Pianist Ludmil Angelov and violist Rumen Cvetkov: Music awakens the soul

Inspiration disappears if you stare at the cracks of everyday life, the two musicians say

Brahms Alliance is the title of the album of pianist Ludmil Angelov and violist Rumen Cvetkov.

Brahms Alliance is the title of the first ever album of established pianist and teacher Ludmil Angelov and violist Rumen Cvetkov - two renowned Bulgarian classical musicians, whose life is divided between Bulgaria and Spain. They have a relatively new but certainly promising partnership. In an interview with Europost the musicians y explain how they met and decided to try playing together.

Gentlemen, what kind of chemistry has brought two esteemed musicians such as yourselves together in a joint project?

Ludmil Angelov: Above all, you must click on two levels - on a personal one, as two personalities that suit each other, and on a professional one, as musicians with similar aesthetic and interpretation views. In this case, an additional factor was our shared admiration for Brahms's music.

Rumen Cvetkov: Our love for music and devotion to art as a whole. We are not influenced or motivated by commercial success, the opposite rather.

How did your friendship start, where did your paths cross?

Ludmil Angelov: There is a sense of exquisite irony in the fact that we, two Bulgarian classical musicians who moved in the same circles, met in southern Spain. We were introduced three years ago at a concert of mine in Murcia and decided to try and play together. Our first concerts were successful and showed us that we can continue down that path. Then came the idea of making the Brahms Alliance album.

How did the music of Brahms come to inspire you to work together? What can it give to the modern audience?

Rumen Cvetkov: I and Ludmil have said numerous times that we would give a lot to live in the era in which Brahms created. Those days were blessedly void of internet, hectic flight schedules, the constant noise that is TV, and YouTube. The audience nowadays is afforded the luxury of having access to any artist and listening to a plethora of genres at all times. In contrast, during the non-digital, analogue era of Brahms, concerts were true events, at which the audience used to enter as if in a church - a true celebration. Brahms's compositions are infused with a quiet drive for self-improvement and internal peace, which resembles water - it teaches you consistency, drop by drop, and things happen.

Ludmil Angelov: The music of Brahms almost always sounds more like a chamber piece, even in his symphonies. This more intimate character of his works creates a special mood for the audience that hears them live. To us, the chamber pieces by this composer are some of the genre's biggest masterpieces, and we play them with great pleasure.

Your Brahms album features works by two ladies. What is their story with the composer and how do you personally feel about them?

Rumen Cvetkov: Clara Schumann and Pauline Viardot are among the first ever female composers. They were close with Brahms and together they formed a creative circle - an alliance of artists with shared interests and aesthetic vision. Clara was a mentor for Brahms from the very beginning of his composing career, while Pauline inspired him to write several songs for her. These were extremely brave women for their times, who caused small revolutions not only with their talent but their personal lives as well. I am referring to the love affair between Viardot and (Russian novelist Ivan) Turgenev.

Ludmil Angelov: Until the middle of the 19th century, writing music used to be the preserve of men. Viardot and Schumann shared the same aesthetic vision with Brahms and that is what made us entitle the album Brahms Alliance - a creative union revolving around the composer's persona and music.

Every musician has this special, almost mystical relationship with their musical instrument. Tell us about yours - do you give them nicknames; do they send you messages that only you can decipher?

Rumen Cvetkov: My viola, just like a human being, has its own feelings and even a mercurial nature. It is affected by changes in temperature and the acoustics; it can be tired or well-rested, sleepy in the morning, etc. To me, it is a loyal partner, a friend, and sometimes a capricious, difficult associate, and we are still getting to know each other.

Ludmil Angelov: In my case, I have to play a different instrument at every concert or a recording session - the ones available in the respective hall or studio. The really prestigious halls can have more than one grand piano that you can choose from. In this sense, we, pianists, are “polygamous” - we have multiple relationships with all sorts of instruments. Some you like better than others and then there are some you do not fancy at all. Unlike violinists and violists, there is no way for me to travel with my own musical instrument.

What is your feel for the audience - does it react or experience music differently in Bulgaria, compared to the rest of the world? Where do you feel happiest playing and have most success reaching the coveted duende (Spanish term for a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity - editor's note)?

Ludmil Angelov: Yes, of course audiences are different - on the temperamental or reserved side, with varying degrees of understanding of classical music as well. The important thing for a performer is to establish a bond with their audience, have this back-and-forth of emotions and fluids. This is where duende resides - in special moments of inspiration.

Rumen Cvetkov: The audience changes from concert to concert, but reaching it is a fundamental thing. Without the spiritual connection, the results are just not the same. Playing alone on stage is more of a rarity for me compared to Ludmil; I need to be with him on stage to share the joy of playing.

Do you believe that music has the power to make people better?

Rumen Cvetkov: Certainly! However, musical education at a young age is crucial. Children's intellectual development is greatly enhanced by music, even if they lack the talent to become professional musicians.

Ludmil Angelov: One of music's missions is to awaken people's spirituality.

The world was devastated by the fire in the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral last month. What kind of music soundtrack plays in your head when you think of this tragedy? There is even a debate as to whether billions of euros should be spent on the restoration of a monument or the money would be better used on feeding the poor and the hungry.

Rumen Cvetkov: I think that the fate of Notre-Dame is that of many other places of worship around the world. Perhaps that incident got excessive media coverage, but I am sure that the cathedral will be restored to perfection.

Ludmil Angelov: I guess that the immediate association is with some of the many requiems created by brilliant composers of the past. As for the billions of euros, I believe that there is plenty to go around. In other words, there is enough funds for both monuments and feeding the poor.

Do political and social events reverberate in the music hall in any way or is that space ruled by different set of laws - those of beauty and harmony?

Rumen Cvetkov: We try not to let reality affect us. If an artist stares at the cracks of everyday life, inspiration disappears. This is why so many people in the world of arts resort to alcohol and stronger substances to dull the emotional and physical emptiness. To me, music remains the strongest drug; immersing oneself into it brings peace.

Ludmil Angelov: Things are a bit different with us, interpreters. We play works that in most cases were created many years prior to that moment. In other words, we can and even must keep reality at a distance. We create an oasis of sorts.

What kind of music do you listen to when relaxing?

Rumen Cvetkov: I, personally, rarely listen to music. My mind is brimming with music as it is, and most of the time I prefer peace and quiet when I am winding down.

Ludmil Angelov: Jazz is perhaps closest to classical music. But the genre is not all that important - what matters is that the music is well-written and well-performed. As many of my colleagues like to say, there is no good or bad music, there is well-crafted music and the other kind.

Close-up

World-renowned pianist Ludmil Angelov was born on 27 June 1961 in Varna. He is the recipient of numerous prestigious international awards, including Grand Prix of the world's most significant clavier competition - the Piano Masters in Monte Carlo. He has been living and working mainly in Spain for the past 22 years. He is the founder and artistic director of the Toledo International Music Festival. In Bulgaria, Angelov is the founder of the Piano Extravaganza Foundation, which organises the international music festival of the same name.

Violist Rumen Cvetkov was born in Plovdiv and specialised in the US and the Netherlands. He has also been living in Spain for years. He has played in the most prestigious halls in over 35 countries on four continents. In addition to his solo career, he teaches at the Academy for Music and Performing Arts in Tilburg, the Netherlands, and at New Bulgarian University in Sofia. He is the founder and artistic director of the MurciArt chamber music festival in Murcia, Spain. He plays on a valuable antique 1785 instrument made by Simon Schoedler.

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