I first fell in love with Georgy when I was in eight grade. It happened before I even met him. Before we said a word to each other. Well, he doesn’t really talk much, so the first word was probably mine. I fell in love with him after I heard him play the Mendelssohn violin concerto in a crowded auditorium at the Sofia Academy of Music. I think that at that moment I decided to become a musician.
Up until then I had to be pushed uphill with a Soviet tank by an army of yelling, frustrated music professionals, parents and well wishers. They all said things like “you have a responsibility to your talent” and “your life will be nothing unless you practice.” “Nobody will love you unless you practice.” “You are a horrible, worthless human being.”
You get the picture. To me practicing was something so boring. All those scales and études. Memorizing endless inventions, hands separately, then hands together. Living up to expectations. Or rather never living up to expectations. All I wanted to do was read. Book after book after book. On trains, on the street, while eating, while practicing even. I would hide my book behind my music and would pretend to practice by playing something on autopilot while at the same time reading and re-reading books. I always got caught. People were always disappointed in me. The other thing I loved to do is write. Things like this blog. Only more interesting. Like a book, entitled “My adventures in the Wild West”. Or. “The escape”. Obviously, I was trying to send a message.
Just around the time when I fell in love with him, I also met Vessela. She became my teacher. She gave me her whole heart. At the time I thought that there is nothing more natural in the world than spending hours at the home of your piano teacher, playing music without looking at a clock. Then taking a break, drinking coffee (her) and hot chocolate (me) and listening to Marta Deyanova. I fell in love with her too. She was a woman pianist. A Bulgarian. She was someone who had the most intuitive phrasing I have ever heard. The most lovely sound. Her music was raw. It was an emotion. It was something you connected to before you even knew what happened. I was stepping into a world of magic. Of endless wonder.
Vessela was a graduate of the Moscow conservatory. Up until then I hated the Russian school. With a vengeance. I hated it as much as I hated wearing uniforms and reciting slogans. Giving reports to communist elders or marching around. I hated everything to do with the Soviets. I thought that in Moscow they eat rats and lock up their children in jails with pianos and pictures of fat party leaders like Brezhnev or Andropov for 12 hours a day. I had no idea, that music, practicing, would become my raison d’être.
But when it happened there was no turning back. Practicing became a journey through time. A daily escape from Stalin and Hitler and Trump. Into the hands of Bach. And everything that came after Bach to this very moment. Not only in music. In poetry. In language. In visual art and science. In history. In literature, of course. Vessela’ s home was my sanctuary. My escape from all the dreadful things in this world. I would sit at the piano with her next to me, listening to stories about Schumann and Chopin. About astrology and philosophy. With every note I felt more complete, more alive, more human and proud to be so. Proud, because I carried in my arms all the creativity and all the achievements of the world before me. Because music, like science and art, is what we, humans, leave behind. Forever. That’s truly the only path to immortality.
Georgy had that look that sometimes teenagers get when they have found their obsession. I see that look in the faces of many of the young musicians I work with today. A dreamy, slightly tired, slightly distracted look … as if they are somewhere else spiritually. Preoccupied with their dreams and ideas. Escaping. This word keeps coming to mind.
There is so much to be escaped in this dreadful, imperfect world. Here, in New York City, we are surrounded with negativity and agression. With greed. Ruthlessness. Trumps that are far worse than the man himself. Ugly buildings that dare call themselves “architecture”. Like the one that they are erecting on top of the old Steinway Hall on 57th Street. A manifestation of arrogance and everything that is vain and wicked. Everything that is wrong and that will one day kill us all.
I sometimes joke that global warming is not such a bad thing when you think about it: imagine all of these towers covered under water. Mother Nature taking it all back. Finally saying “enough is enough.” To hell with your “architecture” and your billions. To hell with your yachts and private jets. To hell with your bickering and lies.
When I envision the end of the world, I always see the final scenes of Kubrick’s films. Especially AI, which was done by Spielberg, I know, but very fateful to Kubrick’s sketches. What music will there be at the end? What visions, what overwhelming feelings …Will you meet your Blue Fairy? Will she then grant you your wish? Will your mother finally love you?
These days I often encounter people who never listen to classical music. Not even in the elevator. They come upon it almost by accident. Like in our village in Bulgaria. So many people came to me and told me “we never listen to this type of music. We had no idea how great it is!” So while we, musicians, spend our days and nights wondering what is the difference between sotto voce and mezza voce, the majority of the people living on this earth today go through their entire lives without ever hearing the beginning of Beethoven’s seventh. Or the end of Winterrise. So how do you make a bridge between what we do and bring music to them without being arrogant or dismissive? How do you talk with people who hate Berg.
Well, scratch the last sentence. You just don’t.
I want to end this on a positive note. It is not easy. The gap between what we do and the reality on the ground is so big that sometimes the End of the World seems like a relief rather than something to dread.
But until then, we will continue to live in the arms of Bach and Beethoven and Rachmaninov. And Ligeti. And Kubrick.
Here is a picture of Ingmar Bergman as an angel, to brighten things up a little.