Victor and I met by chance at the end of January 2022. A friend "commissioned" me to go to a concert in her place at the "Portrait" conceptual event space in Sofia, BG. I agreed. And so the groups of new colleagues with whom the paths of the road had not crossed, but were quite close, were discovered. I listened to them carefully and with pleasure as both a classical instrumentalist, a fan of Apocalyptica and the artistic director of the Brass Perspectives Christmas project that started in 2021. I had several ideas for a second album in my head, among them my favourite was entirely an instrumental conception of the insuring power of Winter in the North in that long, melancholic, almost polar night, filled with sombre colour... But that will be the matter a little later. Besides the cello, Viktor Traikov has a curious way of expression that sounds almost like haiku poetry. Although he hardly noticed it…
At another moment I had asked you to describe the violoncello very briefly. The answer in three words was "A wonderful choice", and in three sentences:
The cello is my friend.
We've been together for 30 years.
I carry it on my back all my life.
Have you noticed that your words seem to be in rhythm and harmony with some favourite cello melody that is playing inside you? Maybe in your heart, maybe in your subconscious...
I have a lot of favourite tunes in my head. In fact, in my mind they all sound like cellos, but that's pure professional distortion. I can't pick just one because there are more and more new ones coming out every day... I'm lucky enough to be constantly playing in different formations, playing a variety of styles of music and never having a shortage of favourite tunes. If I can give an example - I adore Bach's violin partitas, I even try to play them at home from time to time.
Let's talk about the people who have shaped your education and your professional path so far: teachers, mentors, etc.
I owe the greatest gratitude to my beloved and late teacher Ani Atanassova. Unfortunately, she passed away young from this world, but the time she was my teacher was the most valuable in my musical journey so far. When I was a student, I didn't realise how important she was to me, but as I grew up it turned out that she was the best thing that could have happened to me. Her aspiration in the first place was to make the student a musician, to develop as much as possible his sense of aesthetics, hearing and quality of sound, his ability to be flexible and varied in his playing. At the same time, it gave the necessary freedom to the performer to build his own style and perception. In my already professional path, I had the good fortune to work with other wonderful musicians, whether in Bulgaria or abroad, the list is long. As a primarily chamber performer, I owe a lot to Nikolay Gagov, a former member of the Sofia Quartet, who introduced me in detail to the intricacies of chamber music. My active musical path allows me to learn new things and to this day, take something from everyone.
Are there any cellists that you could say have enchanted you? I confess, I went through such periods with Rostropovich and Yo Yo Ma.
There are of course… quite a few. Among the older legends of the cello, I would mention Daniil Shafran, Yo Yo Ma and Misha Maisky. The advent of digital platforms allowed me to freely listen to their performances and receive free master classes while staying at home. From the relatively younger generation, I have a total favourite: Nicolas Altstedt. In my opinion, he can perform any style of music as the genre really calls for. From Haydn to Saint-Saens to Shostakovich - everything is brilliant. Of course, this is a personal opinion and is based on my sense of music and the way I play the cello.
It's hard for me to pinpoint a favourite composer, but I have a few that are slightly ahead of the rest. Perhaps it is Shostakovich who takes first place in the ranking. I have played quite a few of his string quartets, the two piano trios, several of his symphonies... I can say that I feel his music is closest to my way of perception, sound extraction and soulfulness. My other favourite, as I mentioned a while ago, is Bach. Despite the stark contrast compared to Shostakovich, it is the other style in which I feel most comfortable. My rich orchestral experience made me a great admirer of the symphonies of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Tchaikovsky. I listen to and play a variety of music, fortunately I participate in many diverse musical formations and have the opportunity to get acquainted with the work of various composers. Any quality music is my favourite.
One of your stage dreams is to perform Haydn - Concerto in C major with Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie. Tell us a little more about this orchestra...
Since 2019, I have had the privilege of taking part in some of Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen's programs. This is the most special place I've ever been. One of the best chamber orchestras in the world, where music… chamber music comes first. This line-up is exceptional in its kind, each of the musicians is truly and fully committed to what they do. There is no gap between conductor and orchestra, between concertmaster and band. I would say that this is where the concept of a musician takes on its full and true meaning. Each of us is maximally committed to what we do, not because we have to, but because we want to. I'm not a solo cellist, and I have no ambition to be, but if I were ever to hypothetically play something as a soloist in an orchestra, it would be with this line-up, because I know that no matter what, they'll do their best to support.
What was your most exhilarating moment as a performer? Or the greatest satisfaction at the end of a concert? An incident you will never forget?
