On the Experimental Studio For Contemporary Music

From Unearthing The Music

This essay was originally published in “Bulgarian Musicology” magazine, 2008, #2 p. 82 - 95, and was translated by Angel Simitchiev.


The discussion and understanding of the stylistic phenomenon referred to as Musica Nova in Bulgarian music is historically linked to the 1990s and continues until this very day. The idea about New Music (Musica Nova, die Neue Musik) from the 1950s has artistic interest for a certain circle of composers, performers, musicologists and aficionados of contemporary music. In 1990, an important and less known attempt for the institutionalization of this idea via the ‘Contemporary Music Association in Bulgaria’ (Дружество за съвременна музика в България) was the ‘Experimental Studio for Electronic Music’. It was founded in the early 1980s by Anda Palieva (Анда Палиева) with the support of Sofia’s Concert Directorate (Столична концертна дирекция). This first of its kind forum in Bulgaria preceded by almost 10 years the creation of the ‘Association…’ thus creating a scene for a number of Bulgarian premieres of pieces, which was important for the development of contemporary musical culture. And though in many ways it’s perceived as ‘belated’ [1], considering the local conditions, it’s actually an effort quite ahead of its time. All things summed, this concert series indicated that in Bulgaria could be found a wide spectrum of musicians who were open to new trends from all around the world, and there were also enthusiastic representatives of the music community, who were ready to invest enormous efforts and energy to make this ‘new’ wave accessible to a maximum number of listeners.

Regarding these matters Anda Palieva tells the following story: ‘From 1982 until 1984 I was in charge of the ‘Experimental Studio’. It was influenced by everything I saw in Warsaw and many other places around the world. I really wanted Bulgaria to have something similar’. ‘This was the first time in Bulgaria when pieces by Cage, Xenakis, Boulez, ‘Pierrot Lunnaire’ by Schoenberg or some of Stravinsky’s chamber pieces with more unorthodox instrumental combinations were heard. Electronic music was presented in public for the first time ever. But alongside the classical avant-garde there were young and interesting artists from the 1980s. We would hear Czech, Hungarian (György Kurtág) and among them Bulgarian pieces, which fit in the same stylistics – Vasil Kazandjiev (Васил Казанджиев), Rumen Baliozov (Румен Бальозов), Simo Lazarov (Симо Лазаров), Alexander Kandov (Александър Кандов), Tsvetan Dobrev (Цветан Добрев), Vladimir Djambazov...’. The contemporary Russian avant-garde was also represented on these concerts through pieces by Edison Denisov, Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina.

Poster of the last concert at the Experimental studio for contemporary music - first performance 'live' in Bulgaria of the "Pierrot Lunnaire" by Arnold Schoenberg - 16 May 1984. Personal Archive of Anda Palieva

Later, to my specific question about the idea that led to the creation of the ‘Experimental Studio’ its founder answered in detail: ‘During this time I was working in Sofia’s ‘Concert Directorate’ as a manager of the ‘Research, analysis and forecasting’ department. Since the late 1970s I had been attending all ‘Warsaw Autumns’ and told myself ‘If they can have such events why can’t we have them here?’ The idea was supported by Plamen Djurov (Пламен Джуров) – the then director of the National Music Union (Национално обединение “Музика”). In order not to disturb the concert program and keep it in the style of the experimental concerts it was decided the events of the ‘Studio’ were to be scattered among the regular concerts… Most often we would gather with Rumen Balizov and Vladimir Djambazov to discuss the program. We were greatly helped by Simo Lazarov – he had both equipment from the radio and recordings. Some of his pieces were presented on these concerts. We were also helped by Lyubomir Georgiev – both by providing ideas and as a composer and musician. [2]

