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Sonya Yoncheva and SY11 revive Bulgarian Artist magazine

Sonya Yoncheva and SY11 have revived the Bulgarian Artist Magazine. The first edition was published at the end of May and is available in all major cities throughout Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian Artist Magazine is a brand that is almost 100 years old, that Sonya and her team are now giving a new and modern vision.

The first issue features a cover interview with Sonya Yoncheva which you can read in English here below. Among the topics is why Sonya decided to relaunch the magazine, why she thinks it is necessary for the Bulgarian cultural firmament and how the idea of ​​reviving the Bulgarian Artist came from.

The magazine aims to present the faces of Bulgaria’s most distinguished artists and their work in the field of the art and culture industry. It will inform its readers about what is happening in Bulgarian theatres, opera houses, schools and art centres and it will include a cultural calendar with upcoming performance dates.

Here is the English version of the interview:

Exclusive article in the first issue of “Bulgarian Artist” – the magazine re-created by Sonya Yoncheva and her production company SY11:

FOR THE SAKE OF THE ARTIST’S DREAM AND MISSION
The multifaceted Sonya Yoncheva! A symbol of artistry – radiating power and mystery, disguised identity and discreet distancing from the banality of everyday life. At the height of her career, she is profoundly aware of the need for continuity between generations of artists so that the development of universal and creative values through classical music (and beyond) can thrive. This is the goal of her freshly initiated production and publishing activities.

Interview by: Ivaylo Spasov
Photography by: Vera Gotseva
Style by: Augustina Markova – Tuti
Hair by: Parashkev Todorov – Finchi
Make-up by: Eliza Popova

——————–

IF WE REFER TO UMBERTO ECO’S FAMOUS COLLECTION OF ESSAYS “TURNING BACK THE CLOCK”, CAN WE SEEK CONTINUITY BETWEEN YOUR MAGAZINE, SONYA, AND ITS ANALOGUE FROM A CENTURY AGO – BULGARIAN ARTIST?
“Bulgarian artist” appears at a time when the Bulgarian culture is in a period of transformation. What I aim to do is to put Bulgarian artists on a pedestal ― to provide a crystal clear mirror for their work and talent so that they can be heard, seen and appreciated. This is a platform from which to draw reliable information, but also through which to share their views – the same way it used to be almost 100 years ago. I am basing this new initiative on the principles of journalistic transparency and the desire to boost the self-esteem of the Bulgarian artists – these are the reasons for the (re)birth of this new media.

HOW EXACTLY WAS THE IDEA FOR THIS PROJECT BORN IN YOUR MIND?
During the turning point of the Covid-19 pandemic, I organized a concert in my native town of Plovdiv and I was deeply worried by the fact that all the artists I had invited as my stage partners told me that they would sing for free – just so that they can be back on stage and we create art together. I asked myself, “Is this right?”, even though I appreciated the gesture. I myself know what is the investment of any aspiring artist who has decided to study arts, how difficult it is to find their place and prove themselves worthy of the big stage. It’s a very complicated process and society doesn’t see it. In those turbulent days of the pandemic there was evidence that many artists were going through very rough times, some were left without a job, there was even a case of a suicide in my country. This rocked me to my core – no one should be allowed to reach such an abyss and lose themselves. All these reflections were raging in my mind and made me sleepless after the night of the concert – I knew I had to do something about it, then an idea occurred to me:
TO CREATE A PLATFORM DEDICATED TO THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE BULGARIAN ARTISTS
To my great surprise, when I shared this intention with my brother, he told me that, in fact, almost a century ago (between 1926 and 1934) such a publication existed and it was named exactly “Bulgarian artist”. This was the sign of Fate that prompted me to take the final decision to implement this project.

HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU READ A CULTURAL NEWSPAPER FROM A CENTURY AGO?
What I am extremely surprised to see is that, on the one hand, many of the problems we are talking about today existed even then – and not only in the Bulgarian context, because this used to be a media with a very European visual identity and content. There are sensitive topics that no one has dared to resolve for a whole century, and for me this is shocking! On the other hand, this resonance between the eras can also be explained by the fact that we recreate art that was born 400-500 years ago (if we talk about opera), and for theater – even in ancient times, so the forms that have proven to be successful over time are difficult to change, although modern-day means of expression are also sought today.

