"It’s beautifully written!"
- Bella Hristova
Bella Hristova and the commission of unaccompanied violin work
Bella Hristova was born in Bulgaria and moved to the US at the age of 13. She came to Michigan as an exchange student and lived there for 4 years before meeting Ida Kavafian, with whom she continued her violin studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Hristova says she is shy and has lots of anxiety about the things she does. Somehow every time I meet her – whether it’s entering Ms. Kavafian’s class to give her a fresh cup of coffee or on stage – she glows, as if she has the universe’s approval and all the stars aligned with her. She glows as if she deserves to be right there, right at that moment. Thoughtful, strong and energetic, she has done a lot already in her young career and seems to feel good about all of it. “I feel I overcome a lot. I had very kind people helping me along the way. My mom is really poor and I grew up really poor and when I came to the US a lot of people helped me to get to where I am. So I guess I don’t give up, that is what I am the most proud of.”
As a child Hristova wanted to be a pianist. But her mother had this dream that her daughter would be a violinist. So at the age of 6 she started the violin and that’s pretty much all she has known since then. She says she loves playing the piano and listening to piano music. “I don’t want anyone to take this the wrong way but I think the piano is a complete instrument. The violin is not thought of that way. And I think part of why I like doing an unaccompanied program so much is because that’s the closest you can get to be a complete instrument.”
Part of her fascination with unaccompanied violin started when she was studying with Jaime Laredo at Indiana University. “Laredo studied with Josef Gingold who studied with Ysaÿe so all a sudden Ysaÿe’s Sonatas were just three people away from me,” says Bella with sparkle in her eyes. Therefore I learned and performed all of them at Indiana University.” Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas for Solo Violin are not showpieces but luxurious serious music modeled after Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas. Hristova’s big project of the moment is to commission 6 contemporary compositions inspired by Bach’s and Ysaÿe’s work for solo violin. She wants to have three different centuries of music for solo violin. On March 16th, at her Young Concert Series’ recital in New York, she gave the world premiere of the first of those 6 compositions. She asked Joan Tower to write a piece to be paired with Bach and Ysaÿe. In a way, Hristova is making music history with her project: she makes music keep happening. She knows this is going to be a multi-year project. But she believes it’s very important to commission composers and to get new music played. “There has always been the idea that art isn't understood until years after it's created,” reminds the violinist. “For my project I want to commission two composers of each generation: two composers that are just starting their career, two composers who have recently emerged, and two composers that are truly renowned. Joan Tower is one of latter.”
The commission by Jan Tower is called “Second String Force”. The first “String Force” was written for the Indiana Violin Competition a few years ago. “I think Joan took in mind my personality. I played String Force for her so she knows my playing,” says the violinist. “I also told her what else I was thinking of having on the program the night of the premiere.”
Hristova feels very lucky that Young Concert Artists is presenting her again in their series (they first presented her when she won the YCA’s audition a few years ago). They are doing an encore performance this year and the recital is the perfect way to begin this larger project and start getting solo commissions. In the summer, Hristova will do a high-quality video of Joan ’s piece. “I don't have any immediate plans to release it on a commercial record but I want to get a video out there, just to get it heard and get people wanting to play it. Because I really think it’s a great piece.”
Beside Joan Tower’s String Force, Hristova played Bach’s B minor partita at her YCA recital. She picked an unaccompanied Bach to pair with an Ysaÿe Sonata. She saw similarity in the movement titles of the B minor Partita and Ysaÿe’s Fourth Sonata. She thought they would go well together. Hristova particularly loves Ysaÿe Sonatas. “They are very fun to play. They are very detailed though. The composer is very specific about everything; there are a lot of details in the score. Of course he was a violinist he knew what he wanted. Anyway the music should shine through it no matter how difficult it is, it’s the same for everything, for Bach and Joan too.”
Beethoven is Hristova’s favorite composer. “I love love love Beethoven…and Bach. It’s like: who is your favorite composer beside Bach,” she says laughing. “I mean I feel like Bach was the grandfather of all music composition and counterpoint. Beethoven is my favorite composer because there is a lot of humanity in his music.” Beethoven became her favorite composer after she won the Michael Hill International Violin Competition and made a big concert tour of New Zealand. She had two different recital programs to present and one of them had the Kreutzer Sonata on it. The concert venues chose the program with the Kreutzer Sonata thirteen times, while the other one got picked only twice. The pianist she was playing with has recorded all the 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas twice. He was an amazing Beethovenian. “Night after night I was falling in love with the music. There is just everything in Beethoven’s music. We find the full spectrum of human emotion in the music of Bach and Beethoven. All of it is in there.”
For the next while Hristova would like to do exactly what she is doing now. “I am very happy with what I am doing. I would like to do more of it, more projects that I feel very passionate about.” One of the exciting things coming up in next two seasons is a concerto commission that her fiancé, the composer David Ludwig, is writing for her. He is writing her a concerto to celebrate their upcoming marriage in August.