The concerts of the ‘Experimental Studio’ took place in the chamber hall ‘Bulgaria’ once per month (and sometimes more often) in the late evening hours (usually starting at 9 pm). Often they grew into interesting discussions. For the first time in Bulgaria [3] pieces were presented from the classical global music avant-garde, among them pieces by young Bulgarian and foreign composers. The audience showed a significant interest in these concerts. It consisted in large part of young people with varying professional backgrounds. They also got positive feedback by music critics. (On the pages of the ‘Musical Life’ (Музикален живот) newspaper could be found a number of concert reviews, as well as in ‘Bulgarian Music’ magazine (сп. “Българска музика”), ‘Music Horizons’ magazine (сп. “Музикални хоризонти”), ‘National Culture’ newspaper (в-к “Народна култура”) etc. The events were announced on Radio Sofia, via the cultural-information publication ‘One Week In Sofia’ (“Една седмица в София”) etc. Anda Palieva herself did several shows on Radio Sofia in relation to some of the concerts. This new form was even perceived as ‘the way to bring the audience back to the concert halls.’

The organizers have set themselves on the ambitious mission to present foreign music, created several decades in the past and coming from various styles and directions – pieces from the 20th century classical music unknown in Bulgaria until that moment, the avant-garde and the new (new standing for musical ideas, developed in latest years) music. They also strived to present new Bulgarian music. Anda Palieva was the creative engine behind all of this and her activities were met with admiration: ‘To make this amazing idea a reality Anda Palieva (the initiator of this idea) has undertaken an enormous burden – to seek out sheet music and recordings, to offer these programs to different ensembles, to coordinate the schedule of the studio and prepare annotations of the pieces and their authors according to their repertoire before each concert”. “The musicologist Anda Palieva was the host – with a very precise and accessible speech for the young audience which crowded the hall’. In an article for the ‘National Culture’ newspaper Rozmari Statelova (Розмари Стателова) underlines the huge interest towards one of the concerts and praises the presented selection of pieces and authors: ‘responsible, aiming to be as useful and meaningful to the audience as possible: one ‘world’ premiere, one Bulgarian premiere, followed by a classical avant-garde piece… a topicality unusual to us’. She especially applauds ‘Anda Palieva, whose participation as a moderator of the ‘Studio...’ events is outstanding!’.

Later on, this kind of presentation of information about compositions and authors featured in each show would vary and besides the resident host, the studio’s own musicologist Anda Palieva, comments were heard from other musicologists like Svetlana Neycheva (Светлана Нейчева) and composers like Vasil Kazandjiev, Bojidar Spasov, etc. Some of the Bulgarian premieres of foreign pieces were performed in the presence of their respective authors.

Among the most regular participants in the concert series was the “Polyrhythmia” Ensemble – both with its members performing solo or in various formations – “Trio for contemporary music” (featuring Ilia Glavanov (Илия Главанов) – clarinet, Tatyana Karparova (Татяна Кърпарова) – percussions and Lilyana Getova-Raykova (Лиляна Гетова-Райкова) – piano), Lyubomir Georgiev (Любомир Георгиев), Rosen Idealov (Росен Идеалов), Boris Dinev (Борис Динев), Emil Handjiev (Емил Ханджиев), Vladimir Djambazov (Владимир Джамбазов), the audio engineer Pepi Rafailov (Пепи Рафаилов). Some of the concerts feature jazz singer Ialdaz Ibrahimova (Йълдъз Ибрахимова). For the first time in Bulgaria she performed ‘Aria’ by John Cage during a concert by the ‘Experimental Studio’. Later the piece would be performed by Kristina Asher (Кристина Ашер), in 1992; and Sigune von Osten, in 1995 during concerts organized by the ‘Association New Music in Bulgaria’ (ДНМБ – Дружество на нова музика в България) and the Musica Nova – Sofia Festival.

