Many of the problems today are due to the disbalance between our intellectual and spiritual development
Материалът на български виж ТУК.
Interview with maestro Nayden Todorov by Ralie Blag
for “Bright sparks in the Aura of Bulgaria”
Photoes: Alexsandra Vali
Translation: Neil Scarth
‘There are no such things as facts any more,’ conclude the comedy programmes dedicated to Donald Trump and his electoral campaign. This thought occurred to me because I recently quite often have to figure out which of the many and various things in the realms of the internet ascribed to any public figure are truthful and which have nothing in common either with reality (the many-layered nature of which we can, by way of excuse, assume not everyone has the means to perceive) or even with certain elementary and blindingly evident ‘facts’… The situation is so tragic that it’s now bordering on the hysterically funny. Sometimes I wonder how people have failed to learn to distinguish at least the most blatant balderdash. And how, even with the most unquestionably beautiful and worthwhile things, there’s always someone who has to pipe up and start slinging generously large quantities of mud. Clearly, people just don’t learn and we’ll carry on like this for a long time to come. Fortunately, the world is nevertheless full of beautiful and worthwhile things (in defiance of our increasing barbarism in the public sphere) and we can only envy those who have acquired the ability to focus mainly on these, because… ‘Blessedness is not the reward of virtue,’ as Spinoza philosophically concluded centuries ago, ‘but virtue itself’!
It’s precisely from this more blithe and optimistic angle on the world that we bring to you the following lines from a most cordial interview with the conductor Nayden Todorov, the director of the Russe Opera (head of the Sofia Philharmonic as of January 2017): this has been the venue for, amongst many and various shows, performances of the rock opera ‘Nostradamus’ by Nikolo Kotzev.
How did the world premiere of the rock opera ‘Nostradamus’ come to be performed on the Russe stage?
I and Nikolo Kotzev have known each other for quite a few years. We’d previously started to put on concerts featuring the orchestra of the Russe Opera and his group ‘Kikimora’ together at the Mozart Festival in Pravets, thanks to an invitation from the well-known singer Christina Angelakova. Then we did a joint concert with an exceptionally interesting programme in Svishtov, and finally in the spring of this year (2016) we put on a performance of ‘Asenevtsi’, his work for choir and orchestra on a historical theme. When someone hears it, they can feel proud to be a Bulgarian. So that’s how the idea of putting on ‘Nostradamus’ naturally emerged. This has been a large-scale project of his for many years and I’m extremely glad that, in the final analysis, he decided we should do it together, greatly aided by the ‘Beehive’ Foundation. The public’s reaction shows that this is a production with a future. In this regard, I’d like to mention that Nick is famous in both rock and classical circles, i.e. he’s one of the few musicians who can compliment themselves on the fact that the audience and musicians of different genres all like him.
We know that there had been previous offers to Nikolo to stage ‘Nostradamus’ in Bulgaria but that these initiatives had failed to secure the necessary budget. How did things come about this time?
As a matter of principle, we in the Russe Opera have a motto and this motto has always worked for us, namely that ‘When a person wants to do something, he’ll find a way; when he doesn’t, he’ll find reasons not to’. All of us as one at the Russe Opera wanted to do this piece, because it’s exceptional music and for most of us it’s interesting in terms of subject matter. Apart from that, the help from the ‘Beehive’ Foundation came along and this provided financing for the advertising and for inviting the big stars who came for this extravaganza. We believe that we have shown that it’s possible to make things happen and we hope that many others will follow our example and that soon this work will be performed wherever people wish. (New performances are already in the pipeline – dates are already announced for Sofia, Plovdiv etc.)
Contradictory reactions to your work as a conductor and director of the Russe Opera are to be found around the Internet as usual. Does the negative trolling upset you?
To that I’d say that if we didn’t do anything, then we wouldn’t get any bad reactions. When somebody does something, there’ll always be someone who likes it and others who don’t. One of the most wonderful things about the arts is that for us 2 plus 2 doesn’t necessarily have to make 4. Two plus two sometimes makes a different total, according to what state we find ourselves in, according to the day we’ve decided to do something in particular on… It’s noticeable that exactly the same piece sounds different when performed in spring and in winter. This is because of the particular state people are in. The same thing applies to the reception on the part of the public. The public is sometimes ready to accept something while at other times it’s not ready.
