Rising young violinist Bella Hristova has returned to
share more of her winning ways. Gillian Thomas reports.
Bella Hristova. Photo by Jane Dawber.
Rising violin star Bella Hristova is happy to be back in New
Zealand, the country that makes "the best eggs Benedict".
It is also the country that gave her career a shot in the arm
when she won the 2007 Michael Hill International Violin
Hristova says the Queenstown competition is gaining in
recognition around the world.
The recognition and experience her win delivered led to a
successful audition with the international management agency,
Young Concert Artist.
She is now one of just four violinists on their books.
It is not surprising, perhaps, considering how reviewers pull
out the superlatives to describe the 24-year-old Bulgarian
In 2007, Michael Hill International Violin Competition jury
member Pamela Frank put it this way: "Her playing gave me
goosebumps and made me cry".
This year, on Christmas Eve, Hristova will make her debut at
Carnegie Hall where she will play Bach's Concerto for Three
Violins with Cho-Liang Lin, Kyoko Takezawa, and the New York
String Orchestra, conducted by Jaime Laredo.
Oddly, she is virtually unknown in her native Bulgaria.
"My first music teacher there runs the music world and we
didn't leave on very good terms. It's not a good place for
music," she says.
That is not to say there was no opportunity for her
countryfolk to pick up on her talent.
She began learning the violin in Bulgaria at age 6 and just a
few months later played live on television.
By the age of 11 she was studying under Joseph Radionvo in
Sofia, before being invited to the United States at the age
of 13, to study at the Meadowmount School of Music in New
The US is home now, although she makes regular trips back to
Bulgaria to visit her mother.
Music runs in Hristova's family, which mixes Bulgarian and
Her mother was a school choral conductor and piano teacher
and her late father a composer.
Travel has become a way of life and Hristova says she loves
exploring new places but hates flying.
"When we flew into Queenstown the view was breathtaking but I
thought we were going to land on a mountain," she recalls of
her experience at the Michael Hill competition.
The winner's tour of New Zealand, part of the prize from the
competition, also remains clearly imprinted on her memory.
"It was an unforgettable experience, playing 17 to 18
concerts in the span of one month and playing with such
wonderful people as Michael Houstoun and Diedre Irons. Plus
we drove everywhere, so I really got to see how beautiful the
Dunedin was not on the winner's tour itinerary.
When she returned to New Zealand this year her first "must
do" was, according to Hristova, a no-brainer.
"I just had to go order a flat white and eggs Benedict. I
lived on that on my winner's tour in 2008. I love coffee and
Kiwis just make the best eggs Benedict. The hollandaise sauce
is better than the greasy stuff they serve in the US."
Hristova has a very old travelling companion, her violin,
which is more than 350 years old.
The instrument dates from 1655 and is the handiwork of one
Nicolò Amati, known in modern times as the "Grand Amati".
His violins are much sought-after.
Well curved, long-cornered, and strongly and cleanly purfled
(inlaid), they are considered to represent the height of
elegance in violin-making.
Hristova has played the Amati for the past eight years, after
it was lent to her by someone she describes as "a generous
individual who heard me play and who followed my progress".
She says the Amati is very rewarding to play but also very
"You have to learn how much pressure to put on it and you
have to be aware of the effect climatic changes can have on
According to Hristova, her Amati loves the acrobatic
challenges of Tchaikovsky and with her own Russian heritage
she is naturally drawn to works by the Russian master.
When she features in the Passion and Power Naylor Love
Celebrity Concert in Dunedin, she will be playing
Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, considered
to be among the most technically difficult works for violin,
dripping in Russian romanticism.
Hristova describes it as a "grand" work and although it is
also one of the best known of all violin concertos she says
she doesn't let the audience's familiarity with the work
influence how she plays it.
"I don't think artists should be trying to play or trying to
anticipate what the audience might want. I believe you must
play the way you feel the music."
She also thinks that an instrumentalist has to be part actor
to convey the mood of the music.
"You are not always going to be in the same mood as the
music, so you need to draw on other resources to convey that.
I develop that mood as I begin to play."
Gillian Thomas is a Dunedin writer.