Varna Summer


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This year’s edition of Varna Summer International Music Festival celebrates three anniversaries: nine decades have elapsed since the earliest music festivities described as ‘Bulgarian popular’ in 1926; five decades since those evolved into and established themselves as the annual Varna Summer Festival and the seventieth anniversary of the Varna Symphony Orchestra, a main performer in the programmes of the Festival, adding to these the equally important to the general air events such as 29 years since Varna Summer was associated with the European Festivals Association and 31 years after Varna hosted the earliest International Ballet Competition in 1964. Rethought now as almost centennial, the Festival could boast both periods of full-bloodedness and exuberance and flexible and innovative changes over the last two decades. Over time, it has retained its symbolism of an event of meaning and values, featuring the International Ballet Competition.

Some of the ideas of the opening concerts added to the specifics of the event. In recent years the festival opener, Vladigerov’s Bulgarian rhapsody Vardar has been accompanied by pieces by Vladigerov’s students: in 2011, Milko Kolarov’s Symphony No. 1 was premiered at the Festival, while this year Vasil Kazandjiev’s Trumpet Concerto, composed during the author’s studies under Vladigerov, has proved a real godsend. The Concerto is far from being frequently performed: it was conducted by Konstantin Iliev in the 1980s (soloists Vasil Kostov, Rumen Gurov); recorded for the Bulgarian National Radio and Balkanton state-run record company and there is a version by Georgi Dimitrov of the concerto for a wind orchestra. Kazandjiev’s student piece, composed in 1954, when Kolarov was 20, interpreted at the Festival by Miroslav Petkov (27), brought up in the musical traditions of Varna, is a rare chance for the spirit of music: it sounded easily and freely, evincing the author’s sense of humour, both authentically and contemporarily, adequate to the syncretism of the piece through a musician well versed in classical music, jazz and folk. Petkov made his debut at the age of 14 with the Varna Symphony Orchestra to continue his career as a student in Germany winning international competitions in Finland, Italy, South Korea and Germany. After his stint as the Nationaltheater Mannheim’s principal trumpet, he won a competition for Season 2016/17 and as of this autumn will be appointed the internationally acclaimed Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s principal trumpet, in Amsterdam.

During the press conference prior to the Festival’s opening, in the presence of Ludmil Angelov, the Festival’s Art Adviser, of representatives of the European Festivals Association, of local cultural structures as well as of the performers, Kazandjiev’s music, in Conductor Giancarlo De Lorenzo’s view, was surprisingly seen and defined as similar to Nino Rota’s suite La Strada, probably due to the comprehensibility of the turn of phrase.

If every concert had a gravitational filed, that of June 19 was generated by the Slovenian clarinettist Darko Brlek, visiting the Festival in his capacity of both the President of the European Festivals Association and a performer of Mozart’s Clarinet quintet in A major, KV 581 with Dobri Hristov String Quartet, Varna. Darko Brlek is definitely a good musician, though making for himself a successful administrative career from the Ljubljana Opera Director to incumbent President of the European Festivals Association.

Of the concert given by Camerata Orphica and Mario Hossen, Gérard Caussé, Wladimir Kossjanenko on 24 June, Gérard Caussé;s performance was remarkable and worthwhile. Caussé, visiting Bulgaria for the second time, is a violist of an exceptional professionalism, technical proficiency, concept, flair for the style of and experience in the twentieth-century music. In the mid-1970s, he was co-founder and a performer of Ensemble Intercontemporain, institutionally presenting the latest music and conducted for several decades by Pierre Boulez.

Of the musicians of Brahms Piano Trio, Russia, I had known Kirill Rodin (violoncello) since he was a student in the classes led by Natalia Shakhovskaya, and was known for his bright musicality. Together with Shakhovskaya’s School he won the Jeunesses musicales competition, Belgrade (1984) and the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow (1986). Nikolai Sachenko (violin), also a winner in the International Tchaikovsky Competition (1998) and Natalia Rubinstein (piano), a prizewinner in Germany and Italy, are typical representatives of the Russian school of instrumental playing, combining their skills somewhere between high professionalism and artistic ingeniousness.

The Bulgarian premiere of John Tavener’s Schuon Lieder, a relatively recent composition (2003), was definitely the highlight of the first five concerts at the Festival; that said, hopefully the audience was also aware of this fact. Soprano Tsvetana Bandalovska; Zachary Mechkov (piano); Sofia Soloists String Quartet and Markar Mardirossian (Tibetan temple bowls) deserve applause for their missionary pioneering the hottest musical ideas. Tavener is definitely a hermit among the contemporary compositional elite in terms of his ideas of English music, though nationally, Britons hold him in high esteem: an article in The Guardian described the composer as ‘the musical discovery of the year’; The Times said he was ‘among the very best creative talents of his generation’. He was knighted by the Queen in 2000 for his services to music. In terms of his spiritual and religious focus, Tavener could be only classed with such East-European authors as Arvo Pärt, Vladimir Martynov and Galina Ustvolskaya, but then again his ecumenism draws a categorical distinction between him and them, establishing nevertheless the secular nature of his music. His recessional hymn Song For Athene achieved fame and significance after being performed at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales not by chance either.

Varna Summer has always been more of an elitist rather than of a summer festival. The season of holding the event as well as its broad range of genres (jazz, folk, crossover, etc., in certain periods of its existence) have never faced its production with the temptation to escalate the mainstream dimension to the festival. This latter type of ‘festivalism’ is definitely a stratagem of summer or peripheral events, wielding the power of entertainment. Varna Summer as a concept has ever since the beginning been an image-building, rather than a commercial festival project. Cultural studies are actively dealing with the issues of the festive and the mundane, the cultural and communicative domains. The task to promote a cultural product is a matter of long-time planning. Pierre Bourdieu in his theory of cultural production speaks of ‘production’ though ‘artistic’ not by chance either. He points at four major requirements for the field of artistic production, ranking first, with good reason too, availability of historians and researchers of culture; second come the institutions for presentation (academies, salons, awards); the institutions of production and reproduction of artists and audiences (schools) come only third and the last are the specialised agents of artistic products (evaluators, producers), as opposed to common consumers, owing to which values are established.

Apropos of the market pressure on cultural products and the manipulative potential of the context, Georgina Born, Professor of Music and Anthropology, Oxford University Faculty of Music, speaks of the erosion of the legitimacy of art and science in the face of growing commercial and political pressures, revealing the contradictory effects of institutionalising culture and avant-garde in particular. Contrary to those who see postmodernism representing an accord between high and popular culture, Born stresses the continuities between modernism and postmodernism and how postmodernism itself embodies an implicit antagonism toward popular culture as attested by the contemporary festive forms of high art.

I have conversed recently with the Rector of the National University of Music, Bucharest, composer Dan Dediu and with representatives of Artexim, an artists management company. Dan Dediu bore witness to the fact that all Romanian music institutions make common cause with each other for holding George Enescu International Competition on a regular basis and as an image-building, rather than a commercial one too, as a postmodern emanation of high art, which comes at a correspondingly high price. They would address the top public institutions, arguing on a yearly basis the professional indispensability of the competition. In terms of social anthropology, ‘festival communication’ is vital for its ‘living sustainable rhythm’. It is festival communication that is interpreted as a ‘bifurcation point’ of maintaining a general communicative domain, integrity, and sustainability of culture. Varna Summer holds fast to a similar role.

Varna Summer

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