AND WHEN, AFTER ANOTHER 100 YEARS, THE READERS FROM THE FUTURE LOOK THROUGH THE DIGITAL ARCHIVE OF “BULGARIAN ARTIST” FROM TODAY, WHAT DO YOU WANT THEIR IMPRESSIONS TO BE?
We often dream of a time machine, but we don’t need a technological one, because art is exactly a journey through worlds and epochs! The 100-year-old edition is a vivid historical testimony of its time, just as I believe the brand I am reviving will serve the same purpose:
“BULGARIAN ARTIST” WILL BE A CHRONICLE OF OUR TIME
This will be a snapshot of our reality in high resolution. Such emblems of their respective eras are the paintings of Leonardo or the symphonies of Beethoven, for example. They will always be a part of the history of mankind. I would like “Bulgarian artist” to also be a credible imprint of the things that express in the most frank way possible the reality of the creative industries and of all the people who are fascinated by various forms of art today.

THE MOTTO OF YOUR PRODUCTION COMPANY IS “CULTURE IS THE FUTURE”. HOW DO FUTURE, PRESENT AND PAST MEET EACH OTHER ON THE PAGES OF THE MAGAZINE?
They “meet” by the mere fact that we will be promoting the rights and freedoms of a very important guild for me. I see that there are many people in Bulgaria who make a living out of art. How can we not give them a voice, support them or even defend them if necessary? Recently, there was a public outcry about the extremely low budget for culture (0,4% of GDP) in Bulgaria, and everyone was furious when it was voted. I would then ask: would the state accept such a low budget for education, health care or judiciary? If not, why should the culture be left behind? It should be equal to other important pillars of society, because it has an important social function and is at the root of what values we build and what foundations we lay for a better future for our children.

CAN YOU SHARE WITH YOUR READERS AS AN INITIATOR, PATRON, MUSE OF ITS MODERN-DAY REVIVAL, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE THE BRAND OF “BULGARIAN ARTIST” TO BE?
First of all, this is the brand of an independent media in which readers can be sure that the information is accurate and authentic. Secondly ― for me the visual identity of this media product is of great importance: I would like the Bulgarian artists to be presented in a contemporary and attractive light, as beautiful and proud faces of our time and in no case as old and unnecessary objects of the past. And from a content point of view, we have so many ideas for themes and topics that readers will gradually get acquainted with. For me, it is a priority the pages of the magazine to feature not only the big stars of the stage, but also those working behind the scenes – the technician who has been moving around the pieces of the scenography in the theater for 50 years, or the makeup artist who has painted the faces of the most beloved characters in the opera for decades. These are people with incredible life stories – they are also Bulgarian artists!
I see in theatres, operas and other houses of culture nowadays fear in the eyes of people for what the future holds for them. This makes me think that Bulgarian artists at the moment do not realize how needed they are. It is in this direction that I would like to work in the coming years – to improve their status in society.

WHY, DESPITE ALL DIFFICULTIES , ARE ARTISTS STILL COMMITTED TO THEIR VOCATION?
Because it’s stronger than us: we not only work, we are “addicted” – it’s a way of living, a dream, a profession, a passion, a hobby, all in one. Surely, there are other people who are dedicated to their work in a bank or a factory, for example, these are also important fields, but for artists our art is our mission. I, as a singer, do not feel the need to satisfy my ego – to be on stage for my own sake; I’m there because I want something nice to happen for the people who have come to see me. Such are the motives of a surgeon who has to operate on a person with a severe body injury to save their life. Similarly:
WE HEAL WOUNDS OF THE SOUL.

IF WE GO BACK TO THE HISTORY OF BULGARIAN JOURNALISM, WE SEE THAT DURING THE REVIVAL ERA THE PUBLISHERS WERE ACTUALLY THE BIG POETS AND REVOLUTIONARIES OF THE DAY. WHAT IS THE “CULTURAL REVOLUTION” THAT YOU WOULD LIKE “BULGARIAN ARTIST” TO IGNITE?
I would like “Bulgarian artist” to be a mediator, not a revolutionary; to be an interlocutor and a partner of artists and people interested in art in Bulgaria. This will be a forum promoting everything artists do. In Bulgaria there are many theaters, opera houses and all sorts of other interesting cultural events – I want people to get to know them after we cover them. And if, thanks to our platform, more and more Bulgarians relate to culture, or the artists say to themselves “I want to read the news from my magazine this morning,” that will be the biggest result for me.

IS SONYA YONCHEVA A BULGARIAN ARTIST?
I am a Bulgarian artist! Here are my roots and so many things of my character – not only as a person but as an artist – are due to the fact that I was born in Bulgaria. At the same time, my art belongs to the world, as I myself do being a global artist and a molecule in the infinite universe.
FOR ME THERE ARE NO BOUNDARIES, I FEEL COMPLETELY FREE!
And that’s why I want to take my worldwide experience to the national level in order to be even more effective in my mission in this world.

