Text and interview: Magdalena Gigova
This year, in July and August, it is not only a time for holidays! The coronavirus rearranged our way of life, but it cannot cancel either the successes of young Bulgarians around the world or the generosity of our sponsors.
On several consecutive Mondays, NEF ‘13th century Bulgaria’ will present the six nominees for the National Prize in support of young talents in the arts and science on its website. And if you decide to support these talented people, you can contribute to the donation campaign launched by the Fund.
The competition, which is being held for the first time, set a challenge to Bulgarian citizens of up to 35 years of age with a university degree in the arts or science, and innovative achievements in their respective field.
A mandatory requirement was that contenders for the prize and the BGN 5,000 (a sum that is to cover the winner’s education expenses) were to have been accepted in 2019 for postgraduate qualification at accredited higher education institutions in Europe, excluding Bulgaria.
One of the first to submit documents was pianist Victoria Vassilenko who, on 5 July, along with her colleague from Russia, Sergei Redkin, performed Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 11 and 12, under the baton of maestro Plamen Dzhurov.
Victoria Vassilenko is a graduate of the Lyubomir Pipkov National School of Music in Sofia, in Prof. Stella Dimitrova-Maystorova’s piano class. In 2011, she enrolled in the Reina Sofía School of Music, Madrid, Spain, under the famous Russian pedagogue and pianist, Dmitri Bashkirov. In September 2014, she simultaneously became a student at the Faculty of Music of the New Bulgarian University and the Lake Como International Piano Academy, Italy. In 2016, she continued her education in piano classes of Avedis Kuyumjian and Louis Lortie at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel, Brussels, Belgium, while, in 2017, she enrolled in the Royal Conservatoire of Brussels for her Master’s degree, under Prof. Boyan Vodenicharov.
Victoria is the winner of many first, second and special prizes at national and international piano competitions in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Czechia, and England. In November 2012, she won second prize (no first prize awarded) at the James Mottram International Piano Competition in Manchester, England. In September 2016, she won the first and special awards at the prestigious George Enescu International Competition in Bucharest, Romania.
The pianist has given many recitals, two of which were in Vienna (2008) and New York (2010). She has performed as a soloist with various orchestras such as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; the Brussels Chamber Orchestra; the Lincolnwood Chamber Orchestra (USA); the Classic FM Radio Orchestra; the BNR Symphony Orchestra; the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra; the New Europe Symphony Orchestra; the Festival Orchestra of the Musica Mundi summer course in Belgium, under the baton of Maxim Vengerov (2009), and many others. She was twice awarded the Crystal Lyre Prize for best young performer, as a soloist in the 2007–08 concert season and as a chamber performer in 2012.
And here are Victoria Vassilenko’s answers to a few questions:
‘Music is more interesting to me than children’s films.’
Was the piano a case of ‘love at first sight’ for you?
When I was three or four years old, my mother played me W.A. Mozart’s operas, ‘The Magic Flute’ and ‘The Marriage of Figaro’. I was enormously impressed by the music and begged her to play them over and over again. They were more interesting to me than children’s films—I learned them by heart. This opened my heart to music—of course, a small child cannot begin a professional musical education directly with singing. So, since my parents are pianists, I began to learn the piano. I gradually decided that this was to be my future—ever since I was small, I have been firmly convinced in and focused on what I want. Music and the piano were and have remained my strongest desire and love.
You have studied in many places abroad; can you draw a parallel between Bulgarian education and that abroad?
In Bulgaria, I received the most wonderful basis for development, including the opportunities of performing on stage that I have had and I have. I have played on the most prestigious Bulgarian stages and with some of the most magnificent and talented Bulgarian musicians, for which I am infinitely grateful. It is very important that one never forgets where they started and what was it they were given to achieve success at an international level.
Bulgaria has always produced incredible talents, who proudly bring fame to its name abroad and continue their development there. I am firmly convinced that its future depends on our responsibility towards it as its ‘products’. We receive much, and we have to return even more.
You have been awarded prizes in many contests; are you the competitive type?
Yes, I have always been the competitive type. However, this has never affected my love for music—the world we live in today is a world of business and it is forcing a constant self-affirmation. There is a danger that we might forget the point of what we are doing and why we have dedicated our lives to art. Music is a language through which we learn to express ourselves—a language of purity, perfection; of the divine and the human. Described in this way, we cannot imagine how it can be combined with contests—every artist is unique and should not compete with another. But contests provide wonderful opportunities for us to be heard, to be appreciated; they are an incentive to even harder work and make us mentally stronger. The adrenaline of the competition podium is perhaps the strongest. Whatever happens in a contest, the valuable experience we acquire thanks to it is indispensable.
The prizes, the talent or the character—which is it that opens the doors to the big stage?
It is different for every artist. Personally, I would say that it is a combination of the three, but certainly the strongest role is played by character.
Music is a universal language; do you have a dream orchestra, or a stage, for your future performances?
One of my big dreams is to play as the soloist at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam.
If you are willing to donate in support of Victoria, you can find instructions on the campaign’s landing page:
or on the NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ website: