The tenor trombones and bass trombones no longer hold secrets for our new guest in “Brass Stories.” He never stops developing and perfecting his art, expanding his repertoire, and its stylistic and genre diversity. Dimitar Stoev has no problems with motivation, with the number of rehearsals required, and the time he has to devote for self exercise. Our paths have crossed regularly since 2016 – each time in a different environment, a radically different project, team, and atmosphere. And I gradually discover how similar are our points of view about the modern European music industry and the Bulgarian controversial (un)professional brass reality.
It turns out that this is the first time you have taken the time to have this type of conversation. I must admit that I am a little surprised. Thank you for accepting my invitation.
And I would like to thank you for your attention! The truth is that I quite often have conversations about the profession but this may be the first time I have been invited to hold a discussion that will reach the attention of a wide group of people who have chosen to play brass instruments. I am happy that I am given the chance to share some of my views and that they will reach my fellow colleagues and students! I hope they find it interesting.
Let's start with a typical question to which I often get atypical answers. How would you introduce yourself to our brass-tempted audience?
As a kid at an amusement park. Curious, easily impressed, willing to try everything that music has to offer with its huge variety of genres and styles.
How did the trombone/trombones come into your life?
The trombone was introduced to me somewhere around sixth grade, and the trombones much later. I started playing the piano relatively late, somewhere around the fourth grade. That is the reason (and because of my notorious laziness at the time) I was unable to prepare for the enrollment exam at the Music School with this instrument. One day it became clear that if I really wanted to enroll at the NMU, I would have to choose another instrument. I liked the look of the trombone, as well as the sound. It later turned out that I have the right bite and lips, etc …
Influences, inspirations and mentors that push you forward?
What I listen to during the day is mostly records of trombonists that I like. I don't limit myself to eras and styles because I have found for myself that listening and understanding different music is an extremely useful approach that helps me develop my musical perspective and language. The main inspiration for me are above all the good examples in music – artists, conductors, composers, arrangers... When I recognize the concept of sound and the interpretation of a certain artist, it can naturally influence my approach to the instrument and the associated work.
I think I am extremely lucky, because I have the privilege of being surrounded by great professionals here in Bulgaria, from whom I never stop learning, and I also managed to meet and work with globally renowned names in trombone art, and not only. It was these meetings that influenced my way of work the most. It is beautiful and inspiring when you see an artist completely devoted to its instrument and to the music, who is moved by the deep content of each piece he or she starts. Such people make me go forward and enjoy music more and more every day. In terms of the mentor – it must be a person we have a good rapport with and trust each other completely, above all. I believe that every musician needs a mentor regardless of their stage of development. Even some of the biggest stars have one such person next to them, whom they trust when working on a new repertoire, preparing for a competition or during a recording.
All who use the full power of brass instruments and don't mind using fffff under the brass lines in their music scores. Now seriously – I won't be able to mention all the composers who have really touched me because there are so many, but if I have to leave at least one name, it's Johann Sebastian Bach.
Favorite brass artists?
The situation is similar. However, I can't help but mention the names of several great trombonists that I heard during my school years. It was they who had the strongest influence on me and helped me recognize the trombone as a profession and these are Christian Lindberg, Joseph Alessi, Alain Trudel, Branimir Slokar, Michel Becquet. Later – somewhere around 2013, when I ultimately took the bass trombone in my hands – all my attention turned to the masters of this instrument, whom I listen to daily to this day: Ben van Dijk, Dave Taylor, and Charles Vernon. However, the person who is the absolute pinnacle of our profession for me is Wynton Marsalis!
Tenor and bass trombone is a combination that requires a lot from a musician so one can achieve a high professional level on both instruments. How does that happen?
The person who inspired me, and subsequently supported me in my endeavor to start playing both instruments in parallel, is the amazing Bulgarian trombonist and my friend Velislav Stoyanov. A few years ago, I had to play bass trombone in a big band project that I was supposed to go on tour with. Until then, I had never used this instrument to play at a professional event. I asked Vili what to do and he told me, “Start playing and know that I'm always here for you if you need any help.” That is how it happened. I started playing both instruments (tenor and bass) and before long a bunch of questions and uncertainties started to confuse me to the point where I almost gave up. Vili then pointed out some fundamentals I was missing, and also came up with a playing program for me that would give me enough time to play both instruments. And suddenly things took off. To keep it short – I realized that if I wanted to be good at two, albeit uniform, instruments, I needed to multiply everything by two – the time I was playing, the time I was listening, and the time I spent analyzing things. The result of all this has been twice the pleasure, because these two instruments give me the opportunity to play symphonic music in the morning, big band in the afternoon, and record film scores or be on stage with a band in the evening.
What was it like to be a musician in both the Symphony Orchestra and the Big Band of the Bulgarian National Radio?
