Maestro Nayden Todorov: Music is my destiny

I am one of those lucky people who never had to wonder what they wanted to do for a living

Live concerts and concerts streamed online are two completely different experiences that have different impact on people. They should not be compared and contrasted. Let us also not forget that we are living in the 21st century. The exact opposite may actually happen - concerts streamed online may help us reach audiences who, without necessarily having a good idea of it, have until now thought of our art form as obsolete, says Maestro Nayden Todorov in an interview to EUROPOST.

Where are you spending this period of social isolation, Maestro Todorov?

I am in Sofia. I had several flights scheduled for the last couple of months and at this very moment I was supposed to be in Vienna. I was in Sofia when borders got closed, which was the preferable scenario to getting stranded in an unfamiliar place, cooped up in some hotel for weeks or even months. Now I have more time to spend with my family and check off some Sofia Philharmonic tasks that I have been pushing back.

Do you miss the stage, the audience?

Immensely! Ours are called stage arts for a reason. We live for the stage, the audience. I have been conditioned to live and work for the audience over a period of 40 years. Moreover, many of us grow accustomed to the sensation and develop something close to dependence. Some years ago, I tried to cut down on my stage appearances and that had such an adverse effect on my nerves that my friends strongly suggested that I should return to my old way of life. Now all of us musicians and artists are stuck in our homes - a completely foreign situation to us. At some point, you find out if you are making art because that is your calling or because that is the occupation you have chosen. The second group has a definite advantage because these people can simply start some new initiative outside of arts, even make a career switch, if they so choose. Meanwhile, we - in the first group - are figuratively like drug addicts unable to get their next dose.

How are you handling all of this - creatively and financially?

I have not stopped being active in the music realm - I am studying sheet music that I have no intention of conducting any time soon, but that I have always wanted to learn. I am watching recordings of Sofia Philharmonic concerts and I help in the selecting of works that are to be presented to our audience online by the end of the season in place of cancelled concerts. We are doing a number of online initiatives with some of our colleagues. I am doing my best to keep myself occupied with music one way or another. The sad part is that I am also working on rescheduling the next season - we are postponing concerts that we have been working to bring to the stage for almost two years. But that is part of life now. Financially speaking, my personal situation is a disaster, as I have cancelled concerts in Austria, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Brazil, income that I would have used to cover loan payments and personal expenses. I try to be positive and trust that things will not go on like this for much longer. The Philharmonic is not in a good place financially either. We were hit financially even before the Covid-19 crisis, and now we have to find a way to overcome this twofold blow. But we will manage. After all, this is the National Philharmonic of Bulgaria and one of the leading orchestras in Eastern Europe.

Do you have rehearsals with the orchestra, albeit virtual ones?

We do various small projects together. But that is not enough to stay in top form. The problem is that even if musicians maintain their personal skills sharp, that is just the prerequisite for starting work as an orchestra. Unfortunately, it is not really possible to have highly effective online rehearsals for a large orchestra. Those can be successful only when the team has had opportunity to work together in the concert hall in advance - something that is, alas, impossible at this point.

Have you been able to draw in new audience with your online projects? Are there more people watching your performances now compared to the live concerts?

Indeed, our concerts are now being watched not only by our core audience, but also by many people who have never set foot in Bulgaria Hall. We have a lot of viewers from abroad as well! Interesting fact - streaming concerts is not a new initiative for us, but whereas before the crisis those streams rarely got over a hundred views, now each concert has tens of thousands of views. Of course, we should not forget that now the concerts are streamed for free as a gesture of solidarity with our audience, but we hope that the new fans of classical music we win over during this period of social isolation will come to see us live when Bulgaria Hall opens its doors for visitors again.

Are you concerned that some people might get used to watching you for free from the comfort of their own home, negatively affecting attendance numbers once the health crisis is over?

No. The live performance, the feeling of being in the concert hall can never be replaced. Anyone who has been at the hall at least once and had a live experience of a symphonic orchestra would never choose to replace these emotions with sitting in front of the computer screen. Only a person who has never attended live concerts or who is “immune” to the effect of music, which is practically one and the same, can argue the opposite. A similar conversation was going on at the dawn of cinema - at the time, many worried that the new art form would be the death of theatre. Perhaps the easiest way to explain things is this - live concerts and concerts streamed online are two completely different experiences that have different impact on people. They should not be compared and contrasted. Let us also not forget that we are living in the 21st century. The exact opposite may actually happen - concerts streamed online may help us reach audiences who, without necessarily having a good idea of it, have until now thought of our art form as obsolete.

