Bulgarian-Italian Conductor Ljubka Biagioni: Bulgaria Is Small Country But with Unique Spirit
An interview оf Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) and Novinite.bg with Bulgarian-Italian conductor Baroness Ljubka Biagioni zu Gutenberg.
Ljubka Biagioni was born in Rome in the family of an Italian politician. She graduated with honors in choral and orchestra conducting from Bulgaria's National Music Academy "Pancho Vladigerov" after which she specialized the in master classes of Karl Yosterayher (Varna), Norbert Balach and Leonard Bernstein (Academy "Santa Cecilia" - Rome), Valery Gergiev and Ferdinand Laytner (Academy Chigiana - Siena), Gustav Kuhn (Milan) - with particular relevance to her further career was her work with Ilya Musina and Valeriy Gergiev in Rotterdam in 1997.
She then studied philosophy in Rome and also participated as assistant conductor at the opera productions in Santari Hall in Tokyo, Arena di Verona, Salzburg Festival, Genoa, Parma, Florence, Naples, Milan, Berlin, Garmisch, Athens, in works by Mozart, Bellini , Rossini, Verdi, Wagner, R. Strauss.
She won first prize in the conductors contest of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra (1996) and the European Opera Conducting Competition "Franco Capua" in Spoleto (2002).
In 1996, she performed with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra tour of Austria, the same year he conducted "Manon Lescaut" by Puccini in Lucca, Pisa and Viareggio and "Don Giovanni" with Ruggeri Raimondi in the Athens Megaron Musiki. During the season 1996/97 she is the first female guest conductor of the Philharmonic in Markidzhana, which toured throughout Italy. And in 1997 he performed throughout Denmark with Aarhus Symphony Orchestra and in Greece with the orchestra "La Camerata".
She worked with the orchestras of "Arena di Verona", Teatro del Giglio - Luke, Pro Arte Marche, Pomeriggi musicali, Solisti Fiorentini, Symphony Orchestra "Arturo Toscanini", Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra in Adana - Turkey, Warsaw Philharmonic, Hofer Symphoniker - Germany, Cappella Istropolitana - Bratislava, Prague chamber Orchestra, as well as many choirs as Czech Philharmonic Choir - Brno, NFH "C. Obretenov" Munich chamber Choir, the choirs of the "Arena di Verona" and the opera in Lucca.
With G. Verdi's "La Traviata" at the Herrenchiemsee Festival 2007 she started conducting an opera series of half-scenic performances under her own direction and staging which she continued with her 2008 performance of "Nabucco" starring Paolo Gavanelli as leading part, followed 2009 by two highly respected performances of "Cavalleria Rusticana".
As of March 2012, Ljubka Biagioni is a full-time conductor at the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Philharmonic Choir "Svetoslav Obretenov", Sofia, Bulgaria.
What brings you to Sofia in June 2012?
Well, yesterday I had a concert with the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra and the Svetoslav Obretenov Choir. We performed works by Prokofiev, Claude Debussy, and we had the world premiere of Prof. Alexander Tekeliev's play "Heart of Bird".
Tomorrow we are having a concert with the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra in the Ancient Amphitheater in Plovdiv. I have been in Sofia for a week, and have been enjoying working with our ensembles.
You will have more concerts in Bulgaria in the fall, is that correct?
That is right. We will repeat the concert we are having in Plovdiv but this time it will be in the Bulgaria Hall in Sofia. On September 27, we will repeat the world-famous La Traviata that I conducted in Sofia on March 8 (March 8 is Mothers and Women's Day in Bulgaria – editor's note).
I think we made a great impression on the audience back then. We will repeat it with a number of renowned soloists from Germany and Italy, and with young singers from Bulgaria.
What is the Bulgarian audience like? How does it compare to the audience in other places around the world where you have conducted?
The Bulgarian audience is very diverse because each ensemble, each musical institution actually has its own audience. The Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra has its own audience, The Sofia Opera has its own audience, the Bulgarian National Radio Orchestra has its own audience.
That's why there is no one way of describing it. It is the same way in Germany – some people prefer opera, others – symphony orchestra.
But as a whole, operas usually attract a little more audience than symphony concerts, for example, because operas have more action for viewing, whereas a symphony concert is harder – the spectator is expect to be more knowledgeable, or to be bold enough to say to oneself, "Tonight I'm going to listen to Prokofiev and Debussy!" – and these are not among the easiest composers.
But I think that audience everywhere needs to be cultivated – that is to say that works that may not be so famous but are at least as great as Beethoven's Fifth Symphony must also be performed.
Why did you choose to study conducting in Bulgaria back when you were a student?
First of all, I was born in Italy, my father is Italian but my mother is Bulgarian. After the classical high school I had many options as to where I can go to college, and my mother that I could go to the Musical Academy in Sofia if I managed to pass the exams.