So if I don’t want to get any contradictory reactions I’ll just stay at home and, since I really like spaghetti, I’ll eat spaghetti, I’ll drink coke and I’ll be a happy man (let’s suppose). Except that for me it’s very interesting to do new things, unfamiliar things, beautiful things. And this might sound a bit egotistical – many people say that they do everything for the public – I work entirely for the public but I do it mainly to feel good. I’m happy when I see those in the public who are happy. If there are ten people in the hall who have appreciated something, then it’s worth the effort. And when there are not ten, but hundreds and thousands, it’s even nicer.
Has the public here in Bulgaria grown accustomed to the combining of symphonic and rock sounds the way a rock opera like ‘Nostradamus’ does?
I know people who only like one genre, whether it be jazz or only folk music, only classical or even just opera – there are people like that. They don’t listen to anything outside the genre and for them everything else is… they sometimes even use the word ‘rubbish’. For me, this can’t be the truth because music is not to be divided into genres – music is to be divided into beautiful and not beautiful. When it’s beautiful, it moves people on the subconscious level – if it’s moving, then that means it’s beautiful. Here we can bring in ‘Nostradamus’: does it move people? I think the audience was ecstatic two days in a row, which is enough, so if someone happens to speak negatively of ‘Nostradamus’ then they probably haven’t listened to it.
You’re a man of the arts, where the cultivation of emotion is a leading factor and the source of deep fulfilment. Doesn’t administrative work stifle this? Isn’t this activity boring and monotonous or can it also be a source of true inspiration?
It’s a complicated question. On the one hand, administrative work teaches the man of the arts in me to be organised, to prioritise and to respect the work of others. On the other hand, the artist in me gives the administrator new and unconventional ideas about how to develop the institution. I’m in charge of, about solutions outside the traditional framework which nevertheless help many people to tackle the problems we’re faced with every day.
Overall, I reckon that an administrator gains more by being an artist (if he manages to rein in to some degree the individualism and even egocentricity typical of people in the arts) with their unexpected ideas about complex situations connected to management. The artist may also have problems with the administrator – because if you get stuck in a routine, something typical for a desk job, then that really does kill off the creative flights of fancy of the man of the arts.
It’s a great responsibility to keep the concert hall full, to cover the costs: are there moments when having to decide what’s to be performed weighs heavy on you?
Sometimes it doesn’t just weigh me down. There are cases when I have to take decisions about hitherto unfamiliar situations. I have a choice: whether to give up on the unknown and just live with what’s safe and familiar but which doesn’t lead to any kind of development but rather to a slow death instead in my view. Or to take a risk: in such cases, there are two possibilities: for us to succeed and to rise to a fundamentally new level in our work, or for us to fail spectacularly. The interesting thing is that when we succeed with new ideas then everyone says ‘WE succeeded’ whereas when things don’t turn out well and it looks like it’s going to be a failure, then they say ‘YOU failed’, even before the outcome of the situation is clear. That’s normal, of course, but despite that it doesn’t exactly help me in moments when I need some moral support.
We had a similar situation connected precisely to the covering of costs when it turned out that after a rather ‘interesting’ reform we were supposed to work according to market principles. Yes, but the Russe Opera, despite being one of the biggest in the country, is located in a city – Russe –which is far from one of the most prosperous, financially speaking. All kinds of forecasts indicated that serious calamities lay ahead in the near future. Then, after a great deal of thought, I decided to take a risk and stage some shows over at NDK, the National Palace of Culture, in Sofia. I remember I couldn’t sleep for weeks on end with worry because up until that point this was not common practice and nobody knew whether we’d cope financially or we’d crash and burn. After some time it became clear that it had been the right and most effective solution. But only I know how much this cost me…
Oh, ‘Tomorrowland’! It didn’t go unnoticed at all – at least by some of us Following this train of thought, apart from music, what are your sources of inspiration and enthusiasm: the things that energise you, delight you, impress, enrich you and make you think?
I’m an avid reader. I have a substantial library of favourite books, scattered around the towns where I live. Recently I’ve been having fun writing short stories which I then discuss with my friends. My other passion is cinema as you can see. When I travel alone and find myself in unfamiliar cities, the first thing I do is to find the concert hall and the opera, then after that the cinema which is closest to my hotel. I buy my favourite films on DVD, not just to have them always at hand, but because I believe that in this way I’m making a contribution to the producers and I’m helping them, along with thousands of other people, in their decision to make other similar films. Sometimes in the evening when I’m overly tired and don’t feel like thinking about anything I might sit in front of the computer and play computer games. Otherwise I just like to take a walk around the streets of new cities and have a look at the buildings. A person can learn a very great deal about the mindset of a nation from the architecture.
