Alpen - NoNaMe - Bansko

Alpen - NoNaMe - Bansko

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UK Choir Director Alexander Mason: Bulgaria Is Full of Contrasts, Delightful Surprises

Interview with Alexander Mason, Director of Music at St David's Cathedral.

The popular St David's Cathedral choir, from the UK's smallest city, recently made a successful tour of Bulgaria.

The present choir is unique in the UK in that its top line consists of girls aged 8-18. The choir sings at four services each week and has recorded several CDs, one of which sold over one million copies in the US.

The St David's Cathedral choir has a history dating back to 1132, what did the choir think of visiting and singing at some of Bulgaria's most historic sites?

The tour was a great success and has had a huge impact on choir Members. The choir has travelled widely in Western Europe and the USA so it was a completely new experience for the choir to come to Eastern Europe and experience Bulgarian life for a short time.

Did you get the chance to hear any traditional Bulgarian music? Where did your tour take you to?

The choir visited the Alexander Nevski Cathedral and heard the choir there. Bulgaria is renowned for its singing and this was an extremely uplifting experience for us. We stayed in Sofia, Bansko and Koprivshtitsa and also visited national monuments such as the Rila monastery and Thracian tomb at Starosel. We were also fortunate enough to hear a folk band during dinner in Bansko and the choristers took part in traditional dancing in the square in Koprivshtitsa.

What other countries has the choir toured? How did Bulgaria compare to other countries you have visited?

As mentioned above the choir has visited Western Europe and the USA. We found Bulgaria to be an hospitable country full of contrast and delightful surprises. We stayed in three very different sorts of accommodation: a ‘Soviet' style hostel in Sofia's university district, a 4* hotel in Bansko and an 18th century mansion in Koprivshtitsa. The choir has not experienced this kind of variety on its travels before.

Why did you decide to tour Bulgaria in the first place? Where was the best place to sing on your visit?

My brother has been walking in the Bulgarian mountains and met a girl Eleonora Elieva who helped to fix up this trip. It was speaking to them that they persuaded me to visit and bring the choir. We sang in the British Ambassador's residence in Sofia which was a great honour, the Catholic Cathedral in Sofia with its splendidly reverberant acoustics, the Protestant Church in Bansko which was very well supported and a private concert in the orthodox Church in Koprivshtitsa. Sadly we were not allowed to sing in the Alexander Nevski Cathedral. I hope that in the future the rules on singing in the Orthodox churches and cathedral might be relaxed to enable visiting choirs to enjoy the splendour of Bulgaria's cultural heritage.

Now you have returned to the UK what overall impression did Bulgaria leave with you personally and other choir members? Will the choir think of returning to Bulgaria?

Well as I have already said, most of our party had never been to Eastern Europe, let alone Bulgaria. We have all come away with an extremely positive impression of the country and its people. In the UK Bulgaria is not always portrayed in the press in the best possible light so it was fantastic for us to experience the country for ourselves, make up our own minds and spread the word about the wonders that await intrepid travelers! I'm sure Members of the choir will return and I wouldn't rule out the possibility of the entire choir returning. We will have to wait and see on that question!

Is there a possibility of setting up a stronger musical link between Wales and Bulgaria, two countries that are proud of their musical heritage?

I'm sure there is. We would be delighted to welcome Bulgarian choirs to Wales and St Davids Cathedral. These kind of links depend so much on personal contacts and we were fortunate to meet Bulgarian musicians on our tour and through word of mouth you never know what might happen.

What is the next step for the St David's Cathedral choir? Are there plans for the release of a new CD soon?

This year has been extremely busy for the choir. We have recorded two CDs, broadcast on BBC Radio, given two world premières, sung numerous concerts, toured York and Bulgaria as well as all the normal Cathedral commitments. I have plans for further recordings and tours and composers I would like to commission, so after some consolidation of new personnel at the start of the new academic year in September I'll start building toward these next projects.

Author: Henry Rowlands


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