Svilen Simeonov: ... when two of my arms were broken, I conducted the orchestra with right forefinger, looking into the eyes of musicians... There was no opportunity to turn the pages of the score, so I conducted it by heart, often with a grimace caused by physical pain in my hands, but music was none worse for it, on the contrary...

In 2012 The Orchestra Sofia Sinfonietta is going to celebrate its 40 anniversary. On the eve of the jubilee, the correspondent of online newspaper Music of Russia had a conversation with its chief conductor Svilen Simeonov

-Could you tell us, please, about your work with Orchestra Sofia Sinfonietta?

-In 2012 the orchestra Sofia Sinfonietta celebrates its 40 anniversary. The jubilee of the orchestra will be celebrated by concert on November 26 in the Bulgaria Hall in Sofia. My work with Sofia Sinfonietta is based on friendship and collegiality. I have been the chief conductor of Orchestra Sofia Sinfonietta already for 12 years, and have followed Simon Rattle’s motto that the trust between the conductor and the orchestra is fundamental in joint work. Years of tyrant conductor went by, now he should be a kind of social worker, with social and moral mission. If this art has no moral aspect, we will find ourselves in a difficult situation. I love playing with a conductor's baton; I like playing with the audience. The talent to express oneself not only by face but with the whole body makes an indelible impression on the listener. These are emotions of raging youth...

If you perform a long time work with the same feeling as the first time, and if you play music like the last time, this performance has a tremendous impact on the audience. Despite the fact that it looks like playing with, the audience should feel your sincerity. This is a very important prerequisite for the fact that you have succeeded in it.

For me, conducting the orchestra is a very responsible mission, but not a very hard one, something like plastic arts, theater, which inspire musicians before me and listeners behind my back. To my mind, music is, above all, an incredibly exciting, deep emotion, which is perceived by the heart and soul. In this role, the conductor must be an absolute leader, but among equals. I think that any conductor should be primarily a musician, and only then a conductor. I had a terrible time in my life, when both my arms were broken, but I had to give concerts one after the other in Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona, Geneva, Amsterdam, etc. I conducted the orchestra with right forefinger, looking into the eyes of musicians  ... There was no opportunity to turn the pages of the score, so I conducted it by heart, often with a grimace caused by physical pain in my hands, but music was none worse for it, on the contrary...”   Conducting just by sight, looking into the eyes of musicians and trying to impart my musical ideas…  This is the magic of art of conducting...

Normally I conduct the score by heart, this is very important for me! Even if the score is in front of me, I almost do not look into it. And during rehearsals and concerts, I demand from myself as much as from the musicians, my intention is not to make them feel not crushed with fatigue. Apart from hard work, they should be satisfied with what they have done. I like to compare playing musical instrument with singing and always demand from musicians to sing and not to play. The concert should be a great success, if each member of the band acts in such a way that even a timpanist could be a poet. For me, the performance of the orchestra is like breathing!

Our great predecessor, Herbert von Karajan, compares his work with orchestra with tending the plants in English meadow. “It is necessary to water them every day, pulling weeds and nourish the soil. Otherwise the orchestra sound disappears…’’ So every day I work purposefully, not only for myself, not even for listeners, but mainly to increase and improve the orchestra.

- In what concert halls do you usually give performances?

- There have been times throughout the history when the orchestra had been a musical team, giving concerts and waiting for the listeners to enter the room and listen to music. Now everything has changed.

"Sinfonietta Sofia" has already understood that we should be a part of community; we have to "land". The orchestra should be and play anywhere, at any place and any concert hall, where we can educate people. The time has come when we must break with tradition. After all, as the Gustav Mahler said, "Tradition is negligence ...", and we aim to take new challenges.

