A professional with a 30-year career in popular music, first trumpet and vocalist of the band AKAGA, an artist with a radiant smile and very blue eyes, Georgi Velev is an established name on the Bulgarian and European pop-jazz scene. There are aspects of his career that are no less interesting and equally successful, but not so well known, which lead us to Bulgarian documentary and feature cinema and the northern tranquility of Finland. Georgi Velev is our new guest on "Brass Stories" in a conversation about iconic teachers, film music, ideas for trumpet educational projects and much more...
Tell us how your trumpet story started?
The beginning was a real adventure. As well as the choice of the trumpet itself. It was a coincidence because the trumpet was my father's favorite instrument, but there are no musicians in my family. I was 8 or 9. The music teacher who lived in the next block told my parents that I was very musical and it would be a crime not to record me playing something. And my parents turned to uncle Toshko - Todor Kyuchukov, first flutist of the Philharmonic at that time. However, there was only a trumpet in my head - obviously around my father 🙂 Todor Kyuchukov took me to Dobrin Ivanov, who immediately handed me a trombone. And there was great drama - crying, roaring, I want a trumpet, I want a trumpet. Well, they gave me a trumpet. I was second for the third grade - it was in the spring. I started with great enthusiasm until the beginning of the holidays when I fell and broke both my arms. I didn't play for the whole vacation, the school year started, I fell and broke my left leg... So it wasn't until the end of October - November that I started playing again. My parents stopped me from Alliance, where I was studying French, and I started serious studies with Dobrin Ivanov. So after a year of study (actually after an autumn) I started playing the first movement of Hummel's Trumpet Concerto, which is played everywhere, including the Conservatory. I was very young indeed. Now sometimes I think to myself that maybe it wasn't meant to be, that maybe it led me astray...
It sounded kind of sad to me, what do you mean?
At first I was treated like some kind of boy genius. They took me here and there to play. That's how they took me to Yordan Kozhuharov. I remember the reaction of the elders when I played this Hummel... In the third to fourth grade I was exceptionally enrolled to apply to the Music School with the trumpet. They didn't let me in for the exam, because I couldn't pass the exam for brass so early. But they told us this literally when I was already at the place and started my warmup. Dobrin Ivanov thought they would make an exception, but no. And it was understandable, but not for Dobrin Ivanov. He picked me up from the Musical school, put me in his old Mercedes, we went to their place and he immediately called Vladi Simeonov. And as I was being prepared for the exam in Trumpet, we went directly to Vladi Simeonov's home. I remember how we entered the living room and Dobrin Ivanov said to me: “Come on, my boy, play your stuff.” So I did. Vladi Simeonov listened to me very carefully, he said to Dobrin Ivanov that this summer he will be in the USA for concerts, he turned to me and said: “I have been waiting for you at my place since the fall.”
The "Pioneer" Philharmonic led by Vladi Simeonov was a great school. I think it will never happen again. It was a musical and a cultural phenomenon. An exceptional combination of circumstances, but also of state policy after all...
That's exactly how it was. One year later, I was admitted to SMU - today NMU "L. Pipkov" under Rusan Atev. This, unfortunately, was the end of my studies with Dobrin Ivanov. But it made sense. And I stayed at the Pioneer Philharmonic until the death of Vladi Simeonov. This man was Cosmos - with his severity, with his extraordinary intelligence. And with his amazing ability to communicate with children. I remember how I had to play some solo and he called me in front of the orchestra - and we were all shaking from him, we had incredible respect for him. He asked me: So, Goshko, do you like music? I answered him: Yes, I love her! And he: I love you too, my child! At such moments, each of the children in the orchestra felt special, loved, ready to play to infinity, to give their best.
And how did it go on?
Classical 🙂 I graduated from the National Music School "Lubomir Pipkov", then at the National Music Academy with trumpet, applying with a classical profile to the Faculty of Performing Arts, and to "Estrada" - now the "Pop and Jazz Art" department, but I preferred the classical profile with Prof. Angel Makedonski. Sometimes I wonder if it was the right decision - maybe in "Estrada" I would have learned more things that would be useful for my career. But that's a long overdue topic anyway...
