Encore talks to La Serenissima principal violist Elitsa Boganova about her recent win with the Consone Quartet at the Royal Overseas League Competition (ROSL).
Can you describe the preparation process for the ROSL Competition?
I have been playing with the quartet since December but ROSL is the only competition I have done with them so far. I had to do quite a bit of individual preparation as we didn’t have a lot of time together before the start of the competition. For that reason we had mostly selected repertoire the other three were confident with and they had already performed a lot as a group. That made it a lot easier for me to slot in. For instance, the Haydn Quartet Op. 20 No.5 which won us the final round was what they played when they won a big prize at the York Early Music Competition last year. It is one of the group’s favourites and so far a constant winner.
How did you meet the members of the quartet?
I met Agata, the first violinist of Consone a few years ago when I was on trial for a different string quartet that she was in. We ended up playing together for a short while until she left to join Kremerata Baltica. Since then we have done numerous chamber concerts together in various formations. She and George, our cellist, even took part in a small festival I organised back home in Bulgaria last summer so actually Magda, our second violinist was the only one I didn’t know before auditioning for the quartet.
The Consone Quartet specialises in classical and early romantic music. What different instruments and setups do you use? How do you find this changes the sound and experience?
For ROSL we used three different bows each as we did some Purcell with our Baroque bows in the first round and then our Classical bows for Haydn, Mozart and Schubert. One of the requirements for the second round was to play a post 1970s composition so we did Peter Maxwell Davies’ Little Quartet No.2 and for that we used modern bows. Otherwise, we did all three rounds on the same instruments. They are set up with gut strings and we don’t use chin and shoulder rests or a cello spike. The instruments are either transitional from the baroque-classical period or equivalent modern copies. We also play at classical pitch A=430. We find that using those instruments enhances the colours we try to make and it gives different keys and registers more varied personalities. Also, we get a nice blend which helps with a balanced group sound.
Who were some of your most influential teachers, and why?
My two main Guildhall teachers were both beautiful and inspiring performers. Rachel Roberts taught me how to practise and to properly listen to myself, always telling a story with a good quality of sound. Jane Rogers taught me how to project and made me realise that every piece of music can do with a bit more richness coming from the middle voices. I was also fortunate enough to have amazing chamber music coaching during my six years at the Guildhall.
How do you keep up your technique on two different instruments, Baroque and modern?
I find that even though they feel different, somehow my fingers are used to knowing where to go on both of them, despite the fact that I hold them differently and I use a shoulder and chin rest for the modern one but not the Baroque one. I find that the more often I practise swapping between the two, the better I get at it, whereas sometimes when I have a long period of work on just one then picking up the other one seems strangely unfamiliar.
If you could go back in time to when you were a student, what one thing would you tell yourself?
I would have probably told myself, “You should learn to play the violin.” I always think this would have been useful in many ways. Having said that, I am proud to be a pure violist, having never owned a violin.
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