The concerts of the ‘Experimental Studio for Contemporary Music’ were tempting in many aspects. Тheir programs were interesting, varied and were positioned in a way which ensured that each concert brought about a certain message. They gradually filled the gaps in the listening experience of the Bulgarian audience. Twenty five years later it has become a difficult task to restore the concert chronology and the programs that took place. Such an endeavor is mostly based on press publications and personal recollections of some of the organizers and participants. Too few documents are preserved from this period – only two concert programs, a poster project for a concert that took place on April 15, 1982 and the actual poster of the last show from May 16, 1984. However, if a detailed research is conducted one can get a sufficiently clear idea about the bold ideas and the scale of their realization.

The ‘Studio…’ have announced their concept right at the very beginning of their endeavor (in written form it reached me through the first project poster, preserved in Anda Palieva’s personal archive): ‘Every month, on a specific day the ‘Experimental Studio for Contemporary Music’ offers on its stage concerts, dedicated to the 20th century music – in all of its endless variety of styles, names, experiments and achievements, in its interesting collaboration with words, lights and colors, pantomime and dance. For the first time in Bulgaria pieces will be presented by the big composers of our times, as well as pieces by young authors, new ensembles, unfamiliar ways of performing, ‘prepared’ instruments, instrumental theatre, electronic music.’

For example, the first concert, which took place in the summer of 1982, featured pieces from the second half of the 20th century – by Cage, Shinohara, Köhler, Kunad, and among them we find a piece by Rumen Balizov, presented by ‘Trio for Contemporary Music’ and ‘Polyrhythmia’ Ensemble with Manya Lungarova (Маня Лунгарова). The second concert was dedicated to of Stravinsky’s chamber works and commemorated the 100th anniversary of his birth. Five of his pieces were performed by the “Association for Contemporary Chamber Art” (“Колегиум за съвременно камерно изкуство”) at Bulgarian National Conservatory (Българска Държавна Консерватория – БДК) [4], conducted by student Kiril Kirilov (Tarpov) (Кирил Кирилов (Търпов). It was reviewed by Radoslava Radkova in “Pulse” newspaper (в-к “Пулс”). On the same occasion the author interviews Anda Palieva about the perspectives of the studio – the creation of a new, different attitude towards the music of our times, the attraction of a loyal circle of young artists and listeners, who were interested in new phenomena in the contemporary arts; the discovery of new means of interaction between music, words, light, dance, pantomime etc.

The third concert (and the last for the first season of the ‘Experimental studio’ series) features exclusively electronic music. No wonder it provokes “sensational interest” [5]. The event took place on May 12, 1982 and is known as the first Live Electronics concert in Bulgaria. ‘During the preparations and rehearsals the authors were worried how many listeners there would be, how this first of its kind concert would be perceived, and if the planned meeting with the audience would take place. Their worries proved completely redundant. Two days before the show all tickets were sold out. Young people – students, specialists in computing technologies, musicologists etc. were ‘discussing’. The hall proved too small for the fans of the new trends in music [6]. Played from recordings were pieces by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio, Iannis Xenakis, those were accompanied by two ‘live’ performances. The audience heard live ‘Elektrophonia’ (“Електрофония”) by Simo Lazarov and Tsvetan Dobrev for grand piano, synthesizers and tape, performed by Tsvetan Dobrev – grand piano and synthesizer, and Simo Lzarov – synthesizers; and ‘Dialog’ by Vladimir Djambazov for French horn and tape, a composition recorded in Essen and awarded in the USA in 1981.

The second season was opened by a concert of electronic and electroacoustic music. Many of the pieces were presented for the first time in Bulgaria and “Yellows” (1980) for French horn and percussion by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho was introduced by Neli Kulaksazova (Нели Кулаксъзова) as a world premiere [7]. Performed were also Dirk Reith’s “Program II” for percussion and tape. Kevin Jones’ “Icebreaker” – computer music combined with video (presented in the presence of the composer), Hebert Eimert “Epitaph Fur Aikichi Kuboyama” – a composition for a reader and speech sounds, which are “decomposing, entering themselves, giving birth to new ones and in the end are reaching spatial culmination”. This concert happens with the participation of Vladimir Djambazov – French horn and Boris Dinev – percussion.

