Just in time for summer, I’m excited to announce the Nadejda Vlaeva CD release of select piano solos celebrating Bulgarian composer Pancho Vladigerov! Wait, who are these people?! Hold on. I’m about to tell you the story.

Here’s the why:
My students and readers know my penchant (passion) for lesser known composers whose exquisite pieces haven’t quite made it to the mainstream (yet). I could justify my research time as being essential for keeping a cutting edge teaching practice, but truthfully, at the end of the day, it is more for selfish reasons, to satisfy my never ending sweet tooth for lifelong learning. Our Music Scene blog gives me the platform to share my treasure hunts with you.

Here’s the how:
First, a little backstory on how I met Bulgarian pianist Nadejda Vlaeva.

 
Nadejda Vlaeva CD Release interview by Pastimes for a Lifetime

Nadejda Vlaeva Photo Credit Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Last year while my assistant, Jessica Sanders was researching composer Sergei Bortkiewicz for the April 2020 Music History 101 blog, I reached out to several of my esteemed concert pianist friends and music professors. Most had not heard of Sergei Bortkiewicz. Luckily Dr. Dmitry Rachmanov, professor of music at California State University, Northridge (my alma mater) came to the rescue. He recommended I reach out to the Bulgarian pianist, Nadejda Vlaeva. Ms. Vlaeva enthusiastically responded with a treasure trove of intel including her fantastic story of how she came to be acquainted with Bortkiewicz’s works. (Her tale, contributions to this blog, and links to her performances of select works by Bortkiewicz may be enjoyed in that blog.)

Since then, I’ve enjoyed a lovely friendship in music with Nadejda. When she announced her new CD on Facebook last month, I immediately asked if she would like to be interviewed about it. Luckily, she accepted my invitation. I hope you enjoy the story and the CD.
. . . . . . .
LRW: As an art teacher, the cover art of a CD gets noticed right away. May I ask who designed your CD cover art? Were they hired by the record label or did you get to choose?

NV: Hyperion Records does everything from organizing the recording to its final production. For all the CDs that I have recorded with them they have chosen wonderful art.

 

Hyperion label is mentioned in Pastimes for a Lifetime's Blog.

 

LRW: Good to know. I love the cover art they chose for your CD. Can you tell me more about it?

NV: Yes, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they chose a painting by a Bulgarian artist for this CD. There is something magnetic about this work. It is called The Vase Woman and was painted by Sabina Nedelcheva-Williams.

 
Sabina Nedelcheva-Williams designed Nadejda Vlaeva's CD cover.

Bulgarian artist Sabina Nedelcheva-Williams

 

LRW: Perfect choice for a Bulgarian pianist honoring a Bulgarian composer! I love learning about artists new to me. I’ll have to research more about her for my art students. I noticed your CD is dedicated to one composer. What is the story of how and why you chose Pancho Vladigerov? Why these particular works? Why now? Details, please.

NV: Most CD companies like to record single-composer CDs as it helps them with distribution. Vladigerov was Bulgaria’s most important composer, born at the turn of the 19th century in 1899, and he lived until 1978. He spent part of his youth studying and working in Germany. After 1932 he returned to Bulgaria and lived there for the rest of his life.

 
Bulgarian composer Pancho Vladigerov is features in Pastimes blog.

Pancho Vladigerov

 

LRW: He looks a little bit like my longtime beloved piano teacher, Mario Feninger! Interesting point as to why labels prefer producing single-composer projects. Please go on.

NV: A few years ago I received an email from a fan in Los Angeles who suggested that I record the Exotic Preludes. I didn’t know these pieces and that aroused my curiosity. I desperately wanted to hear them but there was no recording to be found. I only stumbled upon a midi version of the first prelude made by a guitarist in Texas. It was fascinating how all these non-Bulgarians had taken an interest in pieces that I and most Bulgarians didn’t know about.

LRW: I love a good tale of discovery, especially one that includes a guitarist in Texas! What next?

NV: Next I heard the great Canadian pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin in Germany perform Sonatina-Concertante by Vladigerov. He is a Hyperion artist so I was almost sure he was going to record a Vladigerov CD for them. At a gala in New York we had a heartwarming conversation where he told me that he didn’t have plans to make such a recording and instead suggested that I should do it. He was very encouraging so I proposed the idea to Hyperion and they quickly agreed.

 
Marc-André Hamelin mentioned in Pastimes blog.

Marc-André Hamelin

 

LRW: I hadn’t heard of this pianist before. Sounds like a nice guy, too. What luck! Such a nice connection you made, too! How did you go forward with the project?