IN YOUR OPINION, SHOULD BULGARIA HAVE ITS OWN STATE STRATEGY FOR CULTURE?
It’s a must! Bulgaria is an endless source of artists, but they are ignored by many politicians and decision-makers. And in fact, if a statesman is strategic, he or she would realize that to have such strong ambassadors of culture all around the world and in our own country is like having the most beautiful beaches… but not developing the potential of your tourism industry. It is insane for me that the state does not take advantage of its cultural richness and does not put it higher on the public agenda. This is our unique identity after all.

IS CULTURE IMPORTANT FOR SOCIETY?
CULTURE IS AS IMPORTANT AS HAVING HEMOGLOBIN IN YOUR BLOOD.
How can a person cherish their appearance, want to remain forever young and make efforts for their physical health, but at the same time does not do anything to take care of their inner peace, of the spiritual life? This is what we are talking about: art is hygiene, a medicine, psychotherapy – often much more profound than the conventional one we know.

WHAT WILL THE WORLD BE LIKE IF FOR EVERY SOCIETY, INCLUDING BULGARIAN, CULTURE IS A PRIORITY?
It will be the rise of a nation in the eyes of the whole world. I know this from personal experience, because as a global artist I am following the development of countries that have been in our situation – the moment they start building concert halls, creating specialized media for culture, promoting the relationship between art and mental health, introducing in education more music, theater, fine arts and generally developing the skills of children so that everyone can unleash their potential – then a nation moves ahead, all spheres of the life in society improve, as well as the individual well-being of people.

AND REVERSELY: CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT OUR WORLD WOULD BE LIKE WITHOUT ART AND CULTURE?
It’s like taking away the water or the oxygen from our planet! Every day I see what an impact art has on those who are in touch with it. Many people have told me that during the pandemic, for example, their souls took refuge in listening to classical music – this literally helped them survive.

THE WORLD TODAY SEEMS LIKE A RATHER GLOOMY AND DANGEROUS PLACE. IS THERE A SPACE FOR CULTURE IN THE MIDST OF WARS AND VARIOUS POLITICAL, FINANCIAL AND SOCIAL CRISES?
It is culture and art that can unite everyone. Let’s not forget that most conflicts are caused by a handful of people, but thousands of innocent victims suffer. I have observed, for example, first-hand the mission of another artist, friend and a mentor – Daniel Barenboim – and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra created by him, composed of Arabs and Jews. Behind the scenes, they can hardly look each other in the eyes, but when they emerge on stage, the music unites them and together they create something uniquely beautiful and meaningful.
ART OVERCOMES EVEN THE WORST CONFLICTS.

ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THE FUTURE OF CULTURE, OR ARE YOU HOPEFUL ABOUT IT?
I’m not worried, because I see that we are just at a juncture where we seem to have forgotten about it, but that will change because culture is something innate and we cannot do without it. At some point, our soul will demand this change of us! And this moment is not far away. I will give you an example with a very colorful figure from the world of showbusiness: Pamela Anderson – we all know where she came from, who she is, what she looked like in her prime years. But we see nowadays a woman in her 50s who turns her back on vanity and says: All this plastic around us, this superficial way of living is nothing – look at my true self as a woman without any makeup. She screams internally and wants to show her real face, while many young women would give anything to look like her…
THE AGE OF FALSEHOOD WILL COME TO AN END: OUR SOULS SUFFOCATE, AND THEY ARE STRONGER THAN ANYTHING.

WHAT SHOULD CULTURE NOT COMPROMISE WITH?
Its artists. We are the bearers of that soulful part of human nature that we all need to reach at some point in our lives. I can’t imagine that one can live thinking only about material things. Each of us experiences cathartic episodes in life sooner or later and comes to the realization of who they really are.

IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE TALKING TO A PERSON WHO HAS NEVER VISITED OPERA, THEATER, CINEMA – HOW WOULD YOU INVITE THEM INTO YOUR WORLD? AND IS IT MANDATORY FOR THE AUDIENCE TO HAVE SPECIAL PREPARATION FOR SUCH AN ENCOUNTER WITH THE GREAT ART?
What’s interesting about our work is that culture is a gateway to this very world that many people think it’s extremely difficult to enter. What we read in the newspapers, see on the news, or discuss with neighbors are external circumstances that happen to us, but that’s not the truth about our inner selves. This gateway I’m talking about is sometimes hard to open because people are afraid of what they’ll get to know, including about themselves.
WE HELP PEOPLE EXPLAIN TO THEMSELVES THEIR OWN EMOTIONS AND NAVIGATE THROUGH THE COMPLICATED WORLD.
I remember seeing my grandfather, for example, who was a car mechanic in a garage, crying to a song, or my father standing up in the garden and singing with in loud voice only because he was sad at that moment. This has nothing to do with extreme intellectual preparation – emotions pass flawlessly through the human body, regardless if you are a literature professor or a farmer.

