Belina Kostadinova divides her life between Zurich, Boston and Burgas
She is a traveller at heart who crosses borders with her mind open to a variety of styles. Belina Kostadinova was born in Burgas and gave her first concert at the age of seven. She won the Svetoslav Obretenov Award in 1981 and the Dimitar Nenov Award for Young Virtuosos the following year. In 1983 she received an international award in Salerno, Italy. Belina graduated from the Music Academy in Sofia, where her teacher was Masha Krasteva. Later she studied under Rudolf Buchbinder in Switzerland and graduated from the Basel Music Academy in 1993. She also holds a degree from the Zurich Music Academy, has taken a master class with Alexis Weissenberg and has performed with the symphony orchestras of Basel and Zurich. Besides Bulgaria and Switzerland, she has played in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the United States, and won a number of other awards. She plays chamber music with the Latitude Trio and accompanies world-famous artists.
Why the piano?
I began playing because my uncle and my mother played at home, and I enjoyed imitating grown-ups. My grandfather was an opera buff and knew a lot of singers and musicians. He had studied medicine in France and was particularly influenced by the musical life there. I remember that as a child I saw The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro a number of times, as well as all other performances in Stara Zagora where my grandparents lived. After years of studies and explorations, I am sure that my choice was inevitable. Even now, with two young children to care for, I travel and play, fully aware that I can't live without it. Music is the universal language that allows me to touch the minds and hearts of people, cross all borders and barriers, and create something beautiful in a busy and chaotic world.
Which is the best piano you have played? Does size matter?
Size doesn't matter much. Larger instruments provide better nuance and acoustic potential. I have played on excellent Steinways in different places around the world as well as on a Fazioli, which is a magnificent instrument, although very rare. Fazioli is kind of the Rolls-Royce of pianos, because all its parts are handmade. The factory owner is very proud of his instruments and sells them at a much higher price than even a Steinway. I played a Fazioli piano in my master classes and the interesting thing was that other candidates were afraid to choose it because they weren't familiar with it, despite the fact that it's a wonderful instrument. It has four pedals instead of the three on a Steinway. I am increasingly convinced that the latest instruments are not necessarily the best; sometimes a 10- or 20-year-old one turns out to be a lot better.
Why did you leave Bulgaria?
It is very difficult to be an ambitious musician and not to want to play on the famous musical stages and, if you are young, you don't want to stay in one place. Today, people move about so much that it is not considered unusual to come from one place but to live and work on the opposite side of the world. Besides, communication eliminates distance. My husband works in Boston, but we live in Zurich – and we are not the only ones.
What music do you play best?
Do you mean what critics say or what I think? It depends on the moment; it is not a fixed thing. At present Haydn, last summer Chopin – and I am now entering a Schumann stage. In the movie about Martha Argerich, she is asked which pianist she looked up to when she was a child and she says it was Claudio Arrau. She heard him play Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in Buenos Aires and fell in love with the piano. When asked if she plays this piece, she replies that she does not feel close to Beethoven's Concerto No. 4. I am not sure if everybody will understand, but she is probably so amazingly good at the piano because she chooses works that she relates to closely.
What music haven't you played?
Only what I don't feel like playing. There is so much that I haven't had the time for so far. I keep on learning new pieces – one lifetime will not be enough to learn everything I want to know.
Your best memory of Bulgaria?
I have a lot of good memories from the Burgas Music School: there were teachers who were interesting personalities, classes were small and we knew one another well. We played a lot during school breaks and everybody tried to be the best at the piano and play the latest hit. It was great fun. If you asked me to do it now, I wouldn't be able to do anything of the kind.
Your worst memory of Bulgaria?
If there was one, I must have forgotten it.
Three things you recommend doing in Bulgaria?
Since I come here in the summer, I can recommend what I have seen: the Burgas Open-Air Theatre performances, operas, concerts and folk festivals. Apollonia in Sozopol in September and experiencing autumn in Burgas: strolls along the boulevards after the thousands of tourists leave.
What does musical provincialism mean?
Everything is relative - in the case of Sofia or Burgas, it means that it does not have the musical life of Paris, London, New York, Vienna, Zurich or Munich. But compared to any town the same size in South, Central or North America or in many other areas, they are active centres.
Why does Bulgaria have good performers, but not good composers?
I wouldn't totally agree that we don't have good composers. The names of outstanding composers who immediately come to mind include Dimitar Nenov, Lyubomir Pipkov, Pancho Vladigerov, Lazar Nikolov, Vasil Kazandzhiev, Marin Goleminov and Dimitar Hristov. The reason they are not as famous as say the Viennese classics is due to the fact that they are 20th Century composers. We need to try to popularise them outside of Bulgaria's borders.
Could you name some younger Bulgarian performers on the world stage? Why do you like them?
I want to apologise in advance if I overlook someone. When it comes to violinists, I should mention Mila Georgieva, who plays in Stuttgart; Vasko Vassilev in London; and Vesko Eshkenazi in Amsterdam. Svetlin Rusev plays in France and Albena Danailova in Vienna. As far as singers, I like what Krasimira Stoyanova, Vesselina Kasarova, Yulian Konstantinov and Darina Takova are doing. They are perhaps the largest and most important Bulgarian presence on world stages. Speaking of conductors, I can't forget Rosen Milanov, who is in Philadelphia. The pianist Plamena Mangova was one of the winners of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels in 2007. I'm very impressed by them because, coming from Bulgaria, they have succeeded among the biggest and most established schools and names and have carved out their own niche, becoming prestigious names in their own right.
With daughter Livia Alessandra in Zermatt, Switzerland
Bulgaria doesn't have any classical music tradition at all, yet it has excellent classical music performers. Why doesn't the country also produce world-famous pop and rock music?
Classical music, which is performed all over the world and by instrumentalists on all continents, is international. Pop music, however, reflects more strongly the preferences and tastes of the region that gave rise to it. This makes Bulgarian pop music less accessible, especially in light of the fact that English-speaking countries dominate the market. As far as rock is concerned, one of the most important reasons can be found in the past. During the 1960s and 1970s, when that music was at its peak, it was forbidden in Communist Bulgaria. It wasn't possible to create a tradition.