I had been on tour alone or with "Sinfonietta Sofia’’ and gave performances in the most famous concert halls all around the world. In some of them several times:  hundred times in Bulgaria Hall  - Sofia , 2 times in Musikverein the Gold Hall  - Vienna,3 times in Ton Halle  - Zurich , 4 times in Concertgebouw  - Amsterdam, 6 times in Victoria - Geneva, more than 70 concerts in Palau de la Musica  - Barcelona, more than 30  times in Auditorium National de la Music - Madrid, in Berlin Philharmonic Hall-Germany,  Seoul Art Center  - Korea,  in Bunka Kaikan Center in  Tokyo, RAI Arturo Toscanini Hall -Torino, in Theater Monumental de Madrid, Teatro de Zarzuela -Madrid, Teatro Alfredo Craus - Las Palmas , Theater Coliseum  - Lisbon, Casa de la music - Porto, Bilkent Hall - Ankara, Levent Centre - Istanbul, Sava Centre - Belgrade. We performed in Megaron Music Hall  - Athens, Festival Hall in Osaka, in New State Theater  -Vienna,  Philharmonics Hall  - Wroclaw , in Fort de France–Martinique, Baalbek historical site  - Lebanon , Irodio Amphitheater -Athens  ,  Stombaugh Auditorium Youngstown  - the USA , in the big hall of Lenin Memorial – Ulyanovsk, Russia etc.

How do we achieve this?

Our landmark is the sound of the orchestra. Beautiful sound works incredibly attractive, and the listener perceives them with joy. Sound culture is closely connected with the expressiveness of a musical phrase and with a musical language articulation variety. And the quality of "His Majesty sound" must be the same high in different styles. If we follow the path of classical composers, as I like to express myself “let the phrase talk, not you! Just follow its line!’’ For Romanticism I demand a high expression of musical phrase with great climax and dynamic contrast. Modern composers have completely different points of view...

The articulation in the music played by string instruments is the main means of expression of musical lines. The articulation variety is a powerful color gamma that if we use it properly, the impact on the listener will be of incredible force. The articulation is like direct speech in poetry, if we don’t speak properly, our speech becomes incomprehensible and even boring.

The style is another important condition that makes the composition we play sound convincing to the audience. Style of performance is the right incarnation of composer’s idea. Basically we are not creators but interpreters. These two concepts, of course, overlap and complement each other. When an exact idea of the author is refracted through our individuality, we create a new musical image, ‘the dramatic composition, in which the author is you! ". This dramaturgical composition ought to meet contemporary ideals and tastes and the exact tempo of new time.  Firstly, you have to win the trust of the orchestra musicians, should capture and inspire them (as you know that many orchestras played this music many times before you) and get them to play convincingly and with much zeal.

This is how to arouse the interest of the audience. In this case the performance will leave a lasting impression.   Positive energy is also a very important element of our performance skills. Your positive energy when multiplied by the number of orchestra musicians has a unique impact on the listeners. It is very difficult to explain in words, that is why we have created vivid musical images, with the help of which we can speak more convincingly.

There are many musical criteria, but the above mentioned (our commitment to the beautiful sounds, to the image of dramatic composition,to the author's intention, to the dynamic and tempo amplitude in accordance with the style and epoch of the composer, our positive attitude to music and to the audience) are the key to success and the spectacular performance of our concerts.

-  This March you have been on tour in Russia. How can you estimate the professionalism of the Ulyanovsk State Academic Symphony Orchestra? 

-In March 2012 I was invited to the closing ceremony of 50 anniversary International Music Festival. It was a really complex program. Within the first concert we performed Rachmaninov Concert No. 2 for piano and orchestra and Brahms Symphony No.1. In the second concert the spectators could enjoy the singing of wonderful opera singer Elena Obraztsova and listen to the Fifth Symphony by Beethoven. It was a real empathy with the Brahms and Beethoven, but from Obraztsova I learned a lot …

She is a wonderful woman. I admire her high technique, exciting phrasing and refinement of taste. The Ulyanovsk orchestra is in its top form when it comes to professional level. Its biography suggests respect. From this you can learn about the tour of distinguished conductors and soloists of our time. The things that produced the most lasting impression were the dedication of musicians, their individual training and performance skills, active and rich sound, especially for string instruments. We have prepared these two complex programs just in three rehearsals. Concerts were an exceptional success. All this thanks to the professional work of the Chief conductor Sergei Ferulev and well-chosen repertoire, expert guidance of Lydia Gennadievna and Director of the orchestra Vladimir Belyakov.

- In one of the many interviews you said that in Ulyanovsk you "feel a lot better than in America." What explains your love of our country?

