It was a wave of his hand, a lean in for emphasis, verbal cues and repeated “bravos” when Stilian Kirove, the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra maestro, spent time with Homewood-Flossmoor High School Viking Orchestra. Kirov’s work at H-F on Nov. 16 is part of his outreach as the new conductor for the orchestra.
It was a wave of his hand, a lean in for emphasis, verbal cues and repeated “bravos” when Stilian Kirov, the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra maestro, spent time with Homewood-Flossmoor High School Viking Orchestra.
Kirov’s work at H-F on Nov. 16 is part of his outreach as the new conductor for the orchestra. It was his second visit working with the H-F students. In fall 2016, he was at the high school as a candidate for the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) conductor’s position.
As the students tuned their instruments, Kirov took the stage to work through Brahm’s “Academic Festival Overture,” one of the pieces the orchestra will perform in Germany during their spring 2018 tour.
With a tap of his baton, he called the group to order and let them play the first few bars. In short order, he was asking them for more emphasis. “It goes ba, ba, ba BA, BA,” he told them.
For the next 25 minutes, Kirov gave students tips on how their sections — first and second violin, viola, cello, bass — could bring out the richness of the piece. In between, he complemented them on their preparation and playing.
Then it was time to turn the tables as Kirov took questions from the students. The native of Bulgaria told them he’d first conducted a student orchestra when he was about their age. “It was rough,” he remembers, but it wet his appetite for more.
“The favorite thing about conducting is working with people. It’s really doing something together. I think that has been a big part of it,” he said.
Kirov left Bulgaria and studied in Paris for four years. He has fond memories of the City of Light and hopes to return one day.
He has been conducting in the United States for several years, and received the 2016-17 Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award. The IPO is one of three orchestras he is currently working with.
The hardest piece he’s conducted was “Extremity of Skies” by Melinda Wagner. The modern work is dedicated to the victims of 9/11. He was conducting an orchestra in Philadelphia.
“The piece was extremely beautiful but it was extremely hard, too. It was a huge orchestra all types of percussion, six or seven percussion players. Every single message had changes and beats. I think it was the hardest piece, but also the most exciting.”
Kirov advised the students to discover new orchestral pieces of music and when possible to go to orchestral rehearsals and invited them to IPO rehearsals.
“That’s a big key. I learned so much by watching. Also, work on your instrument by playing chamber music together with friends.”
One student asked how to overcome anxieties before a performance. Kirov confessed that he still gets nervous. It’s natural to be nervous, he told the students, but not to let it overtake you.
“Nobody likes to make a mistake, obviously. I try to think about (performances as) making music for a large group of friends or family. You’re sharing the joy of something you really love. I’m just there to enjoy. I think that’s a good way to work on that.”