And sometime around that time in 1991 you founded AKAGA…
Yes exactly. AKAGA occupies the vast majority of my professional career. It was founded by classmates, friends from the Musical School. Over the years, both the group and we have grown professionally through it. We have 6 released albums and maybe over 2500 concerts both in our country and around Europe. We stepped on the stages of jazz festivals in Montreux, Klaipeda, Eurosonic, Nisville Jazz Fest, not to mention Apollonia, Bansko Jazz Festival, etc. And shortly after 2000, the group's path took us to Scandinavia - more specifically to Finland. The fact is that 30 years later we are still together in AKAGA, playing, creating new songs, participating in new and more new concerts, in other events such as this new summer festival of arts “Master of Art” in Koprivshtitsa in July. In fact, the festival is again organized by classmates from the Music School.
Interestingly, when we founded AKAGA, almost at the same time, the Chuchkovi family created the SIF 309 orchestra, which specializes in film music recordings. And I started playing there - from then until now. Another 30 years. When we started, one of the first people who came to record his music was Ennio Morricone, who in a small studio in the NDK recorded only the brass with us. He worked with each one individually. And he liked it very much. He came again and we have already started recording with a big orchestra. I think that from the beginning the goal of the orchestra, and more precisely the goal of the Chuchkovi family, who studied at the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome and from there had contacts with truly world names, was exactly that. With Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra SIF 309, we have recorded for hundreds of films, and we have also gone on tours around Italy.
Let's talk about a part of your professional world that is totally unknown to most people - the music for feature films and documentaries that you create with trumpet. How did this start? And how does it go on?
My first film was a biography of Dimitar Gochev - a Bulgarian who was an extremely popular theater director in Germany, who went there in the 60s and died there in 2013 at only 70 years old. I found myself introduced to this environment through Ivan Panteleev, who went to him and with his support became one of the good theater directors in Berlin. So Ivan Panteleev made a documentary about the artistic and life history of Dimitar Gochev. You could say that this was my first step in the direction of cinema. Because I didn't do all the music. We went into the studio and I started coming up with melodies, themes, themes, themes. I was recording, recording. Maybe in about an hour or two of recording. And then they chose several themes, arranged them, and the music for the film appeared. That was just the beginning. A tiny step.
And then I moved forward again with documentary cinema. It was with a project that stretched a lot in time (several years) due to funding problems. It was the documentary "The Followed Man" directed by Dimitar Kotsev - Shosho. The film is based on the autobiographical book of Veselin Branev - a very interesting person: writer, screenwriter and film director of films such as "The Longest Night", "Notes on the Bulgarian Uprisings", "Central Hotel", who emigrated to Canada in 1997. The book and the film tell the complex story of the relationship between the Bulgarian intelligentsia and State Security. The movie was shot in Canada, in Berlin, here. After all, the director financed it himself. This is probably my most difficult film project so far because there were a lot of demands, conversations, analysis of what, how and why.
After that I had quite a few short documentaries. I would single out a very peculiar series: "Open files" of BNT, in which documents declassified by the Dossier Commission were considered. I worked again with the director Dimitar Kotsev - Shosho.
The difference between feature and documentary music must be significant. Two different cinematic worlds, requiring a completely different approach.
That's right. The special thing about documentary cinema is that the story being told is true. These are facts. And the stories that have been chosen are very powerful, they are real human destinies. While in feature cinema, the stories are written by a person who creates a new world, tries to fill it with life, with content. One is natural, real life. The other is the imagination of the film's creative team materializing.
In fact, I mainly work with the director Dimitar Kotsev - Shosho. But I would also like to mention another interesting project: the feature film "SHE" by director Marta Trifonova. The script is based on "Albena" by Yordan Yovkov. I think it turned out very interesting, listen to some of the tracks. Kalin Petrov (AKAGA's pianist) and I made all the music for the film.
I have a lot of material collected, in the last half year I had time to listen to a lot of things that I recorded, and which have not yet found their film. But I haven't done anything new. And I wonder why...
Let's talk about Finland, which is becoming more and more important for us and in the context of the program for the next 3-4 years of our "Brass Perspectives". For almost 20 years now, the professional path of AKAGA has been connected with this country. What would you single out as most characteristic of there?
