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  • Dobrin Ivanov: The uncompromising guru of youth wind bands in Bulgaria

    Prof. Atanas Karafezliev
    6 August, 2022

    There is a breed of special personalities - reviled by some and respected by others, hated by some and loved by others, controversial during their lifetime and unforgettable when they are gone. Such a person was Dobrin Ivanov, who left us at the end of the summer of 2020. Trombonist, teacher, conductor, creator of 16 youth wind bands and many Bulgarian musicians, who have in common the love for brass instruments and for music - a love nurtured by their teacher.

    Dobrin Petrov Ivanov - Bincho was born on April 15, 1931 in Razgrad. He began playing the trombone in the school orchestra at the age of ten. At that time, school orchestras were an incubator for wind musicians and were at a fairly high performing level. He started playing the bass trombone in F key with four machines, the only one in Bulgaria at that time – a rather voluminous and heavy instrument for a small child. He also plays the tuba, but after the orchestra bought a trombone, he started playing it. His first trombone teacher was Ilia Burnev - head of the school orchestra. Burnev wrote all the scores for the orchestra in his own hand. A graduate of the same orchestra is the bassoonist Misak Godzhikian - a long-time soloist of the Sofia Philharmonic. Graduates of this orchestra fill the ranks of the orchestras in Varna, Shumen, Sofia. When the Razgrad Symphony Orchestra was established, the trombonists there were Angel Georgiev, Tsano Tsolov and Lyuben Valkanov (his brother is the famous French horn soloist of the Plovdiv Philharmonic Dimitar Valkanov - the first teacher of Prof. Vladislav Grigorov).

    Dobrin Ivanov completed secondary education at the Agricultural Technical College in Razgrad at the request of his father. He came to Sofia in 1949 and became a student at the State Conservatory (nowadays National Music Academy "Prof. Pancho Vladigevor") in the class of Grigor (Gicho) Stoyanov, and after 1953 he also studied with the then young teacher Georgi Todorov. From 1950 to 1967, he played the bass trombone in the Symphony Orchestra of the BNR, created two years earlier. In 1967 he went to Cairo as the first trombonist of the symphony orchestra there. In 1971, he became one of the founders of the Military Music School in Sofia and a teacher of trombone and tuba, as well as all other brass instruments.

    I had the honor of knowing Dobrin Ivanov and learning from him. He was the living history of Bulgarian trombone pedagogy and performance art. He talked passionately about the first Czech musicians who arrived by ship in Bulgaria at the port of Lom. It told about the Dushek family and Franz Hanel, who wrote the first Bulgarian wristband. For Josef Hohola, who arrived in 1879 and founded the first Bulgarian military brass band in Tarnovo. He told how so-called "musician students" were attached to each of the Czech musicians. The more talented took places alongside them in the orchestra, while the orchestras began to be Bulgarianized. And all this is the then model of training. This happened at the end of the 19th century, and Dobrin Ivanov himself did the same at the end of the 20th century. As a true revivalist, he traveled to small towns around Sofia and in the countryside and created, created, created. Many of today's prominent brass musicians in our country are his students and remember their teacher fondly. He left his mark in the work of orchestras such as those of Velingrad, Elin Pelin, Koprivshtitsa and many others.

    Dobrin Ivanov himself idolized his teacher Gicho Stoyanov Topalov. He talked about his lessons and methodical work with great respect. He told about Alexander Dochev and all the founders of the Bulgarian trombone school, about Prof. Georgi Todorov and his followers, about Vrachanski, Yakovchev, Takov, Mano Ralev and all the old Bulgarian teachers who laid the foundations of the trombone performing art in our country.

    His years spent in Cairo were a time of active contacts with many foreign colleagues, mastering a rich symphonic and operatic repertoire, which later influenced his teaching work at the Military Music School. This very school was a forge of personnel for all military brass bands in Bulgaria. The country's brass bands are still full of his graduates. The trombone and tuba teachers there, Dimitar Momchilov, Pavel Yakovchev, Filip Kurtev, and above all Dobrin Ivanov himself with his students and his followers, have a great deal of credit for this.

