers from Bach, Beethoven, Ligeti, and Lutosławski to Prokofiev, Pärt, Rameau, and Ryabov. His recitals are frequently heard at such world-class venues as the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, London’s Wigmore Hall, and the Vienna Konzerthaus. Babayan's schedule in the late 2010s included performances with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Bamberg Symphony, and Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, among others, and his plans for the 2020-2021 season included appearances at the Tsinandali Festival in Georgia, Montreal’s Bach Festival, and the Verbier Festival in July of 2021.
Babayan has recorded for the Connoisseur Society, Pro Piano, and Mariinsky labels, and in 2018, he released the album Prokofiev for Two on Deutsche Grammophon with his frequent duo-piano partner Martha Argerich. He was signed to Decca and returned in 2020 with a recording of Rachmaninov's Preludes and Etudes-Tableaux; he has considered Rachmaninov central to his musical life since the age of 13. The Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper has likened Babayan to "one of those Japanese calligraphers who contemplate the white page before them in silence until, at the exact right moment, their brush makes its instinctive, perfect sweep across the paper."