"To Create an Orchestra"

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"To Create an Orchestra"
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IX X XI XII
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XXI
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by Julia Hristova
August 1997,
The village of Slaveykovo, near the town of Dryanovo

I often heard people say "she's hopping mad!"
Who knows. They might have been right.

I
If I decided to write about it now when it's still too early, when what happened is still close to me, it is because of the chaos in my mind. Memories unexpectedly rush into it, hundreds of them flooding back. They're in a state of confusion. I hope words will help me put things into order and thus help me get rid of the demons... I remember the frogs in Kurasawa's autobiography, I have the same feelings he had. I don't want to look in the mirror. But my wish to tame the demons is very strong... 

I'm not going to use the diary I kept for the simple reason that most of the things recorded there are unpleasant - my daily encounters with "no's". I prefer to rely on my memory which has sifted things out. The mind's ability to forget selectively is one of the sources of our powers of creativity. The good remains, the bad is forgotten.
The things which I shall be writing about happened in the period between the summer of 1990 and the summer of 1997.
The events of those years turned all our lives upside down. For me personally this meant a lot. In fact everything. I can't say which event was the most important, the most significant. Yet two things stand out. The collapse of communism brought with it an enormous sense of relief: I had obviously felt an internal resistance to it and now I felt happy. It was a wonderful feeling; but I realized it had to fined material expression...
To create an orchestra! The fact that I've succeeded throws me into confusion. I ask myself, "Could I be one of the chosen?" If you give in to thoughts for long, you are bound to make mistakes. I try to run away from them. Everything that happened was simply a coincidence of circumstances.
I suppose there will be contradictions in what I write. In the last few years, the dynamics of our lives is different from that of the rest of the world. In fact, the timelessness in which we lived for decades (Pencho Slaveykov described this kind of existence as "living in a herd") forced us to take time into consideration. To my mind the inevitability of this switch-over is the challenge before us, Bulgarians. Soon after the last general election one of the orchestra's friends, John Tennant, asked me whether his impression was correct that many of the intellectuals in Bulgaria preferred life under communism and if so why. My answer was that his impression was correct, but I don't think he understood my explanation. How can you explain to an American that life below a decent standard is only à superficial reason for the dream of the time of simulated care for culture. The fact of the matter is that you can attain high standards of living only through change and to pass from timelessness into time is unbelievably difficult. And something else - this can come only after you've accepted the fact that our professions were realized in the invented world of the half-truths...

II
Slaveykovo is more than just a village close to the town of Dryanovo where we spend our summer vacations. My parents bought a house there in 1982 and over the years it has assumed symbolic meaning for our family. One evening last July my bother was dreaming the dreams typical for most Bulgarians today, how my son would go to the States, and he'd be followed by my elder nephew and then, later by his younger brother Goshko. And how they'd never return . "Right," the twelve-year old Goshko exclaimed, "we'll come back only for our vacations and we'll come straight here, to Slaveykovo!"
That's how it is. There are places which are not connected with your birth, or with any important events, places where you haven't lived long. A month and half every year and then again the following year... Slaveykovo, a blessed place full of the good energy we stored up here, a place where nothing bad happened, but only the best. The land of Slaveykovo - its aura was my protective chain-mail.
The summer of 1993. My parents had just mortgaged the house in Slaveykovo because the New Symphony Orchestra needed money. The money was used right away to pay its members their monthly salaries. Not being able to pay salaries for two months was a bad sign, but at that time I didn't think for a single minute that there were ahead of us months and years of trials - something which continued unit February 1997. It was simply an August evening in 1993. It was the orchestra's third season. I had the uneasy foreboding that something bad would happen, hoping at the same time that my intuition was wrong. As always, I was the last to leave the office. It was early evening. All the musicians from the orchestra had collected their salaries. I was waiting for my tram at the stop in front of the bingo-hall at the National Palace of Culture when I heard footsteps behind me. "Blast it," a familiar voice groaned behind me, " I lost my whole salary!" "My friend, you're not the only one," said another familiar voice. I froze! The money from Slaveykovo had been gambled away in the bingo-hall, spent on drinks and food in a matter of a few hours. I knew my musicians very well - most of them were still students. What else can you expect of them but to spend their money. There was something else which stunned me.
I think it was then that I first realized the price I had to pay in future. I realized that what had happened and was going to keep happening with the New Symphony Orchestra was, for the public not the Slaveykovo pledge but a bingo game. Perhaps that's why people got tired of having faith in me, of encouraging me, of helping me. Perhaps they had never understood that the idea of creating an orchestra was not a matter of ambition or of obstinacy; neither was it simply a battle to retain my Slaveykovo, my protective chain-mail. I had "pledged" my heart, because I was creating an orchestra I loved. This kind of battles can't be lost. They go when we go.
When you make love you don't trumpet it to the world. The same is true of the things you do from your heart. You simply cannot cry out: listen: I'm working from my heart. There's no such expression.

