The Malta Independent 21 October 2019, Monday

Marie Benoit's Diary: A striking achievement for three Bulgarian musicians

Marie Benoît Tuesday, 22 May 2018, 09:43 Last update: about 2 years ago

There  is so much going on when it comes to culture that even the vultures amongst us must be finding it difficult having  to make decisions as to which event they are going to attend. In my case parking, and how easy or difficult it is, dictates my choice. Mostly.  I always seem to be in a mad, tearing hurry and this is probably because I try to do too much. I have finally learnt to go early, wherever it is. Much better for my nerves - and the parking.

I enjoy music as a background to cooking, writing, Googling and doing household chores. I don't function so well without it.  All kinds of music. From Renzo Arbore, to Piaf; Chopin to Liszt. Music distracts the part of my brain that would otherwise be trying to distract me from whatever I am doing. You know the Facebook part; conversations on Messenger; the shortbread-covered-in-chocolate part and the constant diving to the fridge and the Goodies cupboard hoping they will produce something delicious.

No loud beat-heavy music for me but the need for calmer music as long as it isn't bland. I like music of melodic richness even if I have listened to it hundreds of times over the years. Familiarity doesn't breed contempt in this case. On the contrary.

The vocal concert at San Anton Palace, last week came as a complete surprise. I scanned the programme. The three singers, a tenor, a soprano and a pianist, were Bulgarian.  I had not heard of and did not know anything about three of the composers whose works they sang: Orlando di Lasso, Dobri Hristov and Parashkev Hadjiev.  I haven't had time to Google them yet but I will.

I breathed a sigh of relief for there was also the familiar: Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Schubert, Claude Debussy, Leonard Bernstein, Ernest De Curtis (Ah! Torna a Surriento on the programme), George Gershwin and Francesco Sartori (Con te partiró). I settled in my chair and was ready to spend an enjoyable evening of music in beautiful surroundings.

The surprise was that two of the musicians were visually impaired and the tenor completely blind.  There was a feeling of instant admiration on my side. I love survivors who do not allow life to make mincemeat out of them. Would I have been able to cope in this way under these circumstances? Would I exchange my cross for theirs, as a friend likes to admonish me?

I have to say that I have never been in awe or feel excited about famous people. I have been at parties when some well known foreign artist was present and I could have met him or her.... but didn't see the need... preferring human beings. I mean if the Kardashians walked into a room would I bother to go and pay them my respects? The answer is Definitely Not. They are not real people to me. But I made it a point to congratulate these musicians after the concert and kiss them - perhaps to their surprise. At my age one can kiss almost anyone without prejudicing one's reputation. Many Maltese are so ready to destroy a woman's reputation.

I have to say that whenever I have the privilege of entering San Anton, I still walk in like an enchanted child in a secret garden and silently thank Grand Master Antoine de Paule for his exquisite taste. And of course every Maltese government since then which has kept it in pristine condition.

So, Miglena Pavlova, the soprano and Ivaylo Donkov, the blind tenor, who was led in, put us in the mood by singing Vivaldi's Laudamus te from Gloria. I love church music of which we heard - and sang - a great deal in our school days and beyond. I miss plain chant and cannot stand the modern songs on guitar sung in churches these days.

The Laudamus was followed by Orlando di Lasso's Beata cuius brachis. Schubert's Ave Maria came next sung by the tenor. So beautiful, so familiar. Will the angels be singing it in heaven?  Will Schubert be there?

Despite dying at the age of 31, he composed more than six hundred different songs, or, as he would have said Lieder.  There were also nine symphonies - one of them the famous Unfinished - operas and many other pieces, and all this in just 18 years.

The moving Ave Maria, sung from the heart by Ivaylo, was followed by six songs in the Bulgarian language. An English translation of the songs was thoughtfully included in the programme. The Bulgarian soprano and teacher Dr Andriana Yordanova had translated them into English.

I found the songs melodic and enjoyed them although unfamiliar.  From the translation provided they are love songs.

I was finally on familiar ground again: Debussy's Toccata from Pour le piano, not an easy piece to play well but it allows the most accomplished pianists to shine. As we know this year we are celebrating the centenary of Debussy's death in 1918. (I greatly regret not being able to attend Giselle Grima's concert at the Manoel.) Marin Gonev, the pianist that evening, certainly shone. The piano was almost smoking by the end of his performance.

Something lighter, Bernstein's I feel pretty, sung by Miglena followed. Perhaps Bernstein's best known work is Westside Story and the centenary of his birth is being celebrated this year. Another opportunity missed: the Bernstein concert at The Mediterranean Conference Centre, conducted by none other than Wayne Marshall.

We are surrounded by talent.

Miglena was now in a lighter mood for lighter music and the rest of the programme provided us with the familiar.

 Who doesn't love, no matter how often we listen to it, Torna a Surriento, that evening sung by the young and gifted tenor Ivaylo Donkov.  I was hoping he would revise the programme and burst into Passione perhaps or Parlami d'Amore Mariù. But these are disciplined artistes, this is why they achieve so much at a relatively young age. So Miglena sang Gershwin's I've Got Rhythm and Ivaylo the famous and much loved Con te partiró.

This was all in all an evening of warmth and full of protein. At least half of it was music as massage, music to calm our anxious souls.

And looking at the biographies of the musicians provided in the programme, I hold them in awe. The three of them have already accomplished so much. The human spirit lives on. You try to turn lemons into lemonade. No other way really.

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