What surprises can fans of the Sofia Philharmonic expect this autumn?

We had prepared wonderful surprises for the autumn, but now we are focused on moving them back, to whatever extent that is possible, to 2021, when we hope the situation will have significantly improved. It would be naive to think that the crisis will miraculously end on 31 August, just in time for our next season. We still have some interesting events in store for this autumn that we will try to keep. All we need is to get back in the concert hall. Generally speaking, our policy is divided into several areas, whose main goal is to make people's lives a bit brighter through our particular art form. We do not want to change the direction we are moving in. It is now evident that people need us and the music we give them, as well as the artists we present. We only hope that we will have the support of the Ministry of Culture. There is nothing else stopping us because the audience's response has shown us that we are on the right path.

Tell us a bit more about the music of Dan Brown and the Fortissimo programme for children?

Dan Brown is among my favourite best-selling authors. However, few people know that he is a professional musician in addition to a writer and has also taught music. If you think about it, most successful people around the world love classical music and many even dabble in it. One such example is Einstein. It is clear that music has some sort of influence on man that is yet to be studied in-depth. And so, Dan Brown has a children's book called Wild Symphony as well as music under the same title. Scheduled to be launched globally this autumn, this wonderful musical education project combines various art forms in a unique blend, and I am really happy that the Sofia Philharmonic is among the first orchestras to join the project. Separately, Fortissimo, the philharmonic's programme for kids and youth, will feature next season the now traditional “fairytales” about individual musical instruments and will introduce kids to interesting composers. We have also prepared a series of concerts intended to illustrate the deep symbiosis between symphonic music and cinema. Anyone who knows me is aware of my partiality for composers like Erich von Korngold, Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. I want to pass this affinity on to the next generation - it is a pretty straightforward task because you only need to hear their music once to fall in love with it.

How old were you when you discovered the magic of music and when did you decide you would be a conductor?

I started playing the piano at the age of five. I have no clear memory of the moment I first wanted to do this, or, to be more exact, I do not remember a time when I did not want to do this. As far back as my childhood memories go, music has always given my life meaning. It gets even more interesting with conducting because apparently I wanted to become a conductor before I had even seen a symphonic orchestra. My parents used to tell me, and I remember it too, how as a kid I would pretend to stand before and conduct an imaginary orchestra whenever we would go to a restaurant together. They used to joke that they never had to worry where I was because I was always there, in front of the orchestra. As a bit older, I would lock myself up in the living room and listen to vinyl records of ABBA, to the music of which I would conduct. There was no classical music in our home, but ABBA, Queen, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones were worthy substitutes. By the time I started school, I had it all figured out. I bought my first classical music record in fourth grade - Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. Come to think of it, I am one of those lucky people who never had to wonder what they wanted to do for a living. Music has always been my destiny.

Do you think that it is possible for people to start living in harmony with themselves, with others, and with nature, like in an orchestra - each member of the whole contributing with their own instruments and talents to the creation of the beautiful symphony of life?

It is not just possible, it is necessary if we want to survive. We have to understand two things. First, dissonance can be interesting only as a transition phenomenon. Just like music, nature strives for harmony. Second, and more importantly, orchestras are made up of different instruments, each with their own tone quality, technique of creating sound, pitch, and technical capabilities. Only together can they create the magic that causes us to get chills and forget our whereabouts. If an orchestra is composed of only one type of instrument, no matter how many of it, the resulting music would be one-dimensional, flat and unable to affect us the way a symphonic orchestra does. The same is true for life. This is why the European Union adopted the motto “United in diversity” in 2000. We should think about that whenever we try to impose our view of the world or arts on others. In music, harmony is achieved when different tones are combined the right way. It is the same in life - people who are different and do not search for what they have in common can only cause anarchy. At the same time, forcing people to assimilate can produce a world taken out of the pages of George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984.

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Known for his brilliant interpretations across genres, Nayden Todorov is one of the most talented contemporary Bulgarian musicians. Born in 1974 in Plovdiv, he received his first piano lessons at the age of five and made his debut as a conductor at 16. In 1996 he was invited by the Leonard Bernstein Foundation to attend the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem, where he specialised under the tutelage of Mendi Rodan, chief conductor of the Israel Philharmonic.

Nayden Todorov has served as chief conductor and director of the Sofia Philharmonic since 2017. Along with his many obligations in Bulgaria, he conducts hundreds of concerts as well as opera and ballet productions with various orchestras and opera companies around the world.

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