On December 6, 1982 three contemporary Czech composers from three different generations are presented – Waclaw Kucera’s “Spring Manifesto”, Jan Fischer’s “Seven Letters” and Milan Slavický’s “Brightening II”. The program features one Bulgarian piece as well - “Impulses I” by Vladimir Panchev. The program is performed by the “Trio for Contemporary Music” with the participation of Simeon Shterev – flute. A special guest on the occasion was one of the presented composers Milan Slavický. After the performance a discussion on some of the issues of contemporary Czech chamber music took place.

Among the highlights of the second season is the electronic music concert, which took place on February 25, 1983 with Simo Lazarov, Tsvetan Dobrev, Sergey Jokanov (Сергей Джоканов) – synthesizers, Ialdaz Ibrahimova – vocals and Hristo Kasmetski (Христо Късметски) – oboe. The performed pieces are ‘Music for tape and solo oboe’ (1965) by Polish composer Andrzei Dobrovolski, a collaborator of the Warsaw Experimental studio at the Polish radio, “The Hour” for tape by Sergey Jokanov, “Metamorphoses” for tape and slides based on paintings by Hristo Simeonov, written by Tsvetan Dobrev and two compositions by Simo Lazarov - “Games” for tape and “The Rumour” for voice, vocoder, synthesizer and piano.

One year had passed since the start of these concert series dedicated solely to the music of the 20th century and it became somewhat of a tradition, attracting the attention not only of professional musicians but of a wide audience, mostly comprised of young people. The ‘Experimental Studio for Contemporary Music’ had become a more “attractive meeting point for pieces of contemporary music, which had not yet been performed in Bulgaria”.

In the summer of the next year, on April 11, 1984 a concert took place with the name ‘Music for Electronic and Percussive Instruments’. Performed were the pieces ‘Human Drama’ (“Драма човешка”) by Dobri Paliev (Добри Палиев), ‘Jazz Metastases’ by Tsvetan Dobrev, ‘Youth Play’ by Emil Handjiev (Емил Ханджиев) and ‘Cosmic Nuances’ – seven sci-fi pictures for percussion and synthesizers by Simo Lazarov. The performers were the ‘Polyrhythmia’ Ensemble conducted by Vasil Kazandjiev, Simo Lazarov, Tsvetan Dobrev and Ruslan Rusinov – synthesizers, Emil Handjiev and Boris Dinev – percussion.

During this cycle of concerts the Bulgarian audience experienced for the first time one piece from the distant year of 1912 – the melodrama ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ by Arnold Schoenberg performed by singer Natalia Afeyan (Наталия Афеян), Rumiana Petrova (Румяна Петрова) – flute, Angel Katrinov (Ангел Катринов) – clarinet, Petar Vasev (Петър Васев) – bass clarinet, Iosif Radionov (Йосиф Радионов) – violin, Valentin Gerov (Валентин Геров) – viola, Lyubomir Georgiev (Любомир Георгиев) – cello, Stella Dimitrova (Стела Димитрова) – piano, conducted by Alexei Izmirliev (Алексей Измирлиев).

On April 18, 1983, presented for the first time in Bulgaria was 'Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1' by Alfred Schnittke. It was performed by Alexander Ilchev (Александър Илчев) and Janusz Polański during the ‘Chamber Music From the Last Decade’ concert. Several more premieres for our country took place on the same event – performed are pieces by Edison Denisov and Nikolay Korndorpf.

Rumen Balizov also remembers the fascinating performance of “Variations 2” by John Cage, which he took part in alongside Mihail Goleminov (Михаил Големинов), Vladimir Djambazov and Ialdaz Ibrahimova. Every musician played the instrument they were the least familiar with and would then switch places. ‘Some of the concerts had their own theme – there was a concert titled ‘Voices… Instruments… Tapes...’. Vladimir Djambazov had just graduated in Germany and was bringing tapes from there. We heard pieces by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Herbert Eimert, Kaija Saariaho’, further recalls Baliozov.