This year (2016) we made some interesting deals with each other in my family: they got me to the top of the Eiffel Tower and I took them to Disneyland (I’m much obliged to the friends who made this possible).
Do you have favourite composers or pieces to conduct? And are they different from your favourite ones to listen to?
That’s a really difficult question. I’m often firmly convinced that the work I’m conducting at the moment is the most beautiful one and I wonder how I don’t seem to have noticed this fact before.
This is probably due to the fact that by getting deep down into the work I can see the hidden message in it and the mastery of the composer who wrote it, which often go unnoticed by the ordinary listener.
Apart from that, I recall how in my childhood I regularly used to fall asleep to cassettes by Abba and Queen. At school, I never got up in the mornings without first having heard Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin: I even had to buy a second gramophone record of it because I’d worn the first one out During my student years in Vienna I was in the habit of listening to the symphonies of Mahler for hours every evening. I also recall spending every free minute listening to La Boheme by Puccini over a whole year in Israel. Over the last few years, I’ve got obsessed with the works of Shostakovich. Looking back, these passions come and go, but the love of beautiful music remains.
What could revive Bulgaria in your view? And is it possible in the current worldwide state of instability for a moral and spiritual resurgence to remain a high priority for the individual as well as for society as a whole?
My personal conviction is that first people’s thinking has to change – the rest is a relatively quick and painless process. I believe that many of the problems today are due to the absolute disbalance between our intellectual and spiritual development. Ethical norms have turned into outmoded concepts; people don’t seem to be able to understand that our whole society is held up solely by ethical relations between people and that without them our utter collapse is absolutely certain. If I can put it figuratively, then our society is a building where people are the bricks which the building is made of and morality is the mortar which holds these bricks together so the whole construction doesn’t fall down. That’s why I don’t believe in phrases like ‘Nothing personal, just business’ or ‘The end justifies the means’. I’m convinced that if people start to try and see what’s beautiful in life more, because that hasn’t disappeared, then everything around will change for the better. It seems simple, but it’s not actually like that at all. Yet how simple it sounds: just be good!
Nayden Todorov: Highlights
For several years, the phrase ‘Life is one of the most complicated things’ has become my motto. Every day goes to show me this in various ways. At any one moment the most mind-boggling events take place, as a result of which many people suffer while at the same time somewhere else there are people with quite genuine reasons to rejoice. Sometimes (actually quite often) one and the same event leads to a private drama for one person and boundless joy for others.
Well, now, the year 2017 has already arrived – at least that’s what my friends in Tokyo tell me…
The leap year 2016 has really turned out to be quite lethal. Life is a cycle, but this year the losses to the worlds of science and art have been somehow more palpable. But then again, on the other hand, who knows what talents have been born?
If a person tries to perceive the life around him in all its entirety, he could quickly go mad. That’s why many people have closed in on themselves and see only the world which interests them. That is their salvation.
I learned to smile from an early age. I smile when I’m happy, I smile when I’m in pain. Sometimes it’s hard for me to crack a smile but I try to nevertheless. Because this is a sign to me and those around me that things will turn out alright sooner or later. For some people: here; for others, in the next life. The only important things, at least for me, is not to lose hope. Because hope is one of the most powerful weapons in the world – it has been the downfall and the victory of individuals, societies and whole nations. That’s why I’m once again going to be with a smile today, not because I believe in the present but because I believe in the future!
– Nayden Todorov , 31.12.2016 (FB)
Lately I’ve got to thinking more and more about how complicated our world is. I watch an ogre of a conductor. I listen to the music he makes: glorious! I watch another: good, polite, kind, humane. I listen: nothing special.
I don’t even know where the reason lies: in the person themselves or in the attitude of the musicians towards him. Because music, in the final analysis, is created by people with instruments, the conductor just steers the vehicle. And don’t you think that it’s only like that in my profession!
A small but weighty example: in recent days one of the most amazing presidents the USA has ever had in its history is on his way out. Humane, principled, kind. Just listen to any one of his speeches and see him at the concerts he arranged at the White House. A president to dream of! In a little over a week’s time his second term runs out and he’s leaving America and the world much more divided and conflicted than he found it. Is the problem with him? Or the people around him? I don’t know. It’s the same story with conductors…
As I said above, the world is much more complicated than we’d like. There are too many layers in us and around us… It’s not a world for the morally colour-blind but for people who see every tiny nuance in human relations.
– Naiden Todorov , 12.01.2016 (FB)