Dobrinka Tabakova





Dobrinka Tabakova is a composer of ‘exciting, deeply moving’ music (Washington Times), with ‘glowing tonal harmonies and grand, sweeping gestures which convey a huge emotional depth’ (The Strad). She has been commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society, BBC Radio 3 and the European Broadcasting Union. Her debut profile album String Paths, on ECM Records, was nominated for a Grammy in 2014. In 2017 she was appointed composer-in-residence with the BBC Concert Orchestra.

The music of Dobrinka Tabakova has featured in films (Jean-Luc Godard’s Adieu au langage), dance (Sydney Dance Company/ Rafael Bonachela Anima) as well as international music festivals including Schleswig-Holstein; Moscow Homecoming; Three Choirs, UK; World Sun Songs, Latvia and Dark Music Days, Iceland. Creative programmers like violist/conductor Maxim Rysanov, Amsterdam Sinfonietta, violinists Gidon Kremer and Janine Jansen as well as Irish DJ John Kelly, Orchestra of the Swan and Sorel Organization have all championed her music over the past decade.

Among prizes for her work are the Jean-Frédéric Perrenoud prize and medal at the 4th Vienna International Music Competition; the prize for an anthem for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, performed at St Paul’s Cathedral, the GSMD Lutoslawski Composition Prize and the Adam Prize of King’s College London. Her Fantasy Homage to Schubert, nominated by the Bulgarian National Radio, was selected at the 2014 International Rostrum of Composers in Helsinki. In 2011 she was awarded first prize and the Sorel Medallion in Choral Composition, New York.

Recent projects include Immortal Shakespeare- a cantata for the Shakespeare 400 anniversary in 2016, The High Line for orchestra inspired by New York’s park in the sky and the UK New Music Biennial film collaboration PULSE. Forthcoming highlights include a long-term residency with Truro Cathedral, making her the first female composer to be commissioned by the cathedral and a residency with the Leipzig MDR Orchestra for the 2017/18 season. Her orchestral work Orpheus’ Comet recently open the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Music Exchanges of Euroradio in November 2017. The current season also includes the premiere of Together Remember to Dance- a concerto for two pianos, percussion and strings, jointly commissioned by Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Orchestre de Picardie, Istanbul Music Festival, BBC Concert Orchestra and Norwegian Chamber Orchestra.

Dobrinka Tabakova was born in the historic town of Plovdiv, Bulgaria in 1980 and for over 25 years has lived in London. She graduated from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and holds a PhD in composition from King’s College London.



What does music mean to you personally?

In a word- a friend; in more- a limitless universe, which gifts new inspiration the more you discover it.

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

What is fantasy without reality? We need fantasy to transport us from the ‘real’ (one may argue what that means too) or find another way, so we need both.

If you were not a professional musician, would you have been?

I really don’t know. I am interested in many subjects and grew up surrounded by academics and scientists, but music has been the main focus for so long, that I cannot imagine another path.

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about your future?

In this small question there are so many topics: appreciation of art; education; the future of our planet… The fact that classical music audiences are on average older can be seen from two sides- being older doesn’t mean that you will be more accepting of new classical music or living composers- this has been a well discussed topic for more than 50 years (and we- living composers, are still creating!). Educating young people about the variety of musics is very important, and very important for them to have a taste of playing instruments- this is the only way to truly appreciate music. As to the part of the question about being worried about the future- this is bigger than worrying about the age of classical music audiences, when we think about the exhaustion of our planet’s resources and our society’s irresponsible waste.

What do you envision the role of classical music to be in the 21 century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?

Answering as a composer, I think the role of the composer will shift- while it was the stereotype of composers to be reclusive (a romantic view developed increasingly from the 19th century onwards), I think composers will come back to being more integrated in society- in the way that they were, say, in baroque times- serving the court/church (or now-society). There will be a domino effect from that, to the music which is created and how it reaches people.

When I say that classical music is searching for new ways or that the classical music is getting a new face, what would come to your mind?

Every new generation tries to rediscover, repackage, rethink our collective heritage. This will happen for as long as we exist- from wearing baseball caps while playing Bach partitas to playing Beethoven Symphonies in bars or using technology to reach more people, some are gimmicks and others achieve a genuine connection between the past and present.

Do you think that the classical musician today needs to be more creative? What’s the role of creativity in the musical process for you?

Everyone needs to strive to be more creative. Within the classical music world you could say that festival and venue directors need to be more creative, orchestral and artist managers also, media outlets… They are the ones who bring artists to the attention of audiences. There are many extremely original thinkers in classical music (great ensembles and soloists with really intelligent and impressive music combinations), but they need to be allowed to exist alongside the ‘status quo’. This will inspire more musicians from all families of music (and more people, in general) to expand their horizons too. The internet is the platform which allows this to happen increasingly, but even there we have ‘recommendations’ and algorithms and some of the most interesting things happen in the ‘cracks’. So, both as artists and consumers of art, we have to search for them.

Do you think we musicians can do something to attract young generation into the classical music concerts? How will you proceed?

If we put this as a focus: ‘attract young people’ we are already failing. We need to create programmes which are personal to us, why have we spent our lives since 5 or 8 years old playing and loving this music? Why is it important to us? Share our story, and this will naturally attract people, even the young. Having said this, I am in complete support of children’s concerts, which many orchestras are organising. The best way to engage with young people or children is to invite them to try to play music, and then they start to see the value for themselves.

Tell us about your creative process. Do you have your favorite piece (written by you) Mine is your Nocturne. How did you start working on it?

I’m glad you like Nocturne- it was written for a friend- Evelyn Chang and it was conceived almost completely as an improvisation. This way of working is important to me, starting with the piano and then developing on paper. The combination of the spontaneous creation and the thought out process of structure is important to me.

We, Moving ClassicsTV, love the combination of classical music with different disciplines: music and painting, music and cinematography, music and digital art, music and poetry. What do you think about these combinations?

Working across the arts is very healthy and it is wonderful that you are giving a platform for these collaborations. In the past few years I have had increasingly more contact with choreographers and really enjoy discussing projects together. I’ve also collaborated with visual artists and film makers- everyone brings their knowledge and view to the conversation and there’s a little spark when you find the cross points.

Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

Ask yourself- which instrument(s) speaks to me most personally- the piano, the guitar, the cello, the trumpet? Look up concertos or solo pieces for these instruments, make a list of pieces you like, performers you enjoy listening to. Try to play that instrument yourself. This can be addictive, and once you are on that ‘train of musical adventure’, there is no getting off- for the rest of your life. You will have a companion in music forever!

Now it is a common practice in the media to talk that the classical music is getting into the consumption business, do you agree? We are speaking about the supply and demand rules and how to sell your “product” in your case your compositions. How do you see it?

Anyone who wants to make business will find a way. You have to work out for yourself as an artist, what is your engine- is it business or art? I am not saying these cannot mix, but there is always a leading priority and there are sacrifices if you choose either. If you choose a commercial career- you will probably get better pay, but if you choose a more artistic path- you are more free to do your own projects and don’t have to answer to anyone for your choices. There will be people who support you whichever one you choose, you just have to work out what are your proprieties.

Do you have expectations what regards your listeners, your audience?

I hope that the people who choose to listen to my music will be curious. It is what I have always looked for in musicians and artist that I work with, and what I value. I hope they can come to the music with open minds and hearts.

What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?

I am now beginning (officially, although I have already written 3 pieces for the orchestra) my residency with the BBC Concert Orchestra. There will be projects with large orchestra, and this is exciting. I also have a CD of choral and orchestral music, which will be released early next year on Regent Records and more recordings to follow, so it’s a happy, busy time.