The Review Auditioning Conductor Series • Bulgarian Born Stilian Kirov Strives to Achieve Joy, Excitement & Inspiration through his Artistry

Guiding the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra Through a Voyage of Drama, Folklore & 21 Years of Inspirations on January 30th at The Temple Theatre

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music,   From Issue 821   By: Robert E Martin

14th January, 2016     0

As the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra continues their quest to secure a permanent conductor by constructing an approach that allows each of the five finalists under consideration by the SBSO Board of Directors to design and orchestrate a special program for each of the five performances constituting their 2016 Concert Season, the results have struck an engaging chord within the community, drawing strong attendance for each of the two concerts featured thus far in the season.

By allowing patrons an opportunity to hear each of these eminent finalists at the helm of the orchestra, and also voice their opinion through audience surveys conducted during each of their performances, in addition to garnering strong attendance the SBSO has been able to also stage one of their most divergent and colorful seasons in recent memory.

Next in the line-up is Auditioning conductor Stilian Kirov, who has designed a program featuring selected works by Beethoven, Corigliano, Bartok and Brahms entitled ‘Drama, Voyage, Folklore & 21 Years of Inspirations’, which will be showcased on the evening of Saturday, January 30th at 8:00 PM at Saginaw’s Temple Theatre.

Stilian Kirov is Bulgarian-born and was recently appointed Music Director of the Symphony in O, New Jersey’s prestigious young professional orchestra, after having just completed a highly successful tenure as Associate Conductor of the Seattle Symphony. He has also served as Associate Conductor of the Memphis Symphony and Music Director of the Memphis Youth Symphony Program.  He also appears regularly as guest conductor at the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle and has appeared in orchestras in Europe and Asia. A graduate of The Julliard School in orchestra conducting, where he was a student of James DePriest, he also holds a master’s degree from the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, where he studied with Dominique Roula.

In order to give readers a greater understanding of each guest conductor currently under consideration, The Review is pleased to be able to present this third in a series of Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra profiles.

Kirov’s interest with classical music began early in life. “I was exposed to many beautiful classical music recordings and life concerts at a very early age.  My parents are not professional musicians, but they loved music and music always surrounded us,” reflects Kirov.  “Looking back now, I realize that I was very lucky to have this experience as a child, not only because this became my profession but also because music makes you see the world from a higher, better perspective.”

“While I was studying piano privately, I went to a regular school studying all the ‘normal’ subjects like chemistry, physics, mathematics, history, and literature and through that have found that it is very important for a musician -  and especially conductor - to expand his knowledge way beyond music. Believe it or not, some of my hobbies include reading medical research, following the stock market, sports, cinema, psychology, cooking and last but not least, the art of making the perfect cup of coffee.”

“My belief is the more diverse interests and knowledge you have, the more depth and excitement you can bring into your music-making,” he states.  “Conducting as a profession came to me naturally. I was studying piano and oboe in the Sofia Music School in Bulgaria and this is where I first had the chance to experience what leading an ensemble feels like. With the time, this became my biggest passion and then my profession. When this is the case, you don't really have to work a day in your life...well, relatively speaking.”

Incorporating this perspective into his approach for selecting the compositions and developing the theme for the upcoming SBSO production of Drama, Voyage, Folklore & 21 Years of Inspirations, Kirov references how the task is not unlike “planning a three or four course dinner.” 

“I have to choose the dishes carefully,” he reflects.  “If the appetizer is too heavy then the main dish can't be enormous as well. In our case, we have a very diverse and rather light first half of the program with music by Bartok, Beethoven and an American composer - John Corigliano. These three pieces are extremely different, but all very exciting and beautiful.”

“In the second half we have a very big main piece - Brahms' First Symphony. It is a work which took him twenty-one years to compose,” Kirov notes.  “He really wanted to write the perfect symphony and as you can imagine, in twenty-one years, you get a lot of different inspirations, thoughts and ideas. For me personally, this is Brahms's most inspiring work.  The beauty of the musical themes is exquisite, as they are all unified in an organic mixture with phrases and gestures truly blending to create the most perfect structure.”

When asked how he goes about translating these works with the orchestra and about his role when rendering such a divergent range of classical compositions, Kirov says it is difficult to say how to approach the task until you actually start rehearsing. “It is a process where the conductor, in my opinion should not only be willing to share, but also to receive from the orchestra. Every musician in the orchestra has his or her own feelings, taste, and concept about music. Then the conductor's role is to help all these different interpretations (including his own) merge into one direction that we all are willing to take.”

“Not everybody has to necessarily agree with the approach,” he continues, “but it has to be so convincing that everybody is willing to follow it. The conductor in a way is a coach and a player. He is a coach during the rehearsal process and then becomes a player during the performance. I like to think of the conductor as a musician who happens to conduct, as the violinist is a musician who happens to play violin, or the oboe player who is a musician who happens to play the oboe. As I am conducting, in a way I have to become the musicians, feel what they feel, be helpful where needed and let them feel free to express themselves and bring out their best music making”

“But most importantly, the conductor has to accept the fact that he is in service of the music and his main goal is to make the score come to life while being as faithful as possible to the composer's intentions. The interpretation is like a mountain, if you look it from one side you can't see what is on the other and that is why every time we perform, the same piece of music is spontaneously different. I strongly believe in spontaneous music making and all these unlimited possibilities is what makes life & music immortal.”

For Kirov, the most challenging component involved with structuring thematic shows together of this nature is to find the internal connections between each piece presented.

The way Brahms builds his First Symphony is a huge tribute to Beethoven's masterful way of using motif development,” reflects Stilian.  “Folklore is a main component in Bartók's music but it is also a major resource in Beethoven and Brahms writing. There are some truly spiritual dances in Bartók's work, which can perfectly relate to Corigliano's approach to his extraordinary Voyage. Two pieces that are very different and yet the spiritual almost religious elements bring them closer together. As an artist you have you look for these different aspects and of course, that is a challenge but it is also extremely inspiring and rewarding process.”

When asked about his personal professional goals & career highlights experienced at this present juncture of his career, Kirov quickly states how “the main professional goal for a musician should always be to bring joy, inspiration and excitement thought art everywhere possible.”

“We should aim to make music at a homeless shelter with the same passion as we would at Carnegie Hall. I was fortunate to be able to have both these experiences and I can tell you that they were equally rewarding because music is meant for the people and when you bring music where it's desperately needed you feel truly complete as an artist.”

“It would be too self-centered to talk too much about the highlights of my career,” Kirov modestly concludes.  “But what I can say is that I was always fortunate to be surrounded by extraordinary musicians, who were extremely supportive and helped me become the musician I am today. Every opportunity to make music is a highlight and I am grateful for these opportunities to meet new and old friends through music.”

The Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestras presentation of ‘Drama, Voyage, Folklore & 21 Years of Inspiration featuring Auditioning Conductor Stilian Kirov will take place on Saturday, January 30th at 8:00 PM at Saginaw’s Temple Theatre. Performing works by Beethoven, Corigliano, Bartok & Brahms, tickets are available by phoning 989-754-SHOW or visiting


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