 

III

It has cast a spell on me. I often tell the members of my orchestra: put your faith in music, have confidence in it, try to serve it, not use it. Then you'll get in return something unlike anything else in the life God has given you to live. It will be terrible if you try to use it, or sell it - then you'll lose all self-confidence, you'll become insecure, you'll have the feeling of insufficiency. There are boundaries which one should not cross. If one does, one goes in a direction from which there's no return.
I do not think that today's commercialized society can influence substantially the musician's idea of Music. Only short-sighted people will ignore or reject those values in music which made a fanatic out of Toscanini, a self-exiled worshipper of Bach out of Gould, or Self-sacrifice out of Shostakovich. To say today that time weighs heavy on us and that a musician's career is the most important thing, would be the same as saying that music only a profession.
Music has always been something else too. It is that other thing that makes the musician a special breed. I suppose the devotion I have in mind is determined by an unceasing, inborn passion which is similar to love, a love that never dies. That devotion is a gift of God and the musician's only task is to learn how to reveal it. At an early stage it is a matter of acquiring different techniques and means of expression, later - the ability to find the essence, and yet later - the ability to return to something which has already been experienced, or the enjoyment of a detail, which could sometimes be just a note...
I think that the basic expression of that devotion is the patience we show throughout our lives. I suppose it is an inalienable privilege of all musicians of genius. Why did Brahms write his First Symphony when he was forty? When Schuman heard one of his chamber works, composed by him when he was twenty, he described it enthusiastically as a "hidden symphony". Why then did Brahms end his masterpiece twenty years later? Why?
I am happy I knew Dobrin Petkov, a musician of the kind I've just described. I remember one of his rehearsals in Plovdiv about twenty years ago... I could hear nothing when approaching the hall - not even the noise of the hushed orchestra. I decided that the rehearsal has been canceled when suddenly a French horn began playing a chorale... Dobrin was rehearsing on the empty stage only with the French horns as if he had the entire orchestra before him ...(If I remember correctly, he was rehearsing a Bartok concerto)... Time passed and Dobrin kept on working - stopping the musicians, giving them his instructions, continuing, stopping them again repeating, continuing... I was awe struck because I was present at a kind of musical ritual, which the audience never witnesses, but which is wonderful. Those are the moments when the dead notes on the music sheets are transformed into art... Ecstatic moments!
The dates of many of the concerts of the New Symphony Orchestra, in the first seven years of its existence, accidentally coincided with events important for society as a whole : the first concert - on 13 October 1991, its first tour in Europe - on Easter Day, its first crucifixion - on Good Friday. One date, however, is very special: February 10, 1992, the orchestra's first official premiere, announced by the first black-and-white posters, the first concert of its first season. Exactly five years had passed since Dobrin Petkov's death. I got it in my mind that the New Symphony Orchestra should start its independent life exactly on that date. If it were to exist, I wanted its course in life to be like that of Dobrin Petkov's...
Now, when I look at the orchestra's music director, Rossen Milanov, I am convinced that he resembles Dobrin Petkov not only in appearance, that behind the concentrated face, as he lifts his baton, is hidden the same respect for, and devotion to music which Dobrin Petkov had. And the same patience, too.

IV
When the telephone stops ringing, silence descends. It seems to drag on and on... It has no color, no smell, no air. It is supposed to be emptiness yet the clamp round your head gets tighter and tighter. Nothingness presses on it. You stop thinking. You only feel. The feeling starts from your toes and creeps higher. You stop moving. Part of you has already lost its senses. It has become a victim of disgust. Then reason steps in. It calls up images. Your heart starts generating energy. The feeling of love is restored... Movement is restored. But the clamp pressing your head is still there... You feel lonely... You are filled with goodness but what good is it? Your sense of uselessness fills you with despairs. What did you do wrong?
I usually coped with the feeling of uselessness by touching things. Touching various objects as if they were living beings, feeling their texture, sharpened my senses while my fingers were sliding over the surface. Touching things as if brought me back to life...and "nothingness" was transformed in my world. "How long will this continue?" I used to ask myself.
I went off the rails only once and its effect lasted for about a month. I think I was not prepared for the total onslaught of bad memories. I called them demons. They bore down on me suddenly and in great numbers:
"Please, Mother, don't flip and don't commit suicide!" Petyo looked at me with a serious expression on his face. There was no emotion in his voice. He just dropped the words in a matter of fact tone. I told myself. "That's it. I must cross the street." I started off slowly. I crossed it and went on. It didn't work. It was all the same even when I continued moving. "Nothingness" had taken the place of my heart. Then I met a face I knew. My godmother. I had not seen her for years: "Your eyes, where are your eyes?" she asked.
And the demons left me that very moment. It was in the month of March, 1995.

 

 

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