When Peter Oundjian takes to the stage with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra this week, he may reflect on his life’s musical journey.
It has been a voyage of discovery which has seen him perform in the world’s great concert halls first as a violinist and now as musical director.
It is a career course enough to make any musician smile. But then, smiling is something the 56-year-old is used to doing.
His cousin is Monty Python star Eric Idle.
The comic actor delighted millions with a performance of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life at the closing ceremony of the Olympics and may be seen in the audience of a RSNO concert soon.
“There is a lot of excitement in the family about my appointment with the orchestra," said Peter.
“Eric is not coming to the first concert, but I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if he turns up at some point in the future.
“He has been known to turn up to my concerts quite unexpectedly.
“At the Olympics, I thought that he was absolutely sensational. I was visiting him this summer and he warned me not to tell anyone as it was supposed to be a surprise.
“He is an extremely funny person.”
Peter first worked with the RSNO ten years ago and has Armenian, Canadian and Scottish heritage.
On Thursday, he will continue his musical odyssey in the country of his grandfather at Aberdeen’s Music Hall, followed by performances in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on Friday and the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow on Saturday.
“I have always loved Scotland,” he said. “My grandfather was part of MacDonell clan. My oldest brother has a kilt and everything.
“Sadly, our grandfather passed away when my mother was seven, so we didn’t know any of his Scottish ancestors.
“There is a warmth about Scotland which is very, very special. There is also a warmth which permeates the whole orchestra.
“They really care about projecting every last ounce of expression from the most joyous, to the most grim mood.
“The choices that are available to us all today in terms of entertainment are vast, so as an orchestra we better make people feel like ‘wow, I’m so glad I came to this concert’.”
Peter, like other leading orchestral conductors, spends his time working in cities across the world with his suitcase never far away.
While working with the RSNO for the next four years, he hopes to stay in Glasgow. He will also live in Toronto, where he conducts the city’s symphony orchestra, and in Connecticut to fulfill his teaching commitments at the Yale School of Music.
Away from the stage, Peter likes sport, movies and reading. He was a Chelsea fan growing up and, as a tennis enthusiast and part Scot, he was absolutely delighted with Andy Murray’s victory at the US Open in New York.
Now, the conductor is looking forward to finding out more about his grandfather’s country.
“Hopefully I will have a little time to discover the nature and architecture of Scotland and the Highlands,” he said.
"I’m also looking forward to the fantastic food.
“One of the most exciting things about this is not knowing everything, being able to discover so much about Scotland and the Scottish people, culture, history. One is very lucky at any time of life to make discoveries.”
Stéphane Denève departed from the RSNO in May after seven successful years as musical director.
During that time, average audience numbers for concerts rose year on year.
Over the past 12 months, the number of top-level subscribers in Glasgow doubled and in Edinburgh supporters who subscribe to all season concerts increased by 61%.
The Frenchman's legacy will continue to be felt in the new year when the orchestra plays in Asia for the first time in its history.
Along with Principal Guest Conductor Thomas Søndergård, Peter is now looking forward to the challenge of helping compose a new chapter in the orchestra's history.
This week, for his inaugural concerts, he has focused on music closer to home and chosen to feature three Russian composers.
The renowned violinist Vadim Gluzman will join the orchestra for Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Glinka’s exciting Russlan and Ludmilla will also be performed alongside Shostakovich’s powerful Symphony Number 11, which tells the story of Bloody Sunday in the Russian Revolution of 1905.
“Vadim was my soloist in 2010 when we played the Brahms concerto with the orchestra (RSNO), so we thought it would be very nice to for us to come together again for my first time as musical director,” said Peter.
“I have a really deep passion for Shostakovich’s 11th symphony, because it is one of the most powerful pieces of music.
“It depicts something specific, but it says something much larger about the human experience and man’s ability to be defiant and powerful under adversity.
“I have a lot to discover about the chemistry that will develop between myself and the orchestra, between us and our community, so I have a very open mind.
“I hope this is going to be a wonderful adventure for everyone.
“I hope the audience will see a really good balance of all aspects of the repertoire, enough discovery of new works, of lesser known works, and great fresh performances of the well known works.
“I hope it will be exciting and not always predicable for all of us.”