From death to life, from Earth to Heaven

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"The joy of Resurrection should not be left in the temple. We should strive to keep it in the most difficult moments of our lives. And to pass it on to other people, as much as we can. This is the meaning of Resurrection,” says Nikola Antonov, with whom we meet on the biggest Orthodox holiday. For more than ten years Nikola has been working in the field of information technologies as an IT professional, but church music is constantly part of his life. His professional path has passed through BNT and BNR, where he hosted shows devoted to Orthodox topics. He is also a graduate of the Sofia Seminary. Thanks to his singing talent, supported and guided by his teachers, he has participated in serious church-music projects as part of professional choirs. After graduating he performed in a number of choirs of different churches in Sofia, while simultaneously studying classical singing with Maestro George Kouzmanov. For the friends of Radio Bulgaria Nikola Antonov selected some of the chants performed by his choir "Trisàgion." They are all in the Byzantine style.

The name of the formation comes from the Greek name of a prayer.

"Trisagion is a formation, which is I think the first of its kind – Nichola says. - I am also a member of the "Saint Yoan Kukuzel – The Angel Voiced" Choir where I am a soloist. The repertoire of this chamber choir is diverse, and includes polyphonic compositions and monodies but in the past 50 years choir singing has been more popular in Bulgaria. In neighbouring Greece, for example, there is more focus on solo interpretations. The origin of the Byzantine church monophonic music is solo interpretation. The text is what is important and meaning is conveyed through various singing decorations. And there is this iso-singing, which provides the basis for development of the melody. I created Trisagion to perform this type of music. It was a bold move on my part, with the support of Svetoslav Tsankov - my close friend, opera singer and teacher. The formation consists of a soloist and several singers who sing the iso. Me and Svetlio are the constant part of the choir.”

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Nikola told us more about the chants performed during Easter and provided Radio Bulgaria with recordings of them.

“In the night of Resurrection, the main one is "Christ is Risen" which is a summary of the holiday. It is the base of a whole cycle that lasts for 40 days - until Ascension we sing Christ is Risen on a daily basis in one version or another. This is the way people become involved and participate actively in the religious events. Among the chants that I have selected is Resurrection Day by Zheko Pavlov - a music teacher from the late 19th century from Varna. He studied with Greek masters, and has left us a rich heritage, transmitting the style of Constantinople singing school. When we say "Byzantine music" we usually mean something Greek, but Byzantium had many different influences. The authors of church music were of different nationalities. The language is Greek, but the culture itself is a mixture of influences from various peoples and ethnicities. There were Bulgarian authors who worked under the laws and rules of this music centuries after Byzantium stopped existing. Another chant is "comes from the region of Elena. In the mid-19th century Elena has been a cultural center, especially in relation to church music. Singers who have practiced in the region were trained in the style and traditions of the Constantinople singing school, but sung in Church Slavonic language.”

Regardless of the stress of modern man with family and professional responsibilities Nikola has devoted years to singing. He maintains professional relationships with prominent musicologists and performers of Byzantine church music in Greece and often travels there to sing with them. Since late last year, he has been a permanent member of the Greek Byzantine Choir "Domestiki" – in the city of Drama headed by Gregory Papaemanuil. Along with him they recently visited Izmir, Turkey, and plan a tour to Alexandria, Egypt. What does singing give him?

С гръцкия византийски хор „Доместики“ от Драма, ръководен от г-н Григорий Папаемануил, в храма „Св. Вукол

“I do not want my answer to sound like preaching, but music is my way to save my soul, this is the main motive to perform and spread it. It gives meaning to my life. We're so imperfect and we cannot complete almost anything. What else can we do but to recognize the talents God has given to us and try to develop them. This is wealth that does not rot and moths cannot eat it. After this long period of Lent and the Holy Week, during which, we symbolically experience the suffering of the Savior for us, the Church gives us the message that we should not forget never. It is very simple and it is: "On the Day of Resurrection, enlighten.” This is God’s transition from death to life and from earth to heaven. If we can preserve this message and never forget it even in the most difficult moments, it should guide us and that would mean that the church has fulfilled its mission among men.”

English: Alexander Markov

Photos: courtesy of Nikola Antonov

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