- Complex issue. Of course, I love both Russia and America, if I continue to give concerts there! Some of my words are removed from context, I do not want to get a misunderstanding.  I am connected with Russia, as they say by "DNA profile". My ancestors came from this region. Perhaps, because of this, but I think the main things are the love of orchestra musicians and a sense of reciprocity, friendly and laid-back attitude between conductor and orchestra. As I said, the years of conductor - God went by.  In the beginning it seemed strange to the musicians, but then they got used to it, and now I am sure that they will remember all these experiences and the days when we were together.

In America they look at me like I was a star and their attitude to me is the same, but I do not feel good in this role. Everything in the U.S. is very professional; there is great orchestra, created in the university town of Youngstown, located 40 miles from Cleveland and 60 miles from Pittsburgh. There I conduct the orchestra during the performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony, give master - classes in conducting and lectures at universities from morning to evening every day. Everything seems clear and precise, thorough and well thought out and perfectly arranged, but I miss improvisation. April 26, 2013 there will be my next project in the U.S. with Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony.

In Ulyanovsk, I feel like being among friends. The first time I was there with the orchestra in December 2011, after we met at Christmas in Barcelona and spent together 20 wonderful days, when we gave concerts. In Madrid, Lisbon, Porto, Zaragoza and even in other cities, we have played at least five encores, several times 7, and Zaragoza was 9 encores! This is very rare and it is a lot of stress and for the conductor and the orchestra. After the 120 minute program, 9 encores, it is approximately 30 minutes, for half an hour I had to give autographs to people waiting for me already on the scene. Ulyanovsk orchestra also very pleased that victory, I saw the faces of the musicians, beaming with joy. They had been so valued. The orchestra started playing again and again...

It does not happen very often, and the day when it happens, is a real event!  I love them all, the orchestra musicians, Vladimir, yet another of Vladimir, Marat and Constantine, and Stanislaw, and Vitya, and Lida … and all the rest. I think, our feelings are mutual. I will never forget, when the orchestra initiated a petition, in which they invited me to stay with, and how they signed it, how I was dancing in a disco with younger, and experiences in the Russian bath with Ulyanovsk friends...

You know, a very short answer to your question may be in the following sentence. When I was invited to stay for a long time in America, I thanked them and rapidly declined. If you invite me to stay in Russia, I’m going to think a lot more before answering this question!

During a meeting with members of the "Bolgar rebirth" You had a tour at Bulgaria famous sites in Ulyanovsk. What do you remember most of the cultural program of the trip?

- Meeting people. Tears in their eyes, sparks looks, respect for their worldview and historical patriotism, which cannot be destroyed by the political environment.

- What are your creative plans?

- Since 2007 I have been working with two European agencies: Promo Concert and Euro Concert, but also with one American - Artist World Concert Promotion. I'm very grateful to them! My creative plans for next season are associated with them.

Concerts and recordings in Bulgaria, Spain, Gran Canaria, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Serbia, the USA, etc. . .

In addition to his concert work, I decided to devote myself to change the face of our classical musicians. Music combines math with numbers of Pythagoras and Plato inspired muse, which are in perfect harmony and are part of the same reality. If there is no rhythmic dictatorship with mathematical precision, combined with lyrical expressiveness, then all is lost in music...

It is very hard to see, looking even globally, as we classical musicians (in line with other arts) are on the bottom rung of the ladder of society, in the social and financial aspects. Our evolution has not moved one iota since Mozart time. Everyone is against everyone. And very few of them get the deserved recognition. As I prefer to express myself: ‘Salieri greatest crime, not only in relation to Mozart, but also to the entire musicians’ guild is not the way he is credited by researchers. This is exactly when Mozart played the piano before the Elector that the latter could digest food better, Salieri gloated and didn’t object that such terrible attitude to musicians, performers of serious music is unacceptable”.  So it is still the same. See what's happening with other art forms: pop, jazz, artists, etc... All live better than our classical musicians and have a higher social status, regardless of fact whether it was deservedly or not. This must be changed, and it is still up to us! This is my dedication!”

- Are you going to come back to Russia?

- With great pleasure, if  invited!

- What would you like to wish our readers?

- More and more readers to be strong and healthy, and let the flames kindled by your online newspaper become unquenchable fire of a thousand stars in the sky! 


Dina Mukhamedzyanova

: svilen simeonov, Sofia Sinfonietta conducting,