Back then I wasn't thinking about studying conducting in particular. I was really tired after the Italian school-ending examinations in 13 subjects but I managed to prepare, passed the exams in Sofia, and even won a scholarship.
After my first year in the theoretical department where choir conducting is just one of the general subjects, Prof. Robev, who taught conducting, and was the most famous choir conductor in Bulgaria at the time, told me, "Why don't you try out for a choir conductor, and pursue a specialization?"
That's how I specialized in choir conducting, and then orchestra conducting, but it was always just like that, among the other things. I never expected that I will become a full-time conductor at the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra. And now I am really happy about it.
Being a female conductor, how do you manage your work? How do the other musicians view you?
It is always hard at the beginning. It was a bit easier for me because I know a lot of my colleagues. I have a special relationship with the musicians.
I really love performing in Bulgaria because I feel all of them very close, and I want to help them, which is why I invited them twice to our festival in Germany. We have great relations.
Is it hard being a baroness who is also a conductor?
Well, my husband is in the same situation. He is also a baron, and a conductor. These are just two different things. When you have certain obligations as a baron or a baroness, you put on your suit, and go to a meeting, or an interview, as is the case now. When I go to a rehearsal, it is different.
For example, today I was in jeans, and a t-shirt because I sweat; when I rehearse I am not a baroness, I am the conductor Ljubka Biagioni. The same goes for my husband. He is Baron zu Gutenberg but when he conducts he puts on his jeans and denim shirt. These are two roles for one and the same person.
We are a double package, to put it that way, because we are both conductors, and that's how people know us. For example, tomorrow both of us have concerts. Which is why we are both minding our business and our two roles don't interfere with one another.
What everyday activity would you say conducting is similar to?
Since I enjoy riding a horse, and also driving a carriage, I think the contact that a conductor has with their orchestra is similar. I don't mean to compare it to the contact with the horses but the actions of a conductor are similar to the actions when riding a horse or driving a carriage. One must constantly be in contact with the horses; one must let them a bit looser when they are going well, and to rein them in when there is a difficulty or a problem.
It is like that with an orchestra – I let them and they perform; whenever they need me, I help them. It is the same feeling. When one conducts, one becomes one single whole with the orchestra. When I ride a horse or drive a carriage I feel like one whole with my horses. Because nothing can happen without a telepathic, spiritual connection between us.
What feelings do you experience whenever you come back to Bulgaria?
I always come to Bulgaria with the feeling that I'm coming home, among friends. I feel at home, and very close with the people. For me, Bulgaria is like a second home, it's as if I am back in my house.
What do you tell people abroad about Bulgaria?
I always tell a lot of nice things about Bulgaria. I speak with great enthusiasm about the musicians in Bulgaria, about the people of Bulgaria, about Bulgarian culture because I love Bulgaria very much, and I know it really well. My children also love Bulgarian culture, the songs, the sea, the mountains.
People are the most important thing to me – and the people in Bulgaria are so smart, intelligent, talented. There are many talented musicians all over the world but I don't feel connected to them by the same feelings that link me to the musicians in Bulgaria who have this gift of hearing the world with their particular problems.
Regardless of the fact that the situation might have been dramatic, I think these feelings are great richness because when I am in Bulgaria I feel that the people here are more sensitive and understand more about life.
Even though Bulgaria is a small country with small population, its spirit is unique.
What is your impression from the condition of the culture and music sector in Bulgaria? It's common knowledge that culture in Bulgaria is underfunded – but where is change supposed to come from – from the state, from the musicians and the others who are involved in this sector, or from private sponsors?
From all three. I think this is a process of interaction because, naturally, whenever there is an economic crisis, austerity measures are introduced. It is the same in Germany, not to mention the situation with music in Italy.
That's why the state must understand that there is no national spirit without culture. Thank God that Bulgaria's Culture Minister, whom I value very much, is really exerting his efforts for culture.
Of course, it would be nice if the situation was similar to Germany where private sponsors are often involved – because the state can hardly make it on its own without this kind of help.
The third aspect is that people in Bulgaria must climb out of the hole in which they collapsed 20 years ago, after the post-communist changes. (The 1989 collapse of the communist regime – editor's note)
I was a student in Bulgaria before these events and after these events, and I know very well what happened in Bulgaria. Before these events I remember a Bulgaria that was full of spirit and culture, and the people were eager to learn and know. After the changes, they only care about finding enough money to buy diapers or meat. When life is an everyday struggle, spirit falls through.
But if people want to see their generation, their children perpetuate the spirit of Bulgaria, they must change their attitude, they shouldn't be thinking solely about making ends meet but also about how to bring up their kids more spiritually.
For example, they should teach their children to spend more time among nature, not so much time with computers, they should take them to concerts, teach them to play instruments, take them to the theater, make them read more. It is only us parents that can commit to this type of change.
It is only with these three aspects that culture in Bulgaria can rise to the level that it deserves.
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