Every performer experiences many emotions while on stage. If I could choose the most powerful and impactful, I do remember a very special one. I was playing Shostakovich's Eighth String Quartet, towards the end of the fourth movement there is an infinitely beautiful and magical cello solo. It comes after a long period of sadness and drama and rises like sunshine and hope that everything can be more beautiful and purer. I was pretty deep into the music and when the moment for the solo came, I felt an extremely strong emotion and as much as I tried not to cry, I cried like a little child while playing. Fortunately, this didn't ruin the intonation in my performance, it might even have helped it sound better. I think this is definitely the strongest and purest emotion I've ever felt during a concert…
You play both in orchestras and in various chamber formations. What line-up do you feel best in?
I feel best in chamber formations. I would note two of them that are relatively new in my professional path and worth every minute spent. These are the Underground Cello Quartet and the Drop Down Community String Orchestra.
With the Underground Cello Quartet, we started a partnership in which I see endless potential - your participation in our second festive album "Christmas Brass: Through the Winter Darkness". What did we surprise you with in my favourite project?
The very invitation to participate in this project was surprising for me and my colleagues. In view of the unusual appearance of the quartet, namely that it is composed of 4 cellos, perhaps we did not expect that we would take part in an album of pieces in which the main actors are brass instruments. To be honest, I never imagined that a cello quartet could sound so good with a solo trombone or trumpet. This is also a pleasant surprise; it turns out that the combination is surprisingly good and sounds great.
And what did we impress you with?
The project itself, as well as the entire organisation for its implementation, were at a high professional level. I like working with people who have a clear idea, specific goals and professional discipline. Perhaps this should not impress me, but be something normal and even mandatory, but alas, it is not always so. The tracks on the album are the other thing that left a strong impression on me. I think that their selection, and subsequently their sound, absolutely correspond to the title of the album and give it life.
What sensations did the two musical paintings for 4 cellos and solo brass instruments create for you?
Two of the main sensations in a person's soul. The peace and the storm. They are interconnected and through the language of music are presented in a very beautiful way in both plays. Just as we can find peace looking out the window at a winter storm, so we can experience the opposite by observing a quiet and peaceful winter evening.
This is the first meeting of the Underground Cello Quartet with our team of arrangers and performers. What will you remember most vividly with your colleagues from this collaboration - both in the studio and from the premiere of the album live?
We will remember a few things... We were extremely impressed by the masterful arrangements of the two pieces. I think that making a successful arrangement for a cello quartet is a very difficult thing, very different from arranging for a standard string quartet. Also, the studio recording and processing team did a great job and created a very high level product.
In the very premiere of the album on 10.12.2022, wonderful musicians, some of the best brass performers in Bulgaria, participated live and we are happy that we were together with them on stage. We are glad that a very young musician - the trumpeter Pavel Petkov, a student in the 8th grade at NMU "Lyubomir Pipkov" - was given a chance to perform. Despite his tender age, he did brilliantly. We are sure that this is only the beginning of our creative partnership, and we look forward to our next joint projects!
In parallel with your performing career, you are actively developing as a teacher. And at the beginning of 2022, with Nona Krincheva, you started a new musical training space in Sofia for amateurs and professionals. Tell us more about Art&Shock.
2022 was interesting for me. First, I started teaching chamber music at NMU "Lyubomir Pipkov", and then Nona and I founded the private music school Art&Shock. Our idea is to turn it into the first musical space of its kind in Bulgaria, offering high-quality music education for both professionals and amateurs. Unfortunately, in recent years, due to many factors, the level of music education has been declining. With the help of our friends and colleagues, we have assembled a team of outstanding young musicians, with whom we are determined to impose the necessary high standard of training, to help anyone who needs an additional one, whether he is studying at a music school, whether he is a student at the Academy or just wants to play for fun. At Art&Shock, the stage performances of both teachers and students are important. It is important for us that every artist has a stage to perform, and an audience to appreciate him. Our concept is for Art&Shock to become the first private music school on the European model, in which pupils and students can prepare for entrance exams in secondary and higher education institutions, and for amateurs to have the opportunity to play for pleasure with quality teachers.
What kind of audience would you like to have at your concerts? Educated, touched in school some musical instrument or choir, or an audience that feels the music in its heart?
The educated public is not always made up of professionals. There are uneducated ones, just as there are educated amateurs. In my opinion, the goal of the performer is to give pleasure to the audience, to convey something to them with his performance. I don't think musicians should educate the public; classical music should be accessible to anyone who wants to touch it.
How do you see your future as a performer?
I don't have much time to think about the future, I have enough work in the present that I feel satisfied with.
And as a teacher?
I hope, a good cello teacher. 🙂
What would you like? And what don't you even dare to dream about?
I wish health and love to all…
4 December, 2023