Maybe we should start by defining some of the keywords of this interview. Can you give us an idea of Bulgaria, chamber music, and Ardenza?
Bulgaria is a mountainous southeastern European country located on the Balkan peninsula and bordered by Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the east. One of the oldest nations in Europe, its about 7.5 million inhabitants speak Bulgarian and eat vast amounts of yoghurt made with the Lactobacillus bulgaricus culture.
Classical chamber music comprises pieces composed for ten or fewer instruments and each instrument is given a separate part. Just compare a string quartet (two violins, viola, cello) with the string section of a symphony orchestra, where many players play the same part, with exactly the same notes. The massed sounds of the orchestra make it music for big spaces, whereas chamber music takes its name and character from the intimacy of the smaller chambers of the 18th-century palaces in which this music was first heard.
Ardenza is an Italian word meaning passion, excitement, earnestness—just think of ardor and ardent. The adjective ardente can be found in French, Italian, and Portuguese with additional meanings such as burning, fiery, flaming, ardent; fervent; raging, yearning; fierce; earnest, warm; live, torrid, hot-blooded. In the remaining Romance languages, it's arder (to burn in Spanish) and ardere (combustion in Romanian). We chose the Ardenza form because of its closeness to the musical term “cadenza.” It also happens to be a place, a town on the western coast of Tuscany in Italy that I will be visiting for the first time in a few days.
|The Ardenza Trio in performance, May 17, 2006|
To me, ardor is what chamber music demands of the musicians who play it. If you’re not passionate about the very idea of getting together with like-minded musicians to play chamber music, then the music you make won’t be ardent. If the spark is missing, there will be no flame. This is probably true of most collaborative endeavors, but it’s especially obvious among small groups of musicians whether or not the excitement is there—if is is, you can hear it in the performance.
It’s a metaphor we could probably exploit a lot more than we do, but yes, that’s what we try to do in a number of ways. When we registered the foundation in Sofia as a public non-profit organization in 2008, our main motivation was to achieve the legal status required for us to apply for grants that could support the activities of the Ardenza Trio—it was all about sharing the excitement of our performances with more audiences. But since then we have developed many projects that allow us to share our passion for chamber music by other means and to extend our own definition of what chamber music can be.
By “other means”?
Yes. We’ve gradually discovered our ability to use chamber music (in the broadest possible interpretation of the phrase) to bring people together, especially groups of young musicians, musicians of diverse ages and stylistic orientations, and musicians who would not otherwise have even thought of collaborating. To bring the music they make before new audiences. The point of these projects is more than to do a workshop or organize a performance. It’s to create social situations where chamber music is a catalyst for positive human interaction that has the potential to change people’s lives—or at least their attitude toward chamber music!
How broadly are you interpreting “chamber music”?
As broadly as we need to in order to pursue our main projects.
So you come up with a project and then decide how (or if) it fits the foundation’s mission of promoting chamber music?
Not exactly. Besides, some of our projects, such as the biennial VIVAPIANO international competition for amateur pianists, promote other types of performance but fulfill other aspects of our mission by supporting the creation of new music and the local traditions of music education throughout Bulgaria.
Which is more central to the foundation’s mission, performance or education?
Both. They go hand-in-hand. When we put high-school age music students on stage with seasoned professionals for a concert during our annual AmBul Festival of American and Bulgarian Music, we do it as a part of a consciously-designed learning experience, as part of a process of discovery that has as much to reveal to the pros as it does to the students.
The AmBul Festival?
Yes. In 2008 it was AmBul8 (ambulate), and the AmBul part of the name stuck. We bring together American and Bulgarian musicians to introduce new American and Bulgarian chamber works to Sofia audiences during the first half of October each year.
So it’s a series of string quartet and piano trio performances featuring the Sofia Quartet and Ardenza Trio?
No, not at all. The AmBul Festival centers on forming NEW artistic relationships, so we put a lot of effort into putting together other combinations of performers and instruments, with as many as 20 players on stage simultaneously.
Is that still chamber music?
It depends on how broadly you define it. <smile> To me it’s still chamber music because it is our intent to interact according to a chamber music ethos of interdependence among the participants. Also, to use the business metaphor, because we dispense with the services of a conductor, we are self-managing and share equal responsibility for the musical “product” we deliver.
You’ve mentioned the VIVAPIANO competition and the AmBul Festival. What other projects are on the Ardenza agenda?
Our newest project was launched back in September as the Rila Music Exchange. It’s an intensive international workshop for young ethno musicians, who teach each other folk melodies from around the world by ear (even though they can read music, they prefer this more traditional approach) and then perform them in a series of outdoor concerts in villages around the Rila Monastery in southwestern Bulgaria. We were lucky to meet up with two very capable and passionate—if they aren’t ardent, nobody is!—ethno musicians, Swedish violinist Sofia Hogstadius and Belgian accordion player Myriam De Bonte, who had the vision for this event and the skills to put it together. The earnestness and excitement of chamber music is also found in the ethno experience, but we were surprised to learn how holistic it is. The participants live and breathe music day and night, and every meal or hike is inevitably transformed into an impromptu rehearsal. We also learned just how actively involved an audience can be in a performance when the villagers joined with the musicians in a traditional Bulgarian ring dance!
Will Rila Music Exchange become an annual event?
That’s the plan. The Rila Municipality, our cooperating organization, gave us a lot of support and very pleased with the results of this “pilot project,” so we are working with an international youth committee to expand it into the Bulgarian component of a European network of ethno music workshops.
Does support mean financial sponsorship?
It can, but in this case the support was in the form of free access to rehearsal and performance spaces, free transportation to the neighboring villages, that kind of thing. This time we were able to keep expenses down to the point that participant fees could cover them. Our older ongoing projects receive funding from Bulgarian government agencies that distribute funds from the EU for cultural initiatives. This may sound impressive, but the level of funding has not been. And of course getting it means doing a lot of grant writing.
This all sounds very exciting, very “ardente” in fact. Where do you see yourself and the foundation five or ten years from now?
The Soviet-style “five-year plan” lost its appeal here following the rise of the Iron Curtain [Bulgaria was one of the Soviet satellite countries during the Cold War era], but we still try to plan ahead. Right now we are trying to consolidate our activities and to look more critically at how they reflect the foundation’s mission. VIVAPIANO is currently our most reliably financed project and the one that reaches the most people, so we are putting special effort into expanding it in anticipation of the 2014 and 2016 editions (amateur pianists of all ages and nationalities are invited to participate!). But in general we want to keep doing what we’re doing, to do more of it and do it better!
What else should we be asking you?
It’s been an unusual year for us as a chamber ensemble because our violinist Galina Koycheva discovered after our fall 2011 Balkan tour and just before our Vienna debut concert that she was pregnant with her first child, Iveta, born in June 2012. So most of our 2012 trio concerts involved guest violinists, giving us the chance to enjoy working with new musical partners and also to reconfirm our commitment to the original Ardenza team. We are looking forward to welcoming Galina back to the trio in 2013.
Copyright © 2013 by Geoffrey Dean