Vladimir Djambazov remembers the performances of “Aria” by John Cage and ‘Yellows’ by Kaija Saariaho and ‘Icebreaker’ by Kevin Jones. “During this period me and Boris Dinev were performing as ‘Duo for Electroacoustic Music. I played the horn and electroacoustic instruments, and Boris played various percussions. Sometimes our concerts featured Ialdaz Ibrahimova’. The musical critique comments the quality of their performance during the above mentioned concert in the following manner: ‘The stage birth of ‘Yellows’ benefited a lot from the art of hornist Vladimir Djambazov, who had outgrown the ordinary professionalism and from Boris Dinev – percussions, who showcased high performative accomplishments in the virtuoso facture and sync during ‘Program II’ by Reith’.

Even this quite incomplete part of the concert programs curated by the ‘Experimental Studio for Contemporary Music’ can illustrate the main directions in its activities and the part it played in the early 1980s. Iconic 20th century compositions were presented for the first time in Bulgaria, but alongside them were performed more provocative pieces. This was also the time of the first ‘Live Electronics’ concerts in the country. The concerts of the ‘Experimental Studio’ not only allowed the audience to reach the contemporary music of other cultures but placed the works of local artists on the very same level with their foreign counterparts – this was a bi-directional opening to the world, which in the beginning of the 1990s went further with the foundation of the ‘Association for New Music in Bulgaria’ (ДНМБ) and thanks to the change of the political climate in the country. Last but not least – a strong core of artists, with a clear interest in the latest developments of the 20th century music have manifested themselves and have showcased the necessary preparation to overcome the specific difficulties of performing this different type of composition. A new kind of musician appeared, which in the beginning of the 1990s would become the actual backbone of the ‘Association for New Music in Bulgaria’. As it was already pointed out, these include ‘Trio for Contemporary Music’, the percussion ‘Polyrhythmia’ Ensemble, the ‘Association for Contemporary Chamber Art’, lead by the conducting student Kiril Kirilov (Tarpov) (these are the same students from the Conservatory, who on April 25, 1981 take part in the performance of 'L'Histoire du soldat' by Stravinsky at the Bulgarian State Conservatory and a big part of whom would continue to play a significant part in the life and activities of the ‘Association New Music in Bulgaria’) etc. The significant interest expressed by the audience is a proof for the need of such a forum that allows for the presentation of the new developments of music, even though they were then considered the ‘forbidden fruit’. ‘The concerts took place with open doors – the ‘Bulgaria’ chamber hall couldn’t fit all the audience, recalls Anda Palieva. Back then a community started to form – by people from different professions – painters, theatre and cinema professionals. To a certain degree these concerts were perceived as a kind of a protest – for the first time Bulgaria was open to the Western avant-garde, whose banned pieces of art were now sounding ‘live’. ‘The concerts were planned to end with talks and discussions, but they would end very late at night and the communication that occurred was on a more personal level – between the audience members and the participants – everyone was free to ask a certain performer or composer any questions that they wanted. However, there was actual communication, there was a community… Really, when at a certain moment the society feels the need for something this something finally happens...’.

‘The Experimental Studio for Contemporary Music’ once again gathered its numerous audience in the overcrowded ‘Bulgaria’ chamber hall – in an unmeant contrast with the depressingly empty concert halls during most classical concerts of the week’. That was the laconic, but very descriptive comment by Tsenka Jordanova (Ценка Йорданова) after one of the concerts (from February 25, 1983). ‘The crowded hall is not an exception but a rule’, says Kristina Yapova (Кристина Япова) about one of the other concerts, which took place on April 11, 1984: The ‘Experimental Studio for Contemporary Music’: on the concert: an unusual ensemble combination of percussive and electronic instruments plus a performance by new pieces – enough to lure and provoke the curious. The lures did their jobs: ‘Bulgaria’ chamber hall was enviably full. According to Rafael Bidjeranov (Рафаел Биджеранов) also ‘The event of the ‘Experimental Studio for Contemporary Music was undoubtedly successful. This was proven not only by the crowded room but by the discussion which took place afterwards and which was dominated by the opinion that such ‘experiments’ should become a more regular happening in our musical life’.

