Report from Bulgaria
Pazardjik is a smallish city (about 100,000 population) close to Plovdiv in southern Bulgaria. Despite the fact that there is less state funded music now than there was in the Communist times it is still amazing to me that a city that size has an orchestra. It's not full-time, but they do 3/4 concerts per month plus two tours most years, so it's still a good amount of work.
The orchestra (and in fact people in general) were very welcoming and friendly. The food was excellent. Fortunately a good number of them spoke some English! But a good number didn't and so it was invaluable that the leader spoke English, as she translated my instructions into Bulgarian. My attempts at learning Bulgarian numbers soon proved to have not been good enough ... perhaps my accent was just terrible! I did, however, amuse them by giving a speech in Bulgarian at the first rehearsal. This had been translated by an acquaintance from Sofia.
The orchestra was a bit of a mixed bag. Some players were excellent (the violins, the horns, principal woodwind players). Some were struggling a little (especially in the new piece we played by Mehran Rouhani - which would in fact be tricky for any orchestra!). But all gave their all, and 'peaked' in the concert. Even the new piece (Unity in Diversity) received a really good performance, and most of the tricky rhythms were in place (even I got most of them right!).
Beethoven with Neysun Rouhani (piano), and Mozart and Rachmaninov with Honey Rouhani (soprano) were a delight.
All in all a very positive experience. A number of the orchestra said they hoped to see me again, and I indeed hope to see them again!