SHOULD ART BE ELITIST?
Not at all. I don’t even understand why it is sometimes thought of as such. It doesn’t come from expensive tickets, by the way. If we look at other industries like sports – my husband loves to attend football games and tickets there are more expensive than for opera or theater, but we do not say that football is elitist, right? Why do we then talk about art like that? Also, how is it possible for a ticket for a Beyoncé concert to reach 3,000 euros, but for an opera performance 100 BGN (50 euro) are considered an awful lot? There is something wrong about the way we “value” the work of artists.

IS IT POSSIBLE ONE DAY FOR THE BULGARIAN AND THE WORLD ARTIST TO BE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)? OR WILL THEY ALWAYS BE PEOPLE OF FLESH AND BLOOD?
Art cannot belong to anything artificial. It is absolutely impossible, in my opinion, because it is an expression of our temperament, of all the emotions we feel – they manifest themselves in a playwright’s notebook, in a composer’s libretto, on a painter’s canvas – and this is the greatest wealth that makes us human: our endless imagination. That’s where AI will never replace the artists.

IS THERE AN AGE LIMIT FOR ART – CAN ONE BE TOO YOUNG OR OLD TO BE IN A CONTACT WITH IT?
Absolutely not!
THE LOVE FOR ART ORIGINATES FROM THE MOTHER’S WOMB AND IS STILL STRONG UNTIL THE DAY WE DIE.
Think about the vibrations we get from music! Now is the time to tell you a story: when I was pregnant with my son in the 9th month, I “took him” to an event with Maestro Barenboim ― he played a piano concerto which included wide-ranging tonal dynamics. My son, inside my belly, reacted precisely at their pace! I felt that he was happy with what he was hearing even before he came into the world. Today he is very musical and I am sure he found his passion about it in this exact moment, in my womb.

IN YOUR VIEW, DO CULTURE AND ART HAVE A COLOR, SCENT OR TEXTURE?
For me, they are more like a specific dimension, a sensation… Lately, I come across offers in hotels that provide spa treatments where the body is in full relaxation mode and floats. Practically, this is a return to our initial state – the mother’s womb. And art for me is a exactly a travel back to this primordial state of lightness of the human body and soul. Culture has the precious maternal quality to embrace, to shelter and to console us. It is like a caring protection for our spirit.

ARE YOU, AS AN ARTIST, A PURIST OR AN INNOVATOR?
Both. And I’ll tell you why. My art is very specific, it has existed for over 400 years. I have in front of me scores – the instructions of the composers who clearly expressed what they expect from the artists, and I am obliged to adhere to this covenant; I can’t experiment with their music, for example. But at the same time, I could experiment with my acting. I don’t know Monteverdi personally, nor have I spoken to Verdi, but their legacies are my Bible. They have decided to write their music in a particular way, and I have to understand it, internalize it and then interpret it ― but how I introduce all of this to the audience is where I can be a bit more creative as an artist. It is a fine balance how be truthful to classical arts but at the same time appealing to new generations of audiences.

YOU ARE AN INSPIRATION TO HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD. BUT WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Life inspires me! Living on this planet, being my authentic self. I have the great privilege of being in the skin of different women every night and visiting a variety of places around the world – this allows me to have a more global perspective on what are the truly important things in life and which are those not worthy of paying too much attention to.

AT THE END OF THIS CONVERSATION: IS THERE SOMETHING LIKE “THE END” IN ART OR IT IS ALWAYS “TO BE CONTINUED…”?
The show itself has a finale, but not the emotion caused by it – it continues to live in the minds and hearts of the people who experienced it.
AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I WANT “BULGARIAN ARTIST” TO BE AS WELL: A REFLECTIVE DIALOGUE, A JOURNEY INTO THE ESSENCE OF THE ARTISTS’S REALITY AND THEIR ERA WITH ALL ITS NUANCES THAT WE SHALL ALL EXPERIENCE AND REFLECT UPON TOGETHER!

Photo: SY11/Vera Gotseva

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