NV: Hyperion Records likes to make CDs that contain a great percentage of works that have not been recorded. I didn’t know if I would find enough unrecorded pieces that enchanted me enough to totally immerse myself and devote the following months entirely to them.

It has never been easy to find printed music in Bulgaria even by Pancho Vladigerov, thus it was hard to know the entire scope of his work. We often are already acquainted with the most popular pieces. For instance his Vardar Rhapsody has been recorded many times in all its different versions. Even I recorded it in its two-piano version a few years ago.

LRW: I’d love to hear your recording of this brilliant piece. How strange that printed music in Bulgaria is so hard to come by. You had quite a challenge ahead of you. How did you resolve it?

NV: In order to fill in the gaps I had to broaden my perspective and knowledge. My husband helped me find all his opuses and I eagerly started reading through every single piece. His music is very hard to read as a lot of it is written on 3 staves with an abundant use of passages, large chords, arpeggios and accidentals – the sort of writing where you have to continuously stop and check every single note and decide how to distribute the notes between the two hands.

LRW: Your hubby is a hero, helping you with your painstaking research. Reading music of that caliber is quite adventurous and a labor of love to say the least. It must have been very rewarding, though. Such a great learning experience.

NV: To my great surprise, I ended up selecting enough music to fill two CDs. Ultimately I had to deprive myself of a few wonderful pieces as I was only making a single CD. I selected the Exotic Preludes and the Impressions as I felt a particularly strong connection to these two cycles.

LRW: That’s great news! Perhaps the unpublished pieces will make their appearance in a future CD. Can you please describe these two cycles for my readers?

NV: The cycles are very different from one another. The Impressions are shorter with some of them even sounding like salon pieces. Judging by the titles, for example, Caress, Longing, Embrace, and Confession, it’s possible they depict a love story though there is no actual evidence for this.

The Exotic Preludes, on the other hand, are larger, much more flamboyant pieces that demand great virtuosity. They were each written in a different style, for instance in Spanish style, in Slavic style, or in Arabic style. Sometimes they sound very wild and driven, sometimes hypnotic or exotic, but always attractive. Overall the music of these two cycles made me very enthusiastic. I could feel their magic, and that gave me the inner fire I would need in order to devote the next few months of my life to them. I won’t hide that it demanded a great amount of work.

LRW: Thank you for the introductions to these cycles. I can imagine the amount of work these pieces demanded! As a pianist, I have experienced “feeling the magic” of a piece of music while playing it. My students see it happen to me when I play for them, and it inspires them to achieve that level with their studies. How did the recording sessions go?

NV: I was crossing my fingers till the last moment that the music would fit on the CD. Out of 80 minutes, which is the maximum that can fit on a CD, I recorded 79 minutes and 52 seconds. It was very close! It is very difficult to estimate in advance the exact length of music that you have never heard or played before. Interpretation is something that undergoes changes during the different stages of preparation to say nothing of the difference in the acoustics and the instrument during the actual recording. All this effects the final length. It has happened to me previously that I had underestimated the length of a CD, but luckily in those cases it didn’t matter. It was helpful that I have a good amount of experience that I could rely on while planning this CD.

 
Nadejda Vlaeva recording for Hyperion Records.

Nadejda Vlaeva recording her CD for Hyperion Records

 

LRW: That was cutting it close. Changes in interpretation, acoustics and the instrument during the stages of recording are good points to keep in mind when recording a CD. Something the average listener doesn’t even take into account. Thank you for the inside story on this. So glad your past CD recording experiences came in hand.

I understand this is your seventh solo piano album. There are many labels out there. Why Hyperion Records Limited, London England? Did they approach you for the project?

NV: Yes, indeed. And I have recorded previously for other labels too. Different labels have different goals. Hyperion prides itself on high quality sound and very exciting projects. I am happy that a few years ago they invited me to record the complete Bach/Saint-Saëns transcriptions. Somehow they hadn’t found a pianist that they thought was exactly right for these works. I happened to be playing a few of them in concerts at that time, and so the choice fell on me. The moment I started reading through the other pieces I felt goosebumps. I was excited to discover these jewels that hadn’t been recorded yet.

LRW: I hadn’t thought about the goals of different recording labels before. Good to know. That’s very exciting to be able to be the first to record this treasure. I’ll have to have a listen and experience those goosebumps first hand. I hope the CD was well received.

NV: This was a very successful CD so we went on with another project: Bortkiewicz Piano Music. This also contained a lot of premieres, including three sets that had just recently been discovered in a German archive where they had been buried for 70 years. So it was quite an adventure.

