"Music in the Lens" exhibition by Vasilka Balevska presents 50 years of history

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Milcho Leviev and Vassil Kazandjiev

Musicians, journalists and fans all know her because for decades her photos have been preserving moments of every major concert in Bulgaria. Often her presence is almost invisible, because Ms. Balevska is not one of the photographers who interferes with the audience’s pleasure in order to do their job. Her photos of unforgettable concerts are unique and meaningful. Some of them are part of an exhibition, opening today in the lobby of the Bulgaria Concert Hall in Sofia. The exhibition marks 50 years of professional activity and fans of classical music have been expecting it with curiosity. The famous photographer has dedicated the exhibition to the 100th anniversary her father’s birth.

"My father graduated from the Art Academy in Sofia and since then has been an amateur photographer. Despite being a teacher in painting and history, he had a great passion for photography. I was 9 years old when he handed me a wide-format ‘Lubitel’ camera. I wanted to study Russian language and history, but my father made me study photography. I graduated and I went to work at the State Photographic Archives. I have been a freelancer since 1993. In the State Photographic Archives we compiled Bulgaria's history in photos and we provided all the cultural centers with photos on certain topics. I've taken photos of everything. As a fan of music I was very eager to shoot concerts. Almost every year I was in Rousse for the March Music Days Festival. Then the festival organized meetings in factory workshops with composers and artists, so I managed to shoot interesting photos. My love for classical music dates back to my childhood. In my hometown of Troyan rich cultural life existed. In the 1960s our amateur teams were leaders in the country. We used to have amateur operetta, a state theater. The local community center organized meetings with composers, writers, and I sang in the school choir until graduating from high school. I remember, I was at a school camp in Varna and they took us to watch Carmen at the Summer Theater. I have been in love with classical music ever since. I still remember the white dress with a beautiful red rose that Zara Doluhanova, a Soviet opera singer who played the lead role, wore. I later started listening to BNR’s educational programs after 22 p.m."

These days Vasilka Balevska has been digitizing her archive, but she says that many of the films have already lost their "sharpness" and that is why she sometimes needs to make digital copies of the photos themselves.

"From the tasks I always picked up music events. Perhaps somewhere in the late 1960s the Bulgarian Music magazine invited me to become their photographer. Editor-in-Chief Dimitar Zenginov had his own requirements that helped me a lot. He wanted me to take photos of the musicians during rehearsals, at home, before the concert, not just on the stage. Now, although I'm a freelancer, I continue to shoot the history of music. Before the changes in 1989, absolutely all the great performers of the socialist countries were guests to Bulgaria. Young Gergiev, Temirkanov, Repin were starting their careers here. There were also great musicians from the west – Ruggiero Ricci, the Genoa Opera Theater, Jean-Bernard Pommier who was very young when he first came to Bulgaria. I cannot do without this art. I return after a concert and keep listening to music while I am processing the photos."

New Year Festival 1991. Soloists: Vasko Vassilev, Teresa Nikolova, Svetlin Russev, Bilyana Vuchkova, Vesko Panteleev-Eshkenazi

The exhibition that opens today is a retrospective one. Some of the first photos Ms. Balevska shot are on display.

"My oldest photo is one of Pancho Vladigerov and Ivan Drenikov. There is one of Weissenberg, too. There is a unique one on which on stage are seen violinists Vasko Vassilev, Teresa Nikolova, Svetlin Rusev, Biliana Vuchkova and Vesko Panteleev performing together. I always try to ‘catch’ musicians at their most typical moments. I have taken photos of conductors but when it was not their music the photos were not that good. In such cases I look for another opportunity. I have had times when I shoot a whole opera performance and I do not like a single shot. The camera trigger can be loud and I am very careful not to disturb people in the hall. Equipment is expensive and I do not blame the current generation of photographers who, perhaps because of financial reasons, prefer shooting different events. But listening to music and shooting music is what I like."

English: Alexander Markov

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