New Classical Tracks: Dobrinka Tabakova's String Paths

by Julie Amacher
July 30, 2013

Listen New Classical Tracks: Dobrinka Tabakova's String Paths
Larger view
Dobrinka Tabakova - String Paths (Courtesy of ECM)

"I sometimes hear people say that what they really love is what they do in their spare time. But in a way my spare time is all of my time." That's Dobrinka Tabakova, a Bulgarian-born, London-based composer. Tabakova may only be 33 years old, yet she's been winning awards for her compositions since age 14. During a composing workshop in 2002 she earned high praise from composer John Adams who said her music is extremely original and rare.

Tabakova says earning that feedback was quite a thrill. "I must admit, I think he's a phenomenal composer and I admire him a great deal, so to have somebody that I admire so greatly say such inspirational words for me, words that I can look back on and draw strength and inspiration from - it's a huge, huge compliment!"

String Paths is Tabakova's first full album devoted to her own compositions. She says she has always known this would be her path. "I must say the actual thought of being a composer is a very strange concept to have and to know at seven that I will be a composer - I think it's a strange thought to have and especially also growing up among academics and scientists and doctors, it's not such a natural thought, necessarily, but it was something I enjoyed a great deal and I loved writing music and hearing it performed as well - it just gave me a real sense of some kind of inner peace and completion somehow. And writing every new piece is maybe trying to capture that feeling again and again."

When you look at the lengthy list of her original compositions, you might find it surprising that almost all of them are commissioned works, including those that appear on this new release.

The Concerto for Cello and Strings was written for Kristina Blaumane, the principal cellist of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. "The musicality of her playing, going from very technically challenging to lyrical, is quite seamless, which is, I think, a great gift for any musician. And I wanted to show that off in the Cello Concerto," explains Tabakova. "And there are many leaps and a lot of cross string writing and then very quickly she has to re-adapt and play a very cantabile, seamless melody."

"So the first movement is quite a struggle, quite an earthly struggle and to use the metaphor of the ship, it's almost like a ship at sea trying to anchor itself. The second movement is very human, very full of longing and all of those human feelings, and then there is an ascent from that into the third movement."

Tabakova loves to experience music live in the concert hall, where we often have certain expectations about what we'll see and hear. She tries to overcome those preconceived notions in her trio for violin, viola and cello, titled Insight. "The first connection that I made was with the sound of the accordion — whether I could morph or merge the three - the violin, the viola, the cello - into a sound that could potentially suggest the breathing of an accordion, or at some points with a slightly punchier articulation, maybe something like a brass fanfare. So I just wanted to challenge that perception that we have when we see musicians on the stage. And that really was the starting point for that piece."

Dobrinka Tabakova pays homage to French Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau in her Suite in Old Style. Bursting melodies are at the heart of Rameau's music, and these little explosions are something that Tabakova tries to capture in her suite. "And the Suite in Old Style, it's very much just a story of daily life in an aristocratic house in the 18th century, potentially a French house. And it goes through the motions of the day with fanfares and hunting and courting in the garden and riddles by passing entertainers. So it's just describing that kind of fantasy world and trying to capture those images as compactly as I could, alluding back to Rameau."

Everyday life for Dobrinka Tabakova is centered on the thing she loves most - composing. Fortunately for us, she has many more compositions in the works.

  Form is no longer active