Those were great times that I will never forget. For seven years now I have been part of the Symphony Orchestra of the BNR, where I play the bass trombone. In the past three years, I had the opportunity to join the Big Band of the Radio as a substitute – again in the bass trombone position. It was probably one of the most dynamic periods in my career until then, because there was a lot of work. I was spending my entire days in the First Studio of the BNR, where I rehearsed or recorded with the symphony players in the morning, and in the afternoon I played with my colleagues from the big band. It was exhausting, but also very useful for me because I developed a different discipline that helped me learn to quickly switch from one genre to another because it was imperative. It was very exciting and I am happy that it happened to me! Of course, I continue playing bass trombone with the Symphony Orchestra.
What do you think of the contemporary brass instruments professional scene in Bulgaria?
This is a very extensive topic and it is difficult to share all my thoughts. However, there is one thing that makes a very strong impression on me, and that is the lack of competition. It is precisely this that slows down the process that would otherwise bring us closer to our peers throughout the rest of the world. I notice a lack of interest that is detrimental. I will not elaborate on the financial aspect because the international events in recent years have further complicated the situation, but I am optimistic in spite of everything.
The number of children, school and university students who choose these gorgeous music instruments for their professional development is dwindling – what are the most important, and perhaps the most frightening reasons?
There are various reasons. They probably didn't attend enough concerts and probably it has not been properly explained to them that each of these music instruments is a profession. Maybe when they attended concerts, we, the professionals, didn't do our job the best way to impress them and make them want to pick up these musical instruments. Or it might be the disheartening Bulgarian proverb “A musician can’t feed a family,” which every child has heard at least once from their parents. We have to stop saying it!
We established the Brass Perspectives Association with the goal to introduce modern educational models by inviting world-class guest tutors, which have not been in Eastern Europe before. What perplexes me most is the complete lack of interest, close to indifference I feel in our younger colleagues.
There are many talented children in Bulgaria, but as we know, talent often goes hand in hand with laziness. In my opinion the bottom line is that when children want to play music, we need to support them and tell them how wonderful music is. And how much work they will have to put in, too. How important discipline is and to help them master it. I think it is very important to emphasize that they have to listen to music and analyze it to be able to develop good taste, which will subsequently help them in its interpretation. We should try to see what motivates them and make sure that motivation doesn't fade. Reading books, attending concerts, exhibitions, and theater plays is something that will help young people to begin to discover connections between arts, and this will later make them truly exciting artists. To a large extent, I believe that not being satisfied with what young people are showing means that we have failed to reach them, that we have failed to emphasize the important things.
In this context, I would like to thank you for your inspired participation and support in our project Christmas Brass & Vocal Jazz and with the old music of Northern Europe for 5 trombones (our beloved brand) and 5 guest musicians.
It was a great experience. Thank you for the invitation! The idea is fresh and fantastic. It was a pleasure to play this music with all the trombone quintet colleagues as well as with the amazing Spectrum. I wish the project great success!
Why do you think long-term music projects and their planning for 3 to 5 years ahead meet with such misunderstanding in Bulgaria?
I have never thought about this. But something that lacks a cause at its foundation cannot endure. If there is a cause backed by a benevolent and professional approach, there is a future that would go beyond the aforementioned period. Here, too, we have much to learn from the many proven world examples. With this, too, we are running out of excuses...
How do you see yourself in the future in terms of your professional development?
Every day I try to improve the quality of my work, because I think that's the only way to be better prepared for every next thing I have the opportunity to work on. A portion of good luck is always welcome, of course. Time will tell.
Bulgarian brass music in 10 years - how would you like to look?
I wish we could listen to each other more. I wish there were more chamber ensembles playing regularly on stage. I wish we could have recognizable brass sections in our great symphony orchestras. I wish we could get at least a little bit closer to the concepts of sound and interpretation of the iconic orchestras we all listen to and admire. I wish we thought more about the fundamentals – sound, rhythm, intonation, and musical phrasing. I want us to believe that every single detail is important and that nothing should be underestimated. Nowadays, we have endless information and unlimited opportunities to climb at least one step up. I am talking about “us” because our work is mostly a team effort. If in the past it was difficult to find a school, an audio or video recording, to go to a master class or to hear your favorite artist live, now it is not the case. All in all, I wish we would stop making excuses for our level and instead learn to truly commit to what we're into.
At the end of this interview, a few short questions with even shorter answers:
Favorite movie? K-PAX with Kevin Spacey
Favorite season? The Spring
Favorite character from a children's book?
Jan Bibian* – the first child to have stepped on the Moon
The most valuable human quality? Honesty. It creates trust.
A place you dream to visit? Where I can see the Aurora Borealis
The place you'd like to go back to? Martinique Island
The stage you'd like to play on? Definitely at Herkulessaal in Munich
What would wish your self with all your heart?
Health, of course, but also a little bit more of wisdom.
*Beloved fictional character created by famous Bulgarian writer Elin Pelin
The BRASS STORIES Project is supported by the
National Fund of Culture of Republic of Bulgaria
4 December, 2023