Varujan Kojian, born in Beirut and celebrated in many of the world's major musical capitals, has died in his Carpinteria home. Kojian, most recently music director and conductor of the Santa Barbara Symphony, was 57 when he died Thursday, a symphony spokesman said Monday.
He had been battling pancreatic cancer and was unable to return to work after surgery last October.
He had an international reputation, both on his own and as a protege of Zubin Mehta and a close friend of such artists as pianist Andre Watts and ballet superstar Rudolf Nureyev.
In 1991, when Nureyev was long past the prime of his brilliant performances and nearing his death of AIDS, the dancer exchanged performances for podia and was conducting in Europe. He had been coached by such memorable maestros as Herbert von Karajan, Karl Bohm and his longtime colleague Kojian.
Kojian adjudged what many consider the finest danseur noble of this century "an excellent musician." Over the years Nureyev went to concert halls in Europe and America to watch Kojian rehearse the orchestra that was to accompany his dancing. Similarly, Kojian took time to watch Nureyev mark his routines onstage.
Kojian studied violin at the Paris National Conservatory and came to Los Angeles as assistant concertmaster of the Philharmonic in 1956 when he was 19.
When Mehta became conductor of the Philharmonic in the mid-1960s, he sent Kojian to Vienna to study conducting at Mehta's expense and Kojian returned to be assistant conductor until 1971.
He next joined the Seattle Symphony as associate conductor, before moving to the Royal Opera in Stockholm as principal guest conductor from 1973 to 1980. He returned to the United States and Salt Lake City, having obtained U.S. citizenship in 1965.
There he was director of the Utah Symphony from 1981 to 1984. He went to Santa Barbara the next year.
Survivors include his parents, three sisters and two brothers.