Maybe it was the ‘Experimental studio’ which made way for the ‘Association for New Music in Bulgaria’, which was formed several years later. The similarities in their concepts are clear – to present new musical pieces, considered new not by the date of their creation, but by their ideological content, imagery and means of expression. And since such examples from the world music practices had almost never been presented in the Bulgarian scene until that moment it could be said that they were unknown to the local audience. Very similar is the promotional and educational character of both forums.

The happenings of the ‘Experimental studio’ played a very important role in the music life of Sofia and they surely left a trace. This is illustrated in an essay by Lyubomir Kavaldjiev (Любомир Кавалджиев) published in 1988 in ‘National Culture’ on the occasion of the beginning of a new concert series with a similar concept. ‘Until very recently we remembered with nostalgia the late concerts in the ‘Bulgaria’ chamber hall organized by the ‘Experimental Studio for Contemporary Music’, which was shut down too early. Now they have found its successor.’ In 1988 the Sofia Philharmonic founded the ‘Studio for Contemporary Music’, which was aiming to ‘promote new, experimental directions in Bulgarian or foreign music, newcomers or less known names from various genres of the musical culture of the late 20th century.’ The first concert of this new organization took place in the ‘Bulgaria’ chamber hall and was dedicated to the electronic and concrete music. It was met with a huge interest. Performed during the concert were pieces by Vladimir Djambazov (‘No Contact’ / “Без контакт”, ‘Meeting’ / “Среща” for marimba and tape), Mihail Goleminov (‘Etude 2’ / “Етюд 2”), Tsvetan Dobrev (‘Metamorphoses’, ‘The Song of The Rhodopes’ - “Песента на Родопа”), Vidmantas Bartulis featuring Boris Dinev and Ialdaz Ibrahimova (Suzana Erova / Сузана Ерова). As the engine of this concert Lyubomir Kavaldjiev pointed Vladimir Djambazov.

[1] Indeed, the Electronic studio in Bulgaria appears with nearly a 30 year delay. It appears when the European 1950s and 1960s avant-garde is no longer considered as such and when the music worldwide has taken many other and different directions, when all of these (mostly from literature) informational sources were already known in Bulgaria as well...’ Kuteva, Elena. Experimental studio for electronic music. // Musical life (Музикален живот), #14. July 16 1982, p. 6.

[2] Both quoted statements come from conversations between the author and Anda Palieva that happened between 2005-2006

[3] For the first time here meaning both their purposeful presentation in a regular concert series, outside the sporadic appearances of similar music until this period, and in terms of many premiere performance of specific pieces.

[4] Currently National Academy of Music ‘Prof. Pancho Vladigerov’

[5] Kuteva, Elena. Experimental studio for electronic music. // Musical life (Музикален живот), #14. July 16 1982, p. 6. According to the recollections of Simo Lazarov the ticket queue in front of ‘Bulgaria’ hall was so long it reached Complex ‘Crystal’ in Sofia. (This is a distance of a couple hundred metres.)

[6] Karamfilova, Iordanka. ‘Live’ electronics. // Night news, #115, May 17, 1982, p. 6

[7] The information about this comes from a concert review in local press, but according to Saariahos official website the world premiere took place on January 10, 1981 in Copenhagen.

[8] The concert takes place on May 16, 1984 (the year is not written on the original poster). According to Anda Palieva this is the last concert done as a result of the Experimental studio’s activities.