During the COVID-19 pandemic, the renowned Boston Symphony Orchestra enlisted the help of director Habib Azar, also a trained composer, to helm a number of its remote programs. However, in a soapworthy twist, Azar got his start directing daytime dramas like As the World Turns, The Young and the Restless, and the online versions of All My Children and One Life to Live! The Emmy winner, who's worked with the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall, spoke to Boston's WBUR about his sudsy start.
Azar shared that expanding his directorial purview beyond music was important. He dished:
All of the best arts directors actually had careers in other genres, and I think it’s really important. It is by no means necessary, but it seems to lead to directors who have a great sense of storytelling and event. Brian Large started in Tennis at the BBC I believe…Gary Halvorsen directed 50 episodes of Friends (as well as basically everything else on TV—his career is immense), Matthew Diamond did Golden Girls!
For me, coming from more commercial work has helped me stay current and try to keep things relevant. I’ll watch a Grammy performance and then be really inspired to try something that I learned from that with a classical piece. It keeps things fresh and engaging.
In fact, soaps helped Azar get to where he is today. He added:
I was really lucky. When I was graduating I got a call out of the blue from Chris Goutman who was the executive producer of As the World Turns asking if I’d like to come and apprentice to direct. He was looking for new blood and called the school I was at asking for a name. Blind luck. I’m really indebted to him—he not only gave me my start but he taught me a lot about directing. He really took me under his wing and mentored me.
When the soaps were starting to go off the air and moving to LA, I decided that I had to find something new so I started knocking on doors. I cold-called and sent emails and offered my services as an assistant to get in the door. Marc Bauman from Live from Lincoln Center gave me my first classical music gig and then John Goberman, the founding producer of that program, brought me onto a smaller show and then one gig led to another.
There you have it: from soaps to symphonies!