    Perhaps it is his students who should write about him - they know his stoic character best. Most of them admit: "His methods were Makarenko's." Everyone who was his disciple received hits from him, but he became a man!” It is said with great love, even by those who had less contact with him, even by those whom he only prepared for application. Such are Lyuben Petkov (trombonist, former orchestra player from the Guards Orchestra, now in Brass Orchestra - Pernik), whom Dobrin Ivanov prepared for the entrance exam at the Military Music School and he ranked first, and also Georges Dimitrov (trombonist, whom Dobrin Ivanov prepares for application to the Music School and he ranks first) - now the chief conductor of the Sofia Opera, and also Emil-George Atanasov, now an orchestrator at the Sofia Opera and an assistant at the Music Academy. Among his students are Petar Stoykov - tubist, conductor in Smolyan, Vilimir Kirilov - conductor of Elin Pelin's youth brass band, Krasimir Enchev - tubist, orchestrator in the opera orchestras of Ruse and Burgas, former orchestra trombonists and tubas from the Guard Brass Band Krasimir Minchev, Kolyo Tyankov, Valeri Panayotov, Valeri Lyubenov-Foksa, Atanas Bogoev, Tsvetan Lichev - tubist from the Wind Orchestra of the Ministry of the Interior, Alexander Taskov from the Blagoevgrad Big Band, Nikolay Mihov from the Pernish Wind Orchestra, Valeri Gerasimov from the Berkov brass music, the bass-flutter brothers Deyan and Marin Damianovi, Bozhidar Krastev, who has been living in Belgium for many years, and Rumen Denkov – in the USA for many years. They cannot all be enumerated, and let those whom I have omitted excuse me. We know everyone is proud of their teacher.

    In his last years, Dobrin Ivanov often came to the National Music Academy, entered the trombone lessons, sat on a chair and listened to the lessons. He radiated reverence when he listened to the trombone - it was his whole life, it was the meaning of his life. He listened attentively and often allowed himself to give advice. The tips turned into long and exhausting but interesting stories about his life, about his colleagues, about his students. Then I would put him in the car and send him home so he wouldn't have to travel by tram - he was struggling with the challenges of age, but he didn't give up.

    In 2014, he invited me to Koprivshtitsa, where he founded another (it turned out to be the last in his life) orchestra - the Wind Band at the Lyuben Karavelov Secondary School. He spoke with great pride about him, about "his" children. We stopped near the school and crossed the street by foot. Then it struck me that everyone in the small town knew him. They greeted him, stopped, talked, shared personal things as with a very close person. It was not by chance that he was awarded the title "Honorary Citizen of Koprivshtitsa". We entered the school building - a stylish building built in the 70's, a unique project, perfectly corresponding architecturally with the old revival houses. Dobrin Ivanov himself was also like such a house - dignified and spiritually exalted in a revival way. The school had a rich sports base, and thanks to it there was now an orchestra. An orchestra in addition to helping children's musical education - a good tradition from the old Bulgarian schools. He had selected children, provided them with instruments, provided repertory and ... oh wonder! Sounds! On this day, the children would gather one by one, take out their instruments and start playing. I was extremely impressed by Dobrin Ivanov's method of work - calm, firm, disciplined, he made adjustments and little by little for nearly three hours he did not stop working, explaining, demanding. And the orchestra sounded! Marches sounded, choirs sounded, brass band pieces sounded. And all this thanks to his strong will. He was at an advanced age, but he did not tire for a moment, he did not sit down, he stood upright and taught like a soldier with the enviable energy given to him by his love for children, for wind instruments, for the art of music.

    Dobrin Ivanov was an exceptional example, an example for all of us of how to live with music, how to create an ensemble, an example of a strong will and spirit, an example of an uncompromising fight against difficulties and a desire to create beauty by all means. I will close with a story that well illustrates the strong character of this man. At a brass band competition, Dobrin Ivanov's orchestra received second prize. The first prize goes to the orchestra of his graduate. Ivanov demands an explanation from the jury as to why he was ranked second. The chairman of the jury politely explained that it is a recognition for him too, when the student surpasses his teacher in terms of achievements, and Dobrin Ivanov angrily concluded: "He will surpass me!!!" These are the great personalities - reviled by some and respected by others, hated by some and loved by others, controversial during their lifetime and unforgettable when they are gone...

    Translation in English: Tsvetelina V. Georgieva
    The article is available in Bulgarian and in Dutch
    Translation in Dutch: Ruben Vermeulen

    About the Author:
    Prof. Atanas Karafezliev is among the well-known Bulgarian trombone musicians - both as a performing artist and a teacher. His education is closely related to brass music since the beginning: he graduated from National School of Music and Stage Arts in Burgas and National Music Academy “Prof. Pancho Vladigerov'' in Sofia. Prof. Karafezliev’s career started in 1991 at the Symphony orchestra of the Bulgarian National Radio. He continues to work there as a leading brass section trombone player for almost 30 years. He made more than 200 records in contemporary and classical music for the BNR. His teaching career started in 1994 at the National School of Music “Lubomir Pipkov” in Sofia, as well as at the Instrumental Faculty of National Music Academy. Since 2020 prof. Atanas Karafezliev is Head of the Chamber Music Department at Instrumental faculty of the Academy. He has numerous awards from national and international competitions both as a solo trombone player and as a member of different brass ensembles. He is also an initiator and a Head of the Summer Academy for Brass Ensembles and Percussion in Koprivshtitsa. His mission is to promote Bulgarian music for trombone and brass ensembles on a national and international level.

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