LRW: Ah, Bortkiewicz. His Music History blog in which you are featured, is one of my favorites. You and I must have been archeologists in a past life with our love for discovering unrecorded musical treasures. (Cue the theme song to Raiders of the Lost Ark!)

NV: And now, I am again uncovering treasures from the dust, pieces that with one exception have never been recorded in their piano version.

LRW: Cheers to that!

NV: There is something sacred about touching them and playing them for the first time. It also carries a lot of responsibility because it will be the standard until someone else attempts another recording.

LRW: True, but I’m sure they are safe in your hands.

NV: I love these adventurous projects so Hyperion and I are a good fit. Also I have had projects in the past where I had to organize literally everything, which can be very draining and leave less time to devote to the actual playing. With Hyperion I can focus entirely and solely on the music. I completely trust the high quality of their venues, producers and recording engineers.

LRW: So wonderful to hear. Hyperion gets 5 stars for all they do for their recording artists. So your CD is comprised of Vladigerov’s Six Exotic Preludes, Opus 17 and Ten Impressions, Opus 9. Is this CD part of a series of albums dedicated to Vladigerov rather than a standalone recording?

NV: It is actually a standalone recording. That of course may change in the future if the demand is there. There is more that hasn’t been recorded but at the moment I feel like I would like to venture to a different project. Time will tell what the future holds.

LRW: Thanks for the intel. I’ll look forward to hearing about your future projects. With many concert halls still closed, would you happen to be planning a live stream event of some of these remarkable works? Maybe a YouTube video or a series?

NV: I recorded a video of Exotic Prelude No. 3 in Switzerland, surrounded by stunning Lake Lucerne and with breathtaking views of the Alps. I was very happy with how it turned out. One can see it on my YouTube channel.

 

LRW: Oh yes. I remember enjoying your video posted on Facebook not that long ago. I believe I shared it with my FB friends and family. I encourage my readers to check it out after the interview. What’s the tie-in with Switzerland?

NV: Incidentally Vladigerov and his twin brother were born in Switzerland though they didn’t stay there.

LRW: More great connections. Any live stream performances?

NV: I also just a few days ago included Prelude No. 4 in a concert that was streamed live from The Hamptons. At the moment I do not plan a streaming event dedicated only to Vladigerov. Instead, I would include a piece or two by him to add a special color to my recital program.

LRW: Very exciting. Sounds good. Once concert halls open again, do you plan to perform these works live? If so, how may my students, readers and I be kept informed? Is there a mailing list we can subscribe to?

NV: I have already played some of these in Germany and the Netherlands, and I definitely plan to include them in more programs. This music will stay with me for life. In general, single composer recitals can be tricky. Yes, we can do it with Chopin, Beethoven, and perhaps Liszt. I even gave a whole Bortkiewicz recital. I think they are geared mainly towards a more specialized audience such as at universities or colleges.

LRW: How nice! That makes sense. University students would certainly appreciate concerts of composers they are researching for their thesis.

NV: I could of course do an all Vladigerov recital in Bulgaria where he is beloved. I am open to that and hope it will happen once live concerts resume.

LRW: You definitely should consider that! I bet it would be very well received in Bulgaria.

NV: Most of the time I just include a piece or two in my recital programs. It is a good way to introduce the audience to the music of Bulgaria’s most notable composer and open a door to something they have never heard before. I always love the look on their faces when it changes from light skepticism to complete enchantment.

LRW: That’s the beauty of discovering lesser known composers. It’s gracious of you to share this transformational music with your audiences. So how may my students and readers keep apprised of your concerts, recordings, videos, etc.?

NV: The best way is to like and follow my Facebook professional page and subscribe to my YouTube channel.

I love interaction with the audience, and these two platforms bring me more of that compared to other media. Of course they can also send me an email (through my website) to be included in my future mailings.

LRW: Thank you so much for the links. Duly noted. Where may my readers purchase your CD? Is it also available on music streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple iTunes, etc.?

NV: The CD is available on Amazon and iTunes. One can also download it directly from the Hyperion website in 24-bit high definition sound. After listening, feel free to rate it on Amazon as that will help other people find and discover this wonderful music.

LRW: Thank you for the intel. Def!

Nadejda, it was a pleasure interviewing you and announcing your new CD of beautiful Bulgarian piano solos. I wish you all the best and look forward to hearing about future projects as they come up.

To learn more about Bulgarian pianist Nadejda Vlaeva, please enjoy these links:
Website
Facebook
Instagram
YouTube
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