June 24, 2022: Interview with Stilian Kirov

Stilian Kirov

Everything about Stilian Kirov, candidate for conductor and artistic director of the Amarillo Symphony, is world-class! An interview held in the offices of the Amarillo Symphony revealed why he is a finalist for this position.

Bulganian-born, Kirov noted that he grew up in a musical environment where he started playing the piano and, at an early age, decided to make music his career. He attended what is known in the US as a magnet school for the arts, and then enrolled at the Bulgarian Academy for Music in Sofia.

Along the way he began to play oboe, which allowed him to participate in orchestra. It was orchestra that awakened his interest in conducting. Fortunately, the acting conductor facilitated that interest, allowing Stilian to conduct both orchestral and choral works. He praised the generosity of his Bulgarian instructors, saying he was lucky to have them in his life.

At age 19 he went to Paris to study at the Ecole Normal de Music, which had a good choral conducting program. From there he hopped the pond to study at Julliard under Maestro James DuPreist.

His subsequent globe-trotting professional engagements match his world-class education. He has conducted orchestras all over the world, from Belo Horizonte in Brazil where he conducted Mahler to Xi’an in China, where he directed an all Mozart program. He said that the Chinese musicians and orchestra had an extraordinary work ethic, rehearsing four to five hours daily in the week leading up to the performance.

He will certainly bring a window on a wider world to the Panhandle!

If everything else about Stilian is world-class, the concert with the Amarillo Symphony is All-American, either from the nationality of the composers, Still and Barber, or from the subject matter of the composition: Dvorak.

William Grant Still was the first Afro-American to conduct a major symphony orchestra, the first to have a symphony played by a leading orchestra and the first to have an opera performed by a leading opera company. His Mother and Child is the orchestrated second movement of his 1943 Suite for Violin and Piano.

Barber’s Violin Concerto is famous, or, as some assert, infamous for its third movement. The source of major contention between the composer and the assigned performer, the latter asserting that it was too difficult and out of musical character with the first two movements. Barber didn’t relent, and the audience will hear the virtuosic movement as originally composed.

Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World,” remains one of the most popular symphonic works. Largely composed in NYC, Dvorak drew on American influences such as the legends of the First People and Black spirituals, and quite possibly polished the work during the summer of 1893, which he spent in the Czech community of Spillville, Iowa.

When pressed about the responsibilities of being a conductor and artistic director, his trenchant responses were revealing. He quickly responded to a question, perhaps awkwardly asked, about the chief role of the conductor, saying, “There is no chief in this role!” He further explained by a modified athletic analogy: the conductor, prior to performance, is like a coach, but is just another team member at performance.” He also noted, “You have to give musicians freedom to fully express their musicality.”

The image of the conductor as an authoritarian boss is not something SK believes in, but rather someone being in the service of music. “You have to acknowledge when and where you’re needed, and when you’re not needed.”

He summed up his responsibilities by noting that this symphony is the community’s cultural hub. A major responsibility of the artistic director is to learn what the community wants and needs, and, through meaningful relationships create relevant programming. The fund-raising aspect of the job should then come naturally.

Stilian Kirov obviously has raised listening to a high art form!

The candidate has worked with some of the world’s leading conducting luminaries. When asked about some of the most memorable associations, he recounted three examples, which illustrated in his mind, the transformative power of music.

Kurt Masur, longtime conductor at the Leipzig Gewanthaus Orchestra as well as music director of the New York Philharmonic, taught a master class in conducting at Julliard. He had a constant shaking of his hands caused by terminal Parkinson’s. But, when coming to a beautiful Pianissimo section, his hands suddenly stopped shaking.

Another story concerns Bernard Haitink, conductor at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam before locating with the Chicago Symphony. Kirov relates that once, visiting the conductor’s home, he started talking about the music of Brahms and the aura of his energy filled the room!

Finally, he related how his teacher at Julliard, James DuPreist, though a paraplegic from polio and wheelchair-bound, achieved national and world acclaim as a conductor. The candidate related that he constantly radiated a world of positivity through his music.

Such is the transformative and elevating power of music, which Stilian Kirov not only actualizes but hopes to communicate.

When asked what he would like to say to the people of Amarillo, he didn’t hesitate.

“I feel very fortunate to be back and make beautiful music in this wonderful place. Amarillo is special and has a high appreciation for the arts. I offer a big “Thank you!” for allowing me the privilege celebrating wonderful music with you.”

He’s impressed with the way that not only the orchestra, but also the community has changed in the last few years. He feels that the Amarillo Symphony has great potential to grow with the quality of musicians, as well the quality staff under the leadership of Larry Lang.

Stilian Kirov’s world-class vision will definitely encourage and facilitate that growth, which will most certainly

Keep Amarillo Artsy!

Keep Austin Weird!

Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!

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