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Musician Profile: Valeri Georgiev (kaval)

This summer, I had the lucky opportunity to learn the basics of kaval from Valeri Georgiev at the EEFC Mendocino Balkan Camp. I recently spoke with him over Skype to learn a bit about why he came to play the instrument and the role music has had in his life. 

Georgiev grew up “a city boy” in Ruse, a city along the Danube on Bulgaria’s northern border with Romania. He was not raised in a musical family, but rather came upon folk music almost by accident. There was a building he would pass on his way home from school that often had interesting sounds coming from inside. One day, toward the end of 6th grade, his curiosity got the better of him and he walked up the steps to see what was going on.

Election Day

Today’s mayoral election in Plovdiv is a big deal, at least to somebody. Maybe elections are always welcomed here with great fanfare, or maybe it’s because whoever is selected today will serve during 2019 – the year for which Plovdiv has been named European Capital of Culture – but regardless, for at least the past two weeks it has been impossible to walk down the main pedestrian boulevard without being bombarded by campaign lit. Pamphlets, fliers, newspapers, and even balloons with party numbers printed on their sides have been distributed to passersby from tents and stands big and small. With 16 different tickets in the running, the candidate pool is even bigger than that of US Republicans currently vying for nomination.

Welcome to Plovdiv

So, what’s the deal with Plovdiv? Bulgaria’s second-largest city, and according to some, the country’s cultural capital, has had a long and complicated history. So long, in fact, that many sources site it as the oldest continually extant city in Europe. Despite its population of almost 350,000, the downtown has a small town feel (though, coming from several years in NYC, I may be biased). Like many parts of the Balkans, the number of residents has declined in recent years as people have migrated to other parts of the EU in search of more opportunities.

Dance Class, 8:00 am Edition

​Today I had my first dance class. As a musician, I find dance very important - how can you play music if you can’t feel it in your body? Having attended a few pan-Balkan social dances in the US and Germany, and having been raised on contra dance, I thought I knew what to expect. When I first arrived and opened the door, almost 10 minutes late (thanks to the tribulations of foreign-language transit navigation), I thought I was in the wrong place. Yes, there was an accordion player with his back to me producing strands of Bulgarian tunes, but the 30 or so dancers were dressed in classical dance attire (ie: black leotards for women and sweatpants for men) and standing around the barre that lined three of the room’s walls.

Bulgaria Lenses

​I arrived in Bulgaria almost a week ago, but for the past month or so I have been brainstorming how to describe in a post what my goals are here (and later in Romania). Of course, the central tenet of this phase of my project is to learn to play kaval, a traditional Bulgarian flute. You will certainly hear a lot more about the (wonderful and challenging) instrument in the coming months, so I won’t say too much about it here.

In learning to play the instrument, from a formal standpoint I will also learn Bulgarian folk songs and get a better sense of the modes, colors, and rhythms involved. I will gain skills to be able to share this music and perform in different ensembles and contexts. Plus, my understanding of music and performance as a whole will be enriched. However, playing music is, to me, only the tip of the iceberg for what it means to be a musician. It was not until after my 2013 work with Andean flutes in Peru that I realized that, in addition to loving music from an aesthetic and emotive perspective, I am also completely fascinated by its social and historical (and consequently political) context.

Censorship and the Youth Symphony

Over the past couple of days, there has been public controversy over the New York Youth Symphony’s decision to cancel the Carnegie Hall premiere of Jonas Tarm’s piece “Marsh u Nebuttya” (“March to Oblivion”). For those of you who do not know the backstory, after an initial performance of the piece at the United Palace Theater in Manhattan, the orchestra received a letter presumably from an audience member (it was sent anonymously, signed only as from “A Nazi Survivor”) complaining that the piece quotes the Nazi anthem “Horst Wessel” and is, therefore, inappropriate for a youth orchestra.

The Trashy Bear

Back in September, I had just started an internship at an artist’s studio in Tribeca. Since the weather was nice, we decided to eat our lunch in the park. Mine, either PB&J or a sandwich of hummus, red peppers, onion, and kale; hers, some sort of salad in a small black tupperware container. The park is about two blocks away from the studio, nestled into a funky little triangle between 6th Ave., Beach, and Walker. We entered the park and walked down the center sidewalk to look for an unoccupied bench.

Beautiful, Magical, Catastrophic; Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet at BAM

Laurie Anderson“And I thought to myself, ‘how beautiful, how magical, how… catastrophic.'”

Thus ends the last monologue of Laurie Anderson’s new collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, “Landfall,” which I went to see at BAM’s Harvey Theater last Saturday evening. According to the program notes, the piece was greatly influenced by Hurricane Sandy, which swept through New York City – where the multimedia performance artist is based – and the surrounding area in the fall of 2012. Poetic descriptions of the hurricane are interspersed throughout the work, alongside verbal and visual meditations on mass extinction, dreams, and the failures of language. After the dimming of the Harvey’s lights and the now all-too-familiar reminder to shut off cell phones and other electronic devices, the musicians filed onto the stage.

Day #14: La Montaña que Canta, Part I

He holds up three leaves, the green teardrops overlapping like a fan between his thumb and index finger. The first one, he explains, is for that which is outside, the transcendental. The second, sandwiched in the middle, is the surface, the present moment. The last leaf represents that which is inside of everything. The condor, the puma, and the serpent, respectively, are tied to each of these layers, and kintu brings them all together. He tells us we should invoke an entity or energy, for example pachamama, and focus on what it is we are asking.

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