Raffi Armenian studied piano, conducting and composition in Vienna with Bruno Seidlhofer, Hans Swarowsky, Ferdinand Grossmann and Alfred Uhl respectively. His first conducting engagements were with the Atlantic Symphony in Nova Scotia, Canada. In 1971 he was appointed Music director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, a post he held for 22 seasons. During his tenure as Artistic director, Armenian, through his programming and presence in the community developed the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony into a major Canadian Orchestra with a subscription base of 10,000 and spearheaded the building of a 2,000 seat opera house/concert hall (Centre in the Square/Raffi Armenian Hall) considered to be the best multi-purpose hall acoustically in North America.
In 1974, Mr. Armenian became the Music Director of the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, where he established the Canadian Chamber Ensemble (CCE), whose members also became Principal players of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. The sixteen instrumentalists of the CCE enjoyed an international profile from1983 to 1993, through a series of tours to South America, Europe and the United States.
Also in 1974, Armenian conducted a television version of Menotti’s “the Medium” with Maureen Forrester, which was nominated for an Emmy Award. With Ms. Forrester and the CCE, a recording of Ravel, Wolf and Schönberg was nominated for a Juno Award, following an endorsement by Glenn Gould. In 1988, the CCE was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque from the Canadian Music Council for its Serenades CD, which was subsequently nominated for a Juno Award. Woody Allen selected numbers from the Ensemble’s “Music from Berlin in the 1920’s” for his film “Shadows and Fog”. CBC Records launched a total of twenty-three CD’s conducted by Armenian.
Sought after as a guest conductor, Mr.Armenian, apart from all the major Canadian orchestras which he conducts to the present day, and led orchestras such as the Belgian Radio Orchestra and the Enescu Philharmonic of Bucharest in the complete Schumann Symphonies at the Ravenna International Music Festival.
Since 1982 to the present, Armenian has shown considerable commitment to the education of gifted young conductors (Jacques Lacombe, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, Richard Lee among many others) and instrumentalists through his leadership of the Montréal Conservatory Orchestra. He was also Director of the Montreal Conservatory from 2008 to 2011. Armenian was Director of Orchestral Studies from 1997-1999 as Visiting Professor at the Hochschule für Musik in Graz, Austria, and also at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto from 1999-2008.
Armenian focused much of his musical energies on his passion for the human voice and was Music Director of the Opera Studio of the Opéra de Montréal. He has conducted opera and operetta performances for the Canadian Opera Company (Toronto), l’Opéra de Montréal, the Michigan Opera Theatre (Detroit), Opera Columbus, Fresno International Grand Opera and at the Opera Studios of Indiana and Toronto University Schools of Music. His name will appear in the history books for his highly acclaimed performances of Wagner’s “Parsifal” in which tenor Jon Vickers made his final public appearance (1989).
Armenian has received numerous prestigious awards including Doctor honoris causa from the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University and in 1989, was made a Member of the Order of Canada.