Maestro Konstantin Ilievski: A sculptor of music

Composing for me is a calling, in conducting I try to reach the highest professionalism

Today we need prayer more than ever. Let it be the song about a world where people are better. If everyone has the desire to develop their talents, their essence, then we will live much better together on this planet, says maestro Konstantin Ilievski in an interview to

Maestro, what are your earliest memories of meeting with music?

It must have been at a very early age, before I had even started playing the piano. My grandfather Konstantin Ilievski - I am named after him - used to play to me a musical phrase which he called a question. And I had to intuitively answer on the piano, pressing the keys, with something that musically resembles an answer. It was a game he played with me and it's my first memory of meeting with music.

What valuable lessons did you learn from your father Kiril Ilievski?

My father was the person in my life who ​​extremely finely formed me both as a musician and in terms of my character. By finely, I mean that he never lost his patience and used to talk to me with great calm, both on professional topics and on various issues in life.

Which is your greatest love among your musical activities - conducting, composing or interpreting?

I cannot answer this question. They are all very different. In conducting, I try to reach the highest professionalism, I work with people and that is something which I love. While composing is a calling - it is a thing that I cannot get rid of, no matter how much I want it. Composing - these are my thoughts that wake me up at night, it is something that is always with me and which is haunting me until I sit and put it down on paper. Finally - the piano, as I told you, it is my first love, the instrument that stirred my enthusiasm to play music.

As a young musician, did you have your moments of doubt? Your family supported you, as you said, but when did you start believing in yourself?

Music is exactly what I have always imagined for myself. I have never had hesitations and doubts. To be honest, I have never experienced stage fever. This was probably one of the most important factors for my professional formation.

How then do you make the others to believe in you?

For months before each concert, I work intensely on the musical score. The musicians I work with know this. And yet, at the moment when I have accumulated the most knowledge, just before the first rehearsal, a doubt sneaks in - is my concept good enough, is everything the way I imagine it, is it right… And - thank God - after the first rehearsal, usually everything goes in its proper place. Such self-doubt is very useful for any musician - this way they check themselves. This feeling gives them the opportunity to be confident and later to get real enjoyment out of the concert.

Do you observe any special ritual before coming on stage?

On the day of the concert, no one should touch my musical notation. I keep it with me, I carry it to the concert hall myself. And all the scores of the works to be performed are there, in the hall. It has happened sometimes that some of the technical team get offended that I do not trust them with my scores. But this is just a slight madness of mine. Otherwise, like most Bulgarians do for good luck, before important events I or someone else from my family splashes some water on the ground before me, as I leave.

I have heard people say that the conductor is a class enemy of the orchestra. Is that so?

I can say for sure that the colleagues I work with do not look at me as their class enemy. Surely, when I start working with a new orchestra, I've come across this barrier between conductor and orchestra. But due to the great respect I have for the musicians, and for their work, this barrier disappears very quickly.

The best compliment for me is when the colleagues I work with come to greet me after a concert. Or they knock softly on their stations after a rehearsal. Sometimes I play music together with my musicians. I am one of them, a part of the team.

Does it mean that you are trying to be invisible on stage?

The conductor cannot be an invisible figure. He is the one who has to fit together all the impulses, which he receives sometimes from 100 people at a time. So the conductor is there and he must be felt by all the musicians even before he raises his hands. However, I try to be modest in my presence and not to interfere in the processes that actually happen without me.

How are your works born? Do you rely on inspiration?

Definitely, the work done and the compositional techniques are extremely important in this vocation. Without inspiration, however, without the few percent of talent, the composition is impossible. It is exactly in the composition where the musicians have to really believe in themselves. To believe strongly that they have something to say to this world. Usually, ideas live with me for a long time before I put them down, sometimes for years. They mature over time. Often the reason for this is the lack of time, I cannot always sit and put them down right away. However, I am happy that I can carry them with me longer this way. It happens that these ideas get transformed according to what I experience and according to how I change my personality over time. When a pianist or violinist experiences something, they start playing in a different way. Similarly, when we, composers, experience something, we then continue in a different way to reveal ourselves and show our vision in the work in question. Jokingly, getting smarter as we age is extremely valuable for this kind of activity.

Your book The Composer as an Interpreter of His Own Perception of the World, which was published in Germany, gives an answer to the question of how big the artist's world is. But how can one live with such a burden?

I do not perceive it as a burden. I can compare it to the process that a sculptor goes through when creating an artwork. When he takes a piece of stone, there is nothing in this material, but the sculptor has his own impulse - the first feeling of how exactly he will process it. This is the way that ideas are being born in me - sometimes from banal things that happen in everyday life. This incident, the piece of stone, I carry then within myself, but I do not know everything about it in advance, and gradually I have to sculpt it constructively, to invent exactly what I will make of it. Until it acquires a concrete shape.

You are also a lecturer in Composition at the Bratislava Conservatory. What piece of advice do you give to your students?

They need their teacher to believe in them. That is what I am trying to show them. I share my knowledge and tell them about my experiences, without embellishing them, so that they can be prepared for what is forthcoming. It is better for them to have a harder time during their studies than later, during their professional life.

What is forthcoming for you?

I have recordings with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, whose conductor I am. At the beginning of the New Year, in January, New Year's concerts are forthcoming together with the Sinfonietta dell'Arte in Austria. All events, except the recordings, are more or less in question of course, because of the situation we are all in.

You are a man of strong character, but we live in uncertain times and everything is so fleeting. What is worth planning for, today?

This pandemic gave me the opportunity to turn more actively to some activities for which I did not have enough time previously. Before, I had over 100 concerts in a year, now, during this musical season, my concerts are many times less. I devote myself to composing now. In addition, staying at home, I have the opportunity to play the piano every day for many hours, which really had not happened to me for many years.

Close up

Konstantin Ilievski comes from a family of famous musicians. He graduated from the Bratislava Conservatory, specialising in Orchestral and Choral Conducting, as well as from the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts. He has worked with many Bulgarian and foreign orchestras as a pianist and guest conductor. Being also a composer, his piano, chamber, symphonic works and concerts have been performed in dozens of countries. He has made recordings for the biggest radio and television companies in Bulgaria, Austria and Slovakia.

He is one of the founders of the Sinfonietta dell'Arte chamber orchestra in Bratislava, Slovakia. From 2014 he is chief artistic director of the Dianopolis Chamber Orchestra in the town of Yambol, Bulgaria. Since the beginning of 2020, Ilievski has been a fulltime conductor of the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra. He is a lecturer at the Bratislava Conservatory.

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