Professor Hristo Krotev on AUBG, Choir Music and Becoming an Honorary Citizen of Blagoevgrad
On the eve of his 60th birthday anniversary, AUBG professor in music Hristo Krotev was awarded the title “Honorary citizen of Blagoevgrad” for his prolific 30-year-long career and his significant contribution to the city’s cultural life. A renowned conductor, Professor Krotev is the person behind the many successes of the AUBG Choir on both the national and international scene. Professor Krotev has been with AUBG since the very first day of the university. In fact, he and his choir “Orpheus” were invited to perform at the historical day of AUBG’s establishment in 1991 and since then, the AUBG Choir has represented our university and won awards in festivals in Spain, Germany, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Greece, Russia, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Turkey.
Together with his wife Nikolina Kroteva, Professor Krotev established the International Festival „Meeting of Student Choirs” that gathers student choirs at AUBG and in Sofia. The music professor has been a jury member in a number of international choir festivals and competitions in Europe and has led master classes in Norway, Russia, Slovakia and Bulgaria. He has composed vocal and piano music and has recorded on the Bulgarian National Television and the Bulgarian National Radio, as well as on international media channels.
Read our interview with Professor Krotev to learn more about his impressive education and music career, his experience with AUBG and what it meant to him to become an Honorary Citizen of Blagoevgrad.
When did you first discover your interest in music and decided that this will be your profession?
My interest towards music is very old and dates back to my early childhood. I remember how my lovely grand-grandma got me a small accordion, which immediately attracted my attention. My father use to play on it, not professionally of course, but this was the first moment when I realized I am interested in music. I still keep my grand-grandma’s gift, because that was the very beginning of everything and has a huge meaning to me. Since then, I started practicing and I knew that this is what I want to do in the future.
After I graduated high school in my home town Gabrovo, where I specialized for an electrician, my parents noticed that I want to study something related to music and eventually I applied for the Academy of Music, Dance and Fine Arts in Plovdiv. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the specialization of my desire there, so I applied again to the National Musical Academy in Sofia. There, I had the chance to become part of an amazing environment filled with high-class musicians. My favourite professors were Georgi Robev, Alexander Raychev, Zdravko Manolov, but also many others. The teaching system itself was incredible and I am so grateful for that, because at that time, getting into this kind of academy was really difficult, one had to be extremely well prepared.
What brought you to AUBG?
First I have to say what brought me to Blagoevgrad. I came here in the year of 1987. I was still a university student and was invited to lead the male choir “Orpheus” in Blagoevgrad. I mostly came here to try my luck and gain experience and I was offered the position of a choral conductor. So, it happened that I spent one year in Blagoevgrad and after I graduated, we had the so-called work distribution and I had the opportunity to choose among three towns. I chose Blagoevgrad, because I already had experience there.
In the year of 1991, my choir “Orpheus” and I were invited to the opening ceremony of the American University in Bulgaria. It was a huge gathering, an amazing event, I will never forget it. There, I was noticed by the AUBG faculty, and specifically by the dear to me theatre professor Al Cyrus. A year after the ceremony, I was invited to teach at the university. Al Cyrus was preparing a play, which needed a choir of 7-8 people and he invited me to direct it. After that, we decided to create a choir class, because there was great student interest. On January 26 1993, we created the choir. It was a sad beginning actually, because after we had done two rehearsals with the choir, professor Al passed away. I thought that this is the end of the choir, but it turned out that the university management noticed us, liked the choir and wanted to keep it.
Please, tell me more about the AUBG choir and its achievements over the years. I know that you have participated in many national and international festivals and competitions.
I have so many memories with my choir that I even have been thinking of writing a book one day. Every trip comes with its story, good or bad. Since 1984, starting from [North] Macedonia, where we had our first performance, my choir has been performing in many different concerts and festivals, we’ve gained tons of experience. In 1995, we won second place in a very prestigious festival in Czech Republic. After that, in 1996 we won two awards in Germany: first place for “Mixed Choir” and second place for “Popular Music and Jazz.” We were the first Bulgarian choir to have ever participated in the “Popular Music and Jazz” category. After that, we continued touring around Europe in places like Vienna and Warsaw. Actually, on our way to Warsaw, we stopped by Krakow and there we met an amazing choir team that invited us to play at the 650th anniversary of invited us to perform at the 650th anniversary ceremony of Jagellonian University, Krakow. It is a very special place, because this is where the very famous mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus graduated and later taught. There, we had the honor to sing at St. Anna Cathedral, where the new rectors of the university take office. At a special ceremony, they receive the Rector’s regalia and wand and then lead the solemn procession to the main building of the university. When we went to Warsaw, we won a very special price for “Best Performance of a Contemporary Polish Work” that was handed to us by the renowned composer Romuald Twardowski.
In 2000, we decided to create the International Festival „Meeting of Student Choirs.” We were planning to host the 11th festival this year, hopefully we will, because it is really important to keep it in our hearts. During these festivals, we succeeded in attracting our best academic choirs. Every year, the oldest academic choir from Sofia “Angel Manolov” has participated in the festival. This is a great achievement for us.
What does it mean for you to teach at AUBG, what are your relations with students, the things that inspire you?
The students give me a lot, they energize me, they inspire me. I find it wonderful to work in an environment with intelligent young students and I find it very interesting and gratifying to answer the questions of intelligent students who are not musicians. If I have to describe my experience with one word, it would be “pleasure.” I won’t be lying if I say that I love my job and I think that the students can feel it too, and that’s really important. That is, I think, the most important part – an effective student-teacher relationship, where we each get the most out of the experience.
How do you enjoy living in Blagoevgrad and what does the title Honorary Citizen of Blagoevgrad mean to you?
Becoming an honorary citizen of Blagoevgrad is a huge recognition for me, my work and all the people that have worked with me. It was delightful to learn that it was the President of AUBG who nominated me for this award in the first place. For me this is a huge honour. The nomination was discussed by the members of the municipality council and all of them unanimously voted in favour, and that makes me even more happy and proud.
As for the town, I really like it; it is a nice and peaceful place, and I mainly connect it to AUBG and all the experience I have around the university.