I'm happy to share that Finns are aliens to me. These people are not from this planet in the best sense of the word. The other people I have met who are so different are the Japanese. And as for the Finns, I never believed there were such honest people, such good souls. So frank, no ulterior motives, open, executive, kind people. Very often I hear: “They are cold, they are darker.” Maybe they're a little more reserved, or maybe they're just more reserved with strangers.
Yes, that's right, and I didn't see such a thing as coldness and gloomy behavior.
And they are so reliable. When we first went there, we were so surprised at first how they couldn't even understand what it means to give something like a gift so that someone can get their work done faster or on time. To do something that is his duty. They cannot understand this type of "corruption" at all. And it's so normal for us. And what does their Parliament look like! What do these people look like! How natural and at the same time how competent. They weigh in their places.
Not to mention their current Prime Minister, this young lady Sanna Marin in the leather metal jacket at the World Hockey Finals at the end of May!
Well yes. I was there just then when Finland won the cup against Canada. We were with AKAGA right on the new ship, which is called GLORY.
How appropriate 🙂
It was such genuine, universal joy for their country's victory. Contagious. Impressive. I was screaming too. We also shouted with all our hearts: SUOMI! SUOMI! Are those the ice Finns? It has to be seen. The feeling was great.
There is a kind of bright calm there.
Yes, calm, correct, safe place. Probably seems to be the most accurate word. You can't see or feel any aggression. Now past the two years of COVID there was quite a long period where we weren't there. But before that we were in Finland for half of the year and when I came back my wife asked me what was going on with me. So meek, calm … is it me or? 🙂 Not to mention what professionals they are in the music industry. At our last big concert in Sofia before the COVID lockdown, we invited two sound directors from Helsinki, with whom we work on the ships. They came, of course, and their colleagues here came to watch them work. Finns are educated people who know how to apply what they have learned in their work to the smallest element, in every aspect. Good education, serious people. End - that's it. Work goes on.
Motivated people. Something that is horribly crippling here, in my opinion.
Yes, but it's not about the material side. And here the material became the only thing. Even in art. There, the motivation is of a completely different type. In Finland, they are raised from childhood to be confident in themselves and in what they do. To be good professionals, to develop in the chosen profession and thus contribute to society. When you weigh yourself and have self-confidence, everything is OK.
Let’s talk about a successful and very interesting experiment we did for Christmas 2019 with AKAGA Brass and colleagues from the Overground Brass Band in Stara Zagora. “A Christmas Night Between Friends” was a very different concert in which the songs were translated into sign language and the audience included both hearing and hearing impaired people. In fact, having such a translation is good practice in Scandinavia, mandatory in Canada, and strongly recommended in the US.
Yes, as a matter of fact, this concert surprised me because I had never attended such a thing before. Nor was I among the performers. And I never imagined that this was possible - this harmony of two such different audiences. This is something that should be taught to young children, adolescents - so in a very natural way they will learn tolerance and understanding, they will have contact with this very different world. That's where it should start - let them know that is possible. This empathy, this detection of people who are around us, but we just don't notice them. We don't know about them. And they are the same as us. They enjoy the same things. And the two ladies who were translating - they were great. These are not random people, these are people of heart.
Indeed. Silvana Pavlova is a born actress, and Milena Garkova is an opera singer. For them, it is a cause in which they put their whole soul. And it's obvious - the hearing audience saw it as well, which at one point began to look at them more than at the artists on the stage.
Yes, it probably was. We on the other side couldn't see it 🙂 God grant that there will be many more big concerts of Akaga, so that we can do our whole concert with such a translation. In my opinion, it is very important to have children at these concerts - hearing children who are together with children and adults with different degrees of hearing impairment. And to see how through this sign language we are all one, we are all the same and we are together listening to our favorite music.
And finally, let's return to our Brass Perspectives Association - our educational cause. As a deputy chairman of the Board can you tell us what's next for young trumpet players?
We are certainly going to seriously develop a trumpet line in the projects of the Association. The first small step will be already this year at the third edition of the Summer Academy for brass ensembles and percussions in Koprivshtitsa with a pilot trumpet master class by Petar Makedonski. For the spring of 2023, the international trumpet class with a teacher from Finland is already clear. We will present it towards the end of 2022. And we will keep the other ideas secret for now. But there will certainly be many, many interesting things!
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