Kremena Mineva: Andre Rieu changed my life

Meeting him was a gift from fate for all my efforts and hardships up until that point

When you choose an occupation and find a job, the most important thing is to have joy in what you do, pour your heart in it and get satisfaction from it, says concertmaster Kremena Mineva in an interview to Europost.

Ms Mineva, can you tell us about the programme of your concerts alongside Andre Rieu in Hall Sofia on 8 and 9 June? Will we have the chance to hear the waltz composed by Anthony Hopkins, for example?

The programme will be different from last year's. We will not be playing the waltz by Anthony Hopkins but we have other surprises in store. In addition to the vocal solos, this time we will have instrumental ones by members of Andre's orchestra. Many of my colleagues play more than one instrument. We will also have an instrument that is not familiar in Bulgaria and comes from the musical tradition of the Catholic Church.

You have been with the orchestra for the past 24 years. Reminiscing about the day you first joined it, what do you remember?

I was in my third year in the Royal Conservatoire of Liege in Belgium. Andre visited the school in search of violinists and did not like anyone. I somehow missed the announcement for the audition and so never went to it. Then a month later, a girl who used to play with him came to me and said: “There is a conductor in Maastricht who is looking for female violinists.” I was confused as to why he would be seeking women in particular, but I called nevertheless. At the time, all students made money on the side with low-quality projects - it was a way to both gain experience and cover some of the expenses of higher education. I was a bit surprised to hear the phone answered by a secretary, who invited me to audition. I should mention that at the time Andre was in no way famous in Belgium. I am talking about the first six months, when he was popular only in the Netherlands, with Dmitri Shostakovich's The Second Waltz.

The audition went really well, I played several things for him and he asked me a couple of questions - like if I would be agreeable to performing in an 18th-century-style gown, and if I had a car or at least a driver's licence. Seeing as I had just arrived, I had neither a car nor a driver's licence, and my parents were 2,000 kilometres away. Finally, on his way out of the room, he turned to me and said: “The violin playing is excellent, but the driver's licence…” That is how it all started. I will never forget my first concerts. My colleagues were exceptional and there were only 18 of us. They welcomed me with open arms and I turned a new page in my life; studying in Belgium was not the easiest period of my youth and, frankly, I counted the days until I could go back to Bulgaria. If I had not met Andre, I would have never stayed there. For me, that was a gift from fate for all my efforts and hardships up until that point.

How did you reach the position of concertmaster?

In the first few years I quickly found out that when you choose an occupation and find a job, the most important thing is to have joy in what you do, pour your heart in it and get satisfaction from it. In my student years, I used to help in the opera orchestra in Liege and many others - the atmosphere there was very strange; people were envious of each other just because, like in any other symphonic orchestra, every position had a different pay grade. This is something Andre completely rejects as a notion. Our orchestra is very unique in this regard. We are all equal. The concertmaster spot has a bit different functions compared to a regular orchestra. In any event, the first violin is Andre and he makes all the decisions. The concertmaster position is more of a complement to him. For example, when there are solos, my responsibility is harmonising, writing down phrasing from time to time.

You play in a multi-national orchestra. How do you feel in such an atmosphere? What is the language of communication?

We are a truly international group, with 13 nationalities represented. We speak Dutch at all times. A little English, French, German and Russian sneaks in here and there. We are one big family. What you see on stage is a reflection of real life.

You started playing at the age of four. Who introduced you to the violin?

My mother is a professional musician. She plays the harp for the Eulina quartet, which has been in existence for 50 years. But she was not the one to give me my first experience with the violin. It was actually my maternal grandmother. My father is an engineer by trade, but he is extremely musical as well.

The world of art requires a lot of sacrifice. To get to a high level, you need to start at a very young age. I worked a lot - school, homework and then 3-4 hours of practice with the violin a day. However, I would not say I was deprived of childhood. Perhaps it was a bit different. The moment I joined the orchestra, a whole new world was revealed to me. My way of life completely changed. I experienced things that I did not have time for as a child or a younger woman. I felt like being in a new school of life there, and it was very interesting and challenging for me. I discovered that there is more to life than violin. Until that point, all my sacrifices had been in the name of the art of music.

Do you have spare time and how do you like to spend it?

I am at a stage in my life where I like to enjoy my free time. My favourite thing is to spend time with my husband and two daughters. I love being in the mountain - it is the place where I can recharge, rest and relax. As a musician, I often work on the weekends while my family has a normal Monday-to-Friday rhythm so our schedules often conflict with each other, but we try to plan our time well.

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Kremena Mineva was born in Sofia. She started playing the violin at the age of four. She graduated simultaneously from the National Academy of Music in Sofia and the Royal Conservatoire of Liege, Belgium. She is a member of the Johann Strauss Orchestra, the largest private orchestra in the world, created by Andre Rieu, who is the best-selling classical musician worldwide and whose tours gross more than those of stars such as Beyonce and Metallica. Together with the King of Waltz, as the Dutchman is often referred to, Mineva will return to Bulgaria for two more concerts this year - on 8 and 9 June in Sofia.

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