Orchestras are said to improve with age. As it settles into its tenth decade, the Sofia Philharmonic certainly proves that theory true. It has established itself as Bulgaria’s most illustrious musical institution.
A simple list of the musicians who have collaborated with the Sofia Philharmonic reads like a who’s who of 20th-century music: Bruno Walter, David Oistrakh, Dmitry Shostakovich, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Claudio Arrau, Emil Gilels, Kurt Masur, Yuri Temirkanov, Valery Gergiev and Plácido Domingo all take their place among them.
But the arrival of the conductor Nayden Todorov three years ago has arguably provided the orchestra with the most significant collaboration of them all. Like the ensemble’s Bulgarian founder Sascha Popov before him, Todorov benefits from Viennese training and comes with a mission to place his orchestra in the front rank of European ensembles.
His first priority was the orchestra’s musicians themselves. ‘The task I set myself was to show the musicians that, regardless of the environment in which we live, harmony is possibly not only in music and on stage but in our relations with each other,’ says Todorov. ‘I have been working for this idea since I took up my position at the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra. Therefore the orchestra’s current quality is the result of the hard work of the musicians.’
That quality has not gone unnoticed. It has become increasingly difficult to get tickets to the orchestra’s concerts at the elegant Bulgaria Hall, and the ensemble’s 91st season – entitled ‘Every Concert is a Celebration’ – is sure to be no different. ‘Over the last three seasons, the audience has noticed us opening up to the world,’ says Todorov. ‘We have shown our society that there are no impossible things and that we can have a bright future if we love what we do and share it with others.’ The season in question has been built in collaboration with the audience, whose relationship with Todorov is growing much like that of his musicians.
Todorov has not just increased the communicative spirit of his orchestra. He has engendered a broader, bolder repertoire in its concerts and has brought a new calibre of soloist and guest conductor to work with it, each of them hand-picked under the maestro’s supervision. Angela Gheorghiu, Sonya Yoncheva, Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Joshua Bell have all appeared with the ensemble in recent seasons. Among the returning artists in the current season are Vadim Repin, Sarah Chang, Charles Dutoit, Krzysztof Penderecki and Shlomo Mintz.
Nor is it exclusively the citizens of Bulgaria who stand to benefit. As the country’s foremost orchestra, the Sofia Philharmonic began international touring half a century ago and has performed at some of the most prestigious venues in Europe, America and Asia – showcasing the best of Bulgarian, European and world orchestral music from more than three centuries. It is also a renowned recording and broadcasting orchestra Gramophone noting its ‘spirited’ and ‘well-drilled’ playing in decades past.
In December last year, the orchestra returned to what is arguably the most illustrious venue of all: the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna. Maestro Todorov conducted a Slavic-themed programme including music by Vladigerov, Stravinsky and Dvořák.
For more information, please visit: sofiaphilharmonic.com