Master Musicians from Bulgaria: Ivan Varimezov and Tzvetanka Varimezova

By Eva Primack

Beginning in the 2002 academic year, students and members of the larger UCLA community have had the incredible opportunity to work with two master musicians from Bulgaria, Ivan Varimezov and Tzvetanka Varimezova. Under Tzvetanka’s patient and effective tutelage, the UCLA Balkan Women’s Choir has flourished and grown to a new level. Ivan has taught gaida and tupan to individual students as well as directed the bitov and wedding bands.

Prior to their arrival at UCLA, the Varimezovi both had extremely well established backgrounds as professional musicians. Ivan Varimezov represents one generation of a musical legacy in Bulgaria, for Kostadin Varimezov, his uncle and teacher, was one of the most famous gaida players in Bulgarian history. Kostadin began to teach Ivan when Ivan was still very young, and continued to be his mentor after that. Tzvetanka, though famous for her outstanding voice, primarily studied tambura while she was in school, and also learned to sing and play accordion on her own.

Both Ivan and Tzvetanka attended the folk music high school in Kotel, and continued their education at AMTI, the music conservatory in Plovdiv. It was there that they began the musical relationship that has brought them to the place they are today. For five years, both during and after their studies in the university, they were members of Ansambl Trakija. In 1991, Tzvetanka joined the Kutev Ensemble, and over the years was also a member and soloist in Cosmic Voices, Le Grande Voix Bulgare, and the National Radio Choir in Sofia. In 1993, she began work with two women’s choirs in Denmark. Up until fall of 2001, Tzvetanka and Ivan also were co-directors of the state ensemble in Pazardzhik. Thanks to a generous grant from an independent foundation, Tzvetanka and Ivan came to UCLA for a one-year residency. Throughout 2002, Tzvetanka worked intensively with the UCLA Balkan Women’s Choir, as well as with the women’s ensembles Kitka, Nevenka, and Zhena.

All here at UCLA who have had the good fortune to work with these two master teachers and musicians are truly thankful for the opportunity, and under their instruction have made great musical progress. In honor of Balkan music and the talent and time the Varimezovi had shared with us during the academic year, the Ethnomusicology Department organized a Balkan music festival on May 31st and June 1st, 2002. The symposium included a concert featuring three choirs that worked with Tzvetanka, as well as Peter Ralchev, a renowned Bulgarian accordionist. The conference also featured guest lecturers by Carol Silverman and Mirjana Lausevic, and workshops in Bulgarian, Rom gypsy, and Bosnian singing. For those in attendance, this was a prime opportunity to experience the expertise the Varimezovi have to share. They are truly invaluable resources to the Balkan music enthusiast.