Musician Theodosii Spassov: Antarctica inspired me to create film

The opening of my first photo exhibition is forthcoming as well

The stay on Livingston Island brings you the feeling that you are at the end of the world, as if on another planet, the Bulgarian musician Theodosii Spassov, a virtuoso player of kaval, says in an interview to Telegraph.

Mr Spassov, with what feelings did you welcome the film premiere of The Dance of the Penguins, which presents your artistic and documentary 'reading' of Antarctica?

 I am very excited about this film, because it marks somehow my journey and impressions of the ice continent, where we were together with the guitarist Hristiyan Tsvyatkov. We were invited by Prof Christo Pimpirev to join the last Bulgarian Antarctic expedition. He himself described our journey as a scientific experiment aiming for us to create pieces of music influenced by our impressions there. We got inspired and created 13 compositions that are to be arranged and to enter a recording studio. Then, together with a few more musicians, we shall give them a bigger scale and release an album in the form of an audio and video disc using the short version of The Dance of the Penguins, which consists only of music without any text. The feature film, which is to appear in cinemas across the country, is much wider in its scope, with special attention to the participants in this expedition, and it is shot and edited in an incredible way by the cameraman Rumen Vassilev. I could see only the trailer, and it really impressed me a lot. One of the compositions, which is called Wolf Bay, is used as its background music.

 How much time did you spend on the ice continent?

We travelled for a long time and we had days spent awaiting as well as all sorts of combinations so that we can get there and come back afterwards. We stayed only 10 days on Livingston Island (the island where the Bulgarian Antarctic base St Kliment Ohridski is located - editor's note). The good thing was that our journey was in progress before the pandemic occurred. We came home earlier, but there were few people from our group who remained behind to prepare the station for the winter, and they were quite late, observing the new pandemic restrictions. Those 10 days were very impressive. They left in us a wonderful feeling about that world, which is not for people (laughing), but for a different kind of settlers that feel more comfortable and natural there.

How can you play music at such low temperatures?

The temperature varied from +10 to -10°C, as it was summer in the southern hemisphere at that time. We played on suitable days, when the temperature was above zero. We have played at even lower temperatures before. Years ago, in the 80's, I am not going to forget when we used to play with the Hissar group at weddings, and then we had to play in the town of Strazhitsa. The ground was covered with snow and I remember that icicles formed on the clarinet and the kaval (eight-hole wooden “shepherd” flute - editor's note). We had the opportunity in Antarctica to play our instruments in much more acceptable conditions - it was not so hard.

What did Prof Pimpirev tell you before you left, how did he prepare you for the journey?

He gave us instructions and the necessary equipment for the journey and our stay there. He explained what was expecting us. I don't know about Hristian, but I personally did not use Google to look at the details of this place. I wanted to feel surprised by it and to find things on the go, which is much more exciting for me. There were also extreme situations - military aircraft, flights in difficult conditions, and a ship which we boarded from an inflatable boat by means of rope ladders. Yes, we wore special thermal clothing, but it gives you a chance only for a few minutes - if, God forbid, you fall into the icy waters. Everything passed without any accidents. The professor was close to us at all times, advising what we have to do.

 What was the thing that impressed you most?

We arrived there around 4.30 at night. Landing in the bay of our base, we saw a huge iceberg, which welcomed us. It was standing, in a bluish-white glacial colour, and it remained this way for several days before it moved. A nice picture, which greeted us at dawn. The animal world is limited to a minimum - seals, penguins and a bird - skua, which is rapacious and predatory, and fish, of course. The stay there brings you the feeling that you are at the end of the world, as if on another planet. We are accustomed to our latitudes, which are suitable for humans, and getting there in this harsh nature, you become very impressed. You understand how ridiculous the human presence is there.

How did your wife, the Bulgarian actress Boyka Velkova, and your son accept the idea of you going there?

They were very excited and immediately supported me. They could understand the value and the essence of this adventure of mine. Years ago, in 1996, Boyka supported me again for a similar journey to Mount Everest. They were very excited and sincerely happy with this new opportunity.

Would you go back there one day?

No! I want to cherish those first impressions forever. If I go again, I will probably see and feel a whole set of different things. I would rather preserve that first snapshot in my memory.

The film has a dedication. To whom is it dedicated?

It is dedicated to my friend Prof Lachezar Tsotsorkov, who, before leaving this earth, was a long-time source of support to the Bulgarian Antarctica base and expeditions. We knew each other for a long time. Prof Tsotsorkov used to help the Antarctic delegations a lot, two of the houses there are even his work. He was a man who understood the value of our scientists' travel to and research of this region, and he assisted them. Our place in Antarctica is a great honour, we are among the few countries represented on this continent.

Will we see footage of the camp in the film, of those houses you mentioned?

Yes, of course. I would also like to share with your audience that my first ever photo exhibition will be opened on 8 December. About 30 image shots will be from my stay in Antarctica. I carried a camera with me, and I am showing whatever sights I was able to capture somewhat capably (he laughs). After all, I am just an amateur and this is my hobby. My guru, teacher and photography instigator Zafer Galibov and Bulgarian National Radio photographer Ani Petrova helped me select the images. During the exhibition, I and Hristiyan Tsvyatkov will play the compositions we wrote in Antarctica. The exhibition will be on display in the foyer of the BNR.

You mentioned having played in extremely cold conditions before?

This was the crazy venture of Prof Alexander Iliev, who teaches pantomime and many other acting skills. He sold me on the idea of giving a concert at the highest altitude ever. Our group of musicians included Marina Velikova (soprano saxophone), Nikolay Ivanov (keyboard), Dari (percussions) and I. We had an audience of 12-13 people who managed to get to the high-altitude venue. Doni and Kotseto were our vocalists. We gave that never-before-done concert at an altitude of 5,350m (17,500ft) on the Kala Patthar (translated as black rock) plateau at the foot of Everest.

The spread of Covid-19 has become a troubling development globally once again after the world went through national lockdowns in the spring. What did you learn about yourself during that time of social isolation?

The situation gave us an opportunity to take stock of how we treat others, recognise the value in efforts to preserve and remain in touch with nature, to strengthen the relationship between man and nature, and appreciate our freedom and work. A lot of things. But perhaps the most important moment is for us to truly understand how small and vulnerable we are in such situations. Our ego is prone to soaring and sometimes we struggle to humble ourselves to our true place in this world.

 Close-up

Theodosii Spassov is a Bulgarian musician, a virtuoso player of kaval (eight-hole wooden “shepherd's” flute - editor's note). He was the first to start playing jazz on that instrument, creating his own unique style. His performances represent an unusual amalgamation of traditional folklore music, jazz and classical music. He has played with folklore bands and renowned Bulgarian and foreign musicians. He has also recorded music for film scores and theatre shows. In the past couple of years, he has also written music for symphonic orchestra and kaval.

Spassov has earned numerous international awards. In 1994 his name was included in the World's Encyclopaedia of Recorded Music, published in London. In 1995, Newsweek magazine named him one of the most talented musicians of Eastern Europe.

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