CSO: High drama, beautiful sound

Worldly Milanov returns to Chautauqua for Romantic evening program with CSO

Megan Tan | Daily File PhotoThe Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs under the baton of guest conductor Rossen Milanov in his last appearance at Chautauqua, Aug. 16, 2011. Milanov returns to lead the CSO at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Megan Tan | Daily File Photo

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs under the baton of guest conductor Rossen Milanov in his last appearance at Chautauqua, Aug. 16, 2011. Milanov returns to lead the CSO at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Rossen Milanov was conducting and vacationing in Europe until July 21. In the next 38 days, he will work on four different continents. He technically lives in both Philadelphia and Spain, but he also works in Bulgaria.

One could say that Milanov’s life is full of travel.

He has traveled once more to Chautauqua Institution to guest conduct the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. The CSO will perform Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” Suite Nos. 1 and 2, César Franck’s Le Chasseur maudit (“The Accursed Huntsman”) and Richard Strauss’ Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration), Op. 24.

Chautauquans last saw Milanov in his Amp debut in 2011. The Bulgarian conductor is excited to be back on the grounds for his concerts tonight and on July 25.

“It is a unique place [here] — the combination of intellectual, spiritual and artistic energy is unsurpassed,” Milanov said.

Energy is something Milanov has in abundance — and he needs to, to endure his rigorous travel schedule. He is the principal conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias. He is also the music director of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra and Symphony in C, both in New Jersey, and the music director of the New Symphony Orchestra in Bulgaria.

“All these wonderful opportunities are irresistible to me,” Milanov said. “A few hours of flights and the chronic jet lag are a small price to pay for the tremendous joy of sharing my love for music in four very different locations.”

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Tonight’s performance has no guest soloist, making Milanov the de facto star of the evening. The Chautauquan Daily asked him a series of questions, and part of that interview is reproduced here so that the audience may get to know Milanov one on one.

Daily: What was it like being a music student studying during the end of Communism?

Milanov: My time spent in Bulgaria during the Communist period was something that actually I appreciate very much. The education system at the time was entirely merit-based. I had some amazing schoolmates that have enjoyed great success on the international music scene. I found it beneficial to have, as peers, people with very similar interests — there was a great emphasis on humanitarian subjects: art history, aesthetics, languages …

Daily: “In the Hall of the Mountain King” is perhaps the most famous movement from Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” suites. What is your favorite movement in Suite No. 1 or Suite No. 2? How are they related to Henrik Ibsen’s [Peer Gynt]?

Milanov: True, it is the most famous part, but I do not really have a favorite movement. The two suites are actually a pair of miniature symphonies; each starts with an engaging first movement, followed by a character piece, a lyrical center and a finale, which in both suites is perhaps the most original piece. The suites should not be viewed as a counterpart to the actual play’s narrative. They are arranged specifically for presentation in concert.

Daily: Tonight’s program is rather dark at times. What sort of overall mood are you looking to create? What are some standout moments or passages for you?

Milanov: The general mood of the program is very Romantic. There is certainly a lot of drama, high contrasts and sweeping musical waves particularly in [the] Strauss and Franck [works]. Each of the three works is programmatic, and knowledge of the program can certainly enhance the appreciation of the music. Standout moments are the wild hunt and the creative use of church bells in [the] Franck [piece], while in [the] Strauss, the passage of the transfiguration is full of light and hope.

Daily: What are the difficulties in your job? Why do you wake up every morning and continue conducting and directing?

Milanov: The difficulties in my job are the same as with any other job: to stay healthy, to find the inspiration on a daily basis, to be receptive and open-minded to everything that happens around me. I wake up every morning with the incredible feeling of gratitude that I can have the music as both my profession and my life’s passion. To be a good conductor, one has to also understand the psychology of the musicians and to be able to inspire them to play with their hearts. Inspiration is all around us: a good book, an inspiring film, a great real life story. Music is ultimately about communicating emotions. I try to enrich my emotional vocabulary on a daily basis. When I don’t work I like to cook, meet with friends, travel just for fun …

Daily: What is one way you feel you truly understand the psychology of musicians?

Milanov: The musicians always approach music very positively. There is no musician that I know that would go onstage without trying to give 100 percent. I have to make sure as a conductor that I remove all the obstacles that prevent one to realize that 100-percent positive intent. Sometimes it is not very easy. I believe that a musician should try to work at full capacity on a daily basis. Music can happen every day and every time if we invest enough of ourselves in it.