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Bulgarian violinist Bella Hristova to perform 2 concerts with Orchestra Iowa in Coralville and Cedar Rapids

Award-winning Bulgarian violinist Bella Hristova will join Orchestra Iowa on the Sibelius Violin Concerto on Friday nigh
Award-winning Bulgarian violinist Bella Hristova will join Orchestra Iowa on the Sibelius Violin Concerto on Friday night (1/31) at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts and Saturday night (2/1) at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids. The event also will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, with a performance of his Symphony No. 7. (Lisa-Marie Mazzucco)
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Sometimes Mother knows best, and dreams do come true.

Growing up in Pleven, Bulgaria, little Bella Hristova wanted to play the piano, but her mother dreamed of having a daughter who played the violin.

Luckily, Hristova, then 6, took to the stringed instrument. So much so that at age 13, she moved to the United States to further her violin studies in Michigan.

In 2003, she was accepted into the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, then received her Artist Diploma from Indiana University in 2010. After that, she returned to the City of Brotherly Love, where she lives with her husband, acclaimed composer David Serkin Ludwig, and their four rescue cats.

Now 34, her award-winning career has taken her around the world, from New York’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center to Europe, Latin America, New Zealand and a recent concert in Seoul, South Korea.

On Friday (1/31) and Saturday (2/1), she will join Orchestra Iowa in performing the virtuosic Sibelius Violin Concerto in Coralville and Cedar Rapids. It’s one of her favorite pieces.

“There’s something about the character and the feeling of it,” she said by phone from her Philadelphia home. “It’s one of my earliest musical memories — there’s just a few that I have. Another one is the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante. When I was a toddler — 2, 3, 4, 5 — my mother played a recording of the Sibelius concerto with David Oistrakh playing. He really championed the work and played it many places.

“That’s the recording I grew up with, so I’d always have that in my ear. I even remember where the record stopped, where we had to flip it to the other side in the third movement. It wasn’t even on a cassette tape — it was on a record back in Bulgaria. And I think it’s one of my mom’s favorite concertos, too,” she said.

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“There’s a lot of emotion in it. It’s very grand, it’s very satisfying to play, even though it’s tiring. It gives you the feels.”

The 35-minute piece is the Finnish composer’s only concerto. It premiered in 1904 in Helsinki, with Sibelius conducting, but was said to be so hard that he revised the work, and debuted his new version the following year.

It’s still plenty hard, Hristova said. The first movement has such delicate moments, as well as two killer cadenzas — one breaking into a wild flair. The Adagio is so sweet, and the final Allegro movement, again, is wild. In terms of stamina, technicality and artistry, it asks a lot of the violinist.

“The technique is necessary,” Hristova said. “It should always be there to serve the music so that you don’t notice the technique and you can let the music shine through. I always try to interpret as best as I can, what did the composer want to convey?

“(The Sibelius) is romantic, but I think a lot of it is like a reserved romanticism. ... Even though it’s so emotive all the time, there are times when he wants you to pull back to make the bigger moments even more climactic. So really, just paying attention to the core. I’ve had this piece memorized for years, but I always practice with the music. It’s just always a good reminder to see the exact markings that the composer wrote.”

She learned the piece while still in college, and now performs it several times a year in concert. To prepare, she focuses on technical aspects before rehearsing with an orchestra.

“I love the piece so much, but it’s so difficult for me, and maybe for everybody, just the demand on the hands,” she said. “If my fingers were just a little longer, maybe it wouldn’t be as tiring. But it’s so worth the tiring to play it, because it’s a magnificent piece. It’s almost symphonic in the orchestra part. It’s a big orchestra, and of course the violin still shines, but it’s not an accompaniment in the orchestra at all. It’s really a large-scale work for the orchestra, as well.”

She performs on a 1655 Amati violin, on loan from an owner who wishes to remain anonymous.

“(The instrument) has a really, really, really deep and warm tone,” she said. “The lower register is very powerful, and has many colors to play with. I’ve played it so many years I know it rather well. I know what I can get out of it and how far I can push it before the sound cracks. It’s very temperamental with the different climates, but I always hear comments, even when it’s not physically feeling quite right, comments that it has a very full and warm and open sound in the hall. It’s a very special violin and I’m very fortunate to be able to play on it.”

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She’s looking forward to playing the Sibelius with Orchestra Iowa Maestro Timothy Hankewich. She performed under his baton with the Wheeling, W.Va., Symphony Orchestra in October 2018.

“It was really a pleasure,” she said. “That was the first time I’d had a chance to work with him, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

The feeling was mutual.

“She is a big deal, and she is stunning,” Hankewich said. “Last year, when we got (cellist) Zlatomir Fung, who won the Tchaikovsky competition weeks after we had him here, we hired him as leverage to get to her — that’s how good she is, so I’m looking forward to working with her again.”

She’s an award-winner as well, earning a 2013 Avery Fisher Career Grant, among others.

Music is in her DNA. Her father was a Russian composer, who died when she was 4, and her mother is a choral conductor and pianist. Hristova can’t remember when she felt the call for her own musical career.

“It’s what I was always told by my mother — it was just how I was raised,” she said. “It’s almost like I had no choice about it, so I don’t know when it actually switched in my head that it’s what I wanted, rather than what she wanted. But I moved here when I was 13 to study. Went to high school, had lessons, then came to Curtis (Institute) at 17, and I think by then I knew that music would be a huge part of my life.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

Get Out!

• What: Orchestra Iowa Masterworks: Beethoven 250

• Coralville: 7:30 p.m. Friday (1/31), Coralville Center for the Performing Arts, 1301 Fifth St.

• Cedar Rapids: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (2/1), Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE

• Tickets: $16 to $56, Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or Artsiowa.com/tickets/concerts/beethoven-250/ • Students: Ages 17 and under free with paid adult; college students $10; at the ticket office or by phone

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• Program: Panufnik, “Landscape”; Sibelius, Violin Concerto, featuring guest soloist Bella Hristova, violin; Beethoven, Symphony No. 7

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