Violinist Vasko Vassilev: I look for the positive in any situation

If I have to describe the first 50 years of my life - the word is childhood

Cancelling concerts due to pandemic was not remotely easy. We thought long and hard about moving them to next summer, but I and my team decided that it would not be fair to lock up the money people spent on tickets for such a long period of time. So we refunded the ticket prices and I hope we can have these concerts when a sense of certainty and calm returns to our lives, the violinist Vasko Vassilev says in an interview to Monitor.

Mr Vassilev, how did you come up with the idea of gifting the Bulgarian audience with a concert on 14 October, on the day you turn 50?

You know that feeling whenever your birthday draws near and everyone around you starts plotting and teaming up for surprises, gifts and all sorts of initiatives? Well, I really wanted to avoid that part, especially with the weird and difficult year we have had because of the pandemic. When I got the invitation of Joy Station, I did not hesitate for a moment. There is nothing better than being busy on your birthday with doing what you love most. The concert setlist was a bit surprising this time.

You had preannounced that this concert would be like a soundtrack to the photo album Vasko Vassilev Backstage, which features images from performances in the UK, Spain, Japan and Bulgaria. How long have you known photographer Hristo Rusev, who took the pictures, and when did your friendship grow into a professional collaboration?

Hristo and I met when he was just a teenager. He would sneak out of school to take photos. I came across images he had snapped before we even met. Over the years, we interacted mostly at my concerts and gradually developed a professional relationship and a liking for each other. Some time ago, he pitched me the idea of a backstage series and I said yes right away. His presence never felt intrusive and I knew he had the talent to capture special moments that few would notice.

Did you find yourself surprised by any picture featured on the photo album when you perused it for the first time?

I am really impressed by the final product. I had already seen the images digitally and really liked the decision to make them black and white. However, the truth is that what the Knigomania team has done with them is fantastic! I would very much like to thank them because the quality is impeccable and the moment I picked up the photo album I felt the level of attention to detail and the dedication to making a high-quality product.

Did the pandemic spur the idea of releasing a photo album as a surrogate for direct communication with your fans at a time that has made such contact infinitely more challenging?

The shots are from 2019 - from London, Valencia, Tokyo and the national tour in Bulgaria that we did last November, and that turned out to be the last major one before we entered this new world order. It is fairer to say that the pandemic afforded us the time to make this a really quality project. I truly hope that the collection of shots selected for this photo album does not turn out to be a full stop on the musical scene as we know it. I want to believe that.

During the period when everyone was stuck at home, did you miss your interactions with the audience?

Of course, cancelling concerts scheduled through the month of June was not remotely easy. We thought long and hard about moving them to next summer, but I and my team decided that it would not be fair to lock up the money people spent on tickets for such a long period of time. So we refunded the ticket prices and I hope we can have these concerts when a sense of certainty and calm returns to our lives.

How did the period of isolation affect you both as an artist and a citizen of the world?

My life philosophy has always been about looking for the positive in every situation. That is what happened in this case as well. I worked to check off my list all the tasks I had pushed to the back burner, I learnt new things, I bought more gadgets to be able to work on records and different collaborations remotely. I cannot say that I like being stuck in one place, but it is made more tolerable by the fact that there is a real reason for it and it concerns our health and life.

Was there an undertone of nostalgia to your return to the stage following that period of isolation? Did you sense that your fans were starved for live music performances after such a long lull?

Yes, I felt the air of excitement coming off of those of us on stage and in the audience alike. This need - on both sides of the experience - is strong and unlikely to disappear. I rather think that it will get stored inside of us, ready to be released whenever possible.

Your online performance of Krivo Sadovsko Horo (a traditional Bulgarian dance - editor's note) with Ara Malikian was a hit. Did the quarantine allow you to make arrangements for another collaboration, maybe live on stage, this time around?

Ara and I have been really close friends for years. This pandemic afforded us the luxury of finding time to call each other every day, have conversations and even play together. Now we are back to assembling the puzzles of our lives in this already familiar reality, but we recognise it will be hard and take some time. We have not made plans for getting on stage together, but it is always a possibility.

Will there be a new normal in the concert world following the Covid-19 pandemic? What would it look like?

I think more time and patience on our side is needed until scientists come up with a vaccine or a reliable treatment because that is what will give the audience, and the artists, reassurance. From a bigger picture point of view, I think that some humility on the part of humankind is not a bad thing.

Reflection is a complex and deeply personal process, but if you have to describe the first 50 years of your life in one sentence, what would it be?

I can sum it up in one word - childhood.

What do you wish for yourself going forward?

 I wish only for health - for me and the people close to me, my loved ones. I believe that beyond that everything is a matter of planning, organising and making choices.

Close-up:

Vasko Vassilev was born in 1970 in Sofia. He got his first violin lessons at the age of five. Just three years later, he did his first recording - with the Sofia Philharmonic. At the age of 10, Vassilev earned a government scholarship to the Central School of Music of the Moscow Conservatory. At 17, he won the first of the big trio of international violin competitions - Jacques Thibault in Paris, France. A year later he moved to London, where he furthered his education at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He won the Carl Flesch International Competition in London. Aged 19, he won the Paganini Competition in Genoa, Italy, and the All-UK Inter-College Music Competition. In 1994 he permanently settled in the British capital, becoming the youngest ever concert master in the history of Covent Garden.

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