Discussions: Biliana Voutchkova

Biliana Voutchkova is a violinist, composer and improvisational artist who splits her time between a city home in Berlin and a rural one on the coast of Bulgaria’s Black Sea. Under more normal circumstances, she also tours internationally as both a solo artist and collaborator.

She first picked up the violin at four. Just five years later, Voutchkova performed with her first orchestra. By 16, she had a CD release. A couple of weeks back, I featured her performance of Ernstalbrecht Stiebler’s “Fűr Biliana.”

Voutchkova caught my attention last month with a touching holiday note: “For me 2020 was mostly silent, isolated, confusing, introverted, a challenging year of severe change, a slow shift which took place in each of us,” she wrote. “It’s been a long time of listening, waiting, being patient with myself after the initial loss of motivation to do anything professional on my own, taking time for living though all the hard and devastating moments, the cancelations, disappointments, constant loss of looked-forward-to performances and concerts, rises and falls of hope, trust, will for moving on. At the same time – the sudden gift of free time, slower pace, the deepening connection to nature, spontaneity, intuition, the strong bonds to loved ones … 2021 is the rebirth of envisioning and protecting our precious freedom, caring for each other, for our health, liveliness, artistry, bringing new strength to search and find the most beautiful, unexpected, rewarding.”

We’ve been writing back and forth over the last month.

What do you look forward to doing most in 2021 – musically and otherwise?

The short answer to this is – playing live concerts! And being in nature, free of worries.

But I’d like to be a bit more specific. I look very much forward to presenting a few new projects this year.

My first solo exhibition-performance will be presented at One Gallery / Sofia this coming March. It strongly connects to my most recent artistic passion for long durational installation-concert formats. I look tremendously forward to  performing for several hours daily, sharing with a fluctuating audience. Creating the other works for the exhibition is also very exciting and fulfilling. I’d love to do this format as often as possible, so further presentations are in planning. 

My trio Jane in Erther (with pianist Magda Mayas and recorder player Miako Klein) will have its first album release on the British label Confront Recordings. After last year, where all our scheduled events were canceled, we hope to be able to finally play our first concerts and meet our audiences. 

I look forward to the third edition of DARA String Festival which I founded back in 2018. I am grateful to continue with it despite the difficulties we all face lately, having the support of funding organizations such as the Initiative Neue Musik Berlin and Musikfonds Berlin, and the precious trust and encouragement of my colleagues. 

Last, but definitely not least, I look so much forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of my duo with clarinetist Michael Thieke. This has been one of the longest and most fruitful collaborations I have had since I moved to Berlin. We will present a new project developed together with furniture designer Rainer Spehl, where we fuse the mediums of sound, design, and visual art/installation. 

Otherwise, I look forward to frequent escapes from the city and the routine of life in it, into wild nature, visiting my most beloved places and discovering many new ones. 

That balance of urban and rural environments comes up in a lot of conversations I have with artists. Do you strike that balance purposely, or do you live in the city for practical reasons and prefer the country for a rest?

This question is very present in my mind right now with the coronavirus changes which affect city life tremendously. You may get a different answer from me in a few more months, who knows.

I can see why this balance is essential for many artists. I tried to completely disappear into nature for a few years around 2003, in the most extreme way I could find. I left the USA where I was living, and went to the small nature island of Dominica together with my family, living almost off the grid for a few years. It was a precious and beautiful episode of my life. 

It is also where I realized why I lived in the city all along – because of the necessity to exchange, collaborate and share artistically, and to have exposure to culture and art of many different kinds. When I am in nature, I dissolve as an artist and feel purely happy as a part of an environment which needs no additions. I get major inspirations and creative impulses which would only live in my fantasies if not realized in the city. So balancing between city and nature is the way of living for me. 

I love that image – dissolving as an artist. Can you tell me what that feels like? And what effect does it have on the work?

That feels amazing, opens up a sense of freedom and connectivity to something greater. I am the same person essentially. What changes is the frame around me as an artist. That disappears. I am just myself and the creativity, imagination, intuition, all can soar freely without an expectation of delivering anything presentable. I believe that art is a way of living anyways, not framable, a way of communication from a place of sensible openness towards the self and the surroundings.  

The effect it has on my work is huge. I need to be in this place of just being the self, dissolving from any labels, finding the authenticity and intuition and not confusing it with any expectations, or even unnoticed pressure from outside. I find this in nature,  as long as I maintain the balance right. 

This view you’ve developed – of the benefits of greater openness – do you think it applies to your work mostly? Or do you believe it’s a universal observation that can be made about creativity in general?

It is how I see and understand things, and it definitely goes beyond my work. In fact, there is nothing that applies to my work that doesn’t encompass my overall way of thinking, feeling, what I believe in, my life philosophy.

The way I operate is inclusive of my work as an integral part of my growth and development as a person. To answer more precisely the second part of your question: yes, it is a kind of universal observation that can be made about creativity in general. 

Kevin Press

The Moderns, vols. 1-3 – available exclusively from Amazon

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