Together again

Bella Hristova and Michael Houstoun  are in Dunedin next week. Photo: Supplied
Bella Hristova and Michael Houstoun are in Dunedin next week. Photo: Supplied
Nine years ago Bulgarian violinist Bella Hristova began a tour of New Zealand with pianist Michael Houstoun. She tells Rebecca Fox how it was the beginning of her performing career.

Performing the complete Beethoven Sonatas with pianist Michael Houstoun is a ''dream come true'' for Bulgarian violinist Bella Hristova.

She has returned to New Zealand to tour the country with Houstoun, with whom she first performed in 2008.

''It's some of the greatest music ever written for piano and violin and I couldn't be happier that Chamber Music New Zealand has presented me and Michael in this cycle.''

Hristova credits the 2008 tour as starting her performing career.

Just a year before she had won the Michael Hill International Violin Competition and the tour with Houstoun was part of the prize.

''I first met Michael Houstoun in 2008, the day before our rehearsals for the tour started. We had just a few days to prepare two complete programmes.

''From our first rehearsal I knew that a very special musical relationship was forming and that feeling only grew. I loved Michael's playing immediately and it was so easy to play with him; everything felt very intuitive.''

Being able to perform a programme so many times in a row was an opportunity that most people do not get early on.

''It's the best way to get to know the music on a deeper level; to get to know yourself in a performing and touring setting, and to find out if this life is for you.

''For me, even though I was tired after the month-long tour, I was also ready to do it all again.''

Touring the country meant the pair had many long drives together and plenty of time to connect.

''We talked about the power of Beethoven's music during the tour and how both of us felt a deep emotional connection to it.''

The Dunedin concert programme features Beethoven's famous Spring Sonata along with his sixth piano and violin sonata and his 10th and final sonata.

For Hristova, the 10th sonata is a favourite.

''It is simply transcendent and the earlier sonatas are brilliant as well, each one is a truly unique gem.''

Houstoun said Hristova was ''a magnificent violinist; there's nothing she can't do''.

''She is also a commanding presence and her musical understanding is deep and broad. We are both intuitive musicians and are fortunate that our impulses match. Playing with Bella feels like the most natural thing in the world.''

The admiration is mutual, says Hristova.

''He is one of the most inspiring people that I know and I feel very fortunate to call him a friend.''

Life has been busy for the violinist since that first concert series.

''I've recorded two CDs, played concerts around the world and performed as soloist at Carnegie Hall but I know that this tour is by far the biggest highlight of anything I've done so far.''

The two CDs she has recorded have been for unaccompanied violin.

''I suppose I'm drawn to unaccompanied music because my favourite instrument to listen to is the piano. It's a complete instrument in my mind and the violin is not often thought of that way. So, to me playing unaccompanied music for violin is the closest I can get to feeling like a pianist.''

For the first CD she was given a selection of works to choose from, while the second one, Bella Unaccompanied, was a recital programme she selected and performed before recording.

Hristova, who was born in Pleven, Bulgaria, to Russian and Bulgarian parents, began learning the violin when she was 6 years old.

When she was 12, she took master classes with Ruggiero Ricci at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and in 2003 entered the Curtis Institute of Music, where she worked with Ida Kavafian (YCA Alumna) and studied chamber music with Steven Tenenbom.

She received her Artist Diploma with Jaime Laredo at Indiana University in 2010.

Hristova plays a 1655 Nicolo Amati violin.

To see

Chamber Music New Zealand presents Michael Houstoun and Bella Hristova, Glenroy Auditorium, Tuesday 7.30pm, pre-concert talk at 6.45pm.

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