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The “first lady” of the Vienna Philharmonic in an interview for Radio Bulgaria

Albena Danailova: My dream is of a world without restrictions and with more music

Albena Danailova
Photo: library

The Classic FM Orchestra, with conductor Grigor Palikarov and soloist Albena Danailova, is to hold a concert in Bulgaria Hall tonight, 29 June.

 “The programme is a variegated,” Albena Danailova says. “At the suggestion of the orchestra we shall perform works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Sarasate and Kreisler. I would describe the pieces we have selected as “summer music”, light and easy to listen to.” The concert is part of the European Music Festival.

They call Albena Danailova the “first lady” of the Vienna Philharmonic and that is no mere catchphrase, she really is the first female concertmaster in the almost 180-year long history of the orchestra, considered to be one of the best in the world.

Albena Danailova was born in Sofia, to a family of musicians. She studied the violin with Nelly Zheleva at the Lyubomir Pipkov Music School and with Prof. Dora Ivanova at the Pancho Vladigerov Academy of Music. What she remembers most vividly from those times are the endless hours of grueling work by her teachers, their method of teaching and the experience she gleaned.

“I started when I was 4 or 5 like most children in Bulgaria at the time but it was only when I was 13-14 that I realized that playing is what gives me maximum freedom. I continued my education at the Rostock University of Music and Theatrein Germany with Prof. Petru Munteanu. I then moved to Munich. To my mind for people in our kind of music, Germany and Austria are the best places because they are the countries doing the most for classical music. I already had experience as concertmaster at the Bayerische Staatsorchester when I read, in a specialized magazine, that there was an opening for the same position at the Vienna Philharmonic. The first time the contest was suspended but the second time I somehow knew it would be me. Why, I could not say, but I really wanted the position and I was sure. I won the contest, the whole orchestra congratulated me, then I had two months to move to Vienna and I started work. That is how it is to this day – work, and then more work.”

At the time Albena was the 6th or 7th woman in the orchestra. She says that women have been slow in entering the legendary orchestra because the Viennese strictly adhere to tradition.

“Actually, the idea that women can join the orchestra dates back to the 1990s but maybe that is a fact that has not been popularized quickly enough. Things seem to change there more slowly. The Austrians like to joke about it, they say: “If the world comes to an end, come join us, because it will probably take us 30 years to catch on.” I don’t know how many ladies there are in the orchestra now, maybe close to 20 – something that was unthinkable 10 years ago. Together with my colleagues we often play chamber music with different formations – from trios to octets or nonets. Almost everyone does it, it keeps us in good shape as musicians and is part of our work. We frequently give concerts in Musikverein and other concert halls in Austria, we perform in Japan, in China. I recently became a professor at the Universität Wien and I am continuing with my solo career.

I love to return to Bulgaria, to play here. It brings back so many memories from the time before I started travelling the world. To me Bulgaria is the place I call “home” but each time the feeling is that we are changing – that I am changing, and so is my “home”. Whatever stage I am playing from, it is always a pleasure to perform for audiences, to come in contact with people I do not know. What I wish for is that there be no more pandemics, that our lives be free of restrictions. And more music, not just for us, professional musicians but most of all for the young and for children.”

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