Christmas with Friends - a 25-Year-Long Tradition

Bulgaria Hall, Sofia, Dec 25, 2013

“Music Horizons” magazine; January, 2014

by Rostislav Yovchev

Distracted by everyday life and busy preparing for the end-of-the-year holidays, we seem to grow immune to the large number of posters inviting us to Christmas concerts. Some of them deserve little attention, others are fleeting annoyances or displays of the advertising mediocrity that is so popular today. One event, however, stands out not just with beautiful poster, but also with a high level of stagecraft by the youngest generation of musicians. Those who know the cultural life of our capital city well will have already guessed I’m talking about the Sofia Boys Choir.

The invitation, along with the charming smile of its long-time conductor, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Adriana Blagoeva, does not try to boast of the fact that the Sofia Boys Choir will deliver their traditional Christmas concert for an impressive 25th time. This surprised for me and most of her other colleagues. We merely expected to be intrigued by the program, which never repeats what was offered in previous years. This evening, however, was genuinely special.

The title, "Christmas with Friends," didn’t just offer an enjoyable music experience. We witnessed how the universal language of music and the spirit of Christmas makes friends out of performers and audiences. The concert’s hosts, the Quarto Quartett at the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra, collaborated with the choir to preserve this annual tradition.

The concert program built over the course of the evening, reaching a climax at the end. The first half gave the audience a glimpse into the peaceful world of Orthodox music. The works of Dobri Hristov, Stoyan Babekov and Pavel Chesnokov highlighted the power of Slavic spiritual purity and the solemn worship of Christmas.

Then, Quarto Quartett presented an instrumental transition into Western European Christmas music. The young musicians of the ensemble – Ivan Penchev and Ivan Vaglarov (violins), Tatiana Todorova (viola), Dimitar Tenchev (cello) and Silvret Salieva (double bass) – performed parts of "Winter" from Vivaldi's Four Seasons and the first movement of the Divertimento in D Major by Mozart.

The Sofia Boys Choir, in its mixed choir arrangement, then joined the Quartett in a marathon through the ages. There were three Bulgarian premieres: the 13th-century work “Santa Maria strela do dia” by the King of Castile, Alfonso Tenth Wise, and one work each by Haydn and Mozart. A simple melodic line dominated each of these pieces, seamlessly blending text and music. In the first work – the old medieval chant, and in the two works from the Viennese Classical period – the clear and definite contours of ingenious architectonics. The orchestral arrangements done by Prof. Atanas Atanasov were realized with the guest participation of flute player Hristo Pavlov and percussionist Yulian Zhekov.

A real surprise for the audience were the two movements "Kyrie" and "Gloria" from the exquisite Mass in G Major by Franz Schubert. The transparent orchestral texture, convincingly presented, was enhanced by the discreet but definitely present timbre of the organ part played by Prof. Atanas Atanasov. The wonderful soloists Ralitza Ralinova (soprano), and Vladimir Gegov (baritone), joined the exquisite embroidery of choral sound. We enjoyed the charmingly lyrical Schubertian atmosphere, and fresh, youthful emotion.

The tranquil and intuitive performance of Schubert's famous "Ave Maria," sung by Ralitsa Rilinova accompanied by Zornitsa Getova, completed our visit of the Romantic period. It was followed by the little known "Duo concertante" for two violins by Ludwig Spohr, masterfully presented by Ivan Penchev and Ivan Vaglarov.

The culmination of the concert was eagerly anticipated and thrilling. With organ accompaniment, the Sofia Boys Choir performed a chorale from the Cantata No.147 by J. S. Bach and the majestic "Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s "Messiah". The joy and glory brought by the birth of the Savior were felt by all. Although at times the absence of an orchestra was noticeable, this did not affect the enthusiastic applause for the inspirational performance of the Sofia Boys Choir under the direction of Adriana Blagoeva.