Petia Bagovska: “In Teaching, There Are No Secrets”

Double bass maestro Petia Bagovska shares her thoughts on teaching, performing, and adapting to the changing needs of the profession.
Petia Bagovska

You have been a student of Todor Toshev, who is considered the Bulgarian double bass school founder. You’ve also studied with Franco Petracchi, an outstanding virtuoso for whom composers such as Hans Werner Henze and Luciano Berio have written. Can you tell us about your student days with these two teachers?

In Bulgaria, we have a tradition of professional training in music from an early age. We have seven professional music schools that accept students from first grade to high school. The main subjects are instrumental music, singing, piano, choir, orchestral music, and chamber music. In addition, we have many other schools that emphasize learning an instrument or singing. The opportunity to have good teachers is comparable to having a caring, supportive family. Professor Toshev and Maestro Petracchi are not only pedagogues; they are mentors who care deeply about their students.

Professor Toshev worked hard with all of us. He controlled the natural setting of the hands, the body’s position while playing the instrument, and the overall performance mindset. He was very critical and expressed his opinion directly, but he always had a good sense of humor. That made lessons very productive. When he saw students making good progress, he always encouraged them. His lessons were like an open stage. Everyone could listen to each other, and usually, students took advantage of this. No one dared to show up unprepared.

Professor Petracchi is a great musician and remarkable artist. Simply being in his presence makes you feel special. He encouraged us to work hard on instrumental technique, leaving us for hours to study exercises from his Simplified Higher Technique for Double Bass. During our lessons, Maestro Petracchi performed in front of us with his beautiful Gaetano Rossi instrument. I still remember his voice, “Canta, canta, sing, sing.” It was difficult for me at first to repeat phrases by singing, but then I learned how, and today I encourage my students to sing their musical lines.

I will always remember meeting remarkable musicians as a student. Our orchestra from Bulgaria attended many international courses for conductors led by Maestro Franco Ferrara. He was indeed one of the most excellent conductors of the twentieth century. The moments when Maestro Ferrara sometimes was leading our orchestra were unforgettable.

I have met so many inspiring musicians, as Professor Thomas Martin, who has given masterclasses in Bulgaria. Also, Professor Klaus Trumpf, who invited me to be a guest professor several times for the Bass Weeks in Michaelstein, Germany. There I met Ovidiu Badila, Miloslav Gajdoš, Miloslav Jelínek, and many other great bass players. Many young talented bassists as Roman Patkoló, Ruslan Lutsyk, and others, came to attend the masterclasses. They are now leading names in European orchestras. All day, we were teaching master classes and doing concerts, and by night we were performing jazz, classical, and folk music. The atmosphere in Michaelstein was absolutely amazing.

Petia Bagovska and Franco Petracchi
Franco Petracchi and Petia Bagovska at the ISB Convention in Michigan, USA.

You have not only been an orchestral musician, but you have also given more than thirty solo recitals in Europe and the United States. Do you feel different on stage depending on the setting?

Yes, I have worked in many orchestras in Europe and the USA. Since being a student, I have participated in the International Youth Orchestras, taking tours all over Europe. From 1989 to 1992, I lived in Finland, first working with the Espoo Chamber Orchestra. Later, I was principal bass with the Lappeenranta City Orchestra, where I also taught in the Lappeenrannan musiikkiopisto (music institute). It was beautiful to meet new friends and study the language. The last year I even got to teach in Finnish.

Returning back to Bulgaria, I continued my work teaching in the National Music Academy. I participated in various projects with solo recitals, ensembles, and orchestras. I also organized a bass quartet — named Amrita — with my students Rumyana Tencheva, Maria Ilcheva, Anna Ivanova, and percussionist Georgi Angelov. We even played at the jazz fest in Bansko, Bulgaria.

Between 2004 and 2006, I worked with the Chicago Pops Orchestra, World Symphony Orchestra, Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, and others. At the same time, I taught masterclasses in the United States and have participated in the ISB Conventions in Michigan and Oklahoma. There I had the opportunity to meet outstanding classical and jazz musicians from all over the world. I have also attended European bass festivals in Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, and Prague.

Today, it is challenging to travel with your own double bass, and it requires a certain mindset to be quickly adaptable. I try to teach my students to be prepared even when they do not have their own instrument in hand. We have to be very concentrated in the process of our work so that we can be successful. On the stage, we all get excited, but we have to find a balance between excitement and fear. If we are well prepared, it is normal to feel excited. Fear comes if we are not ready. The audience makes you feel special, and you are giving your best.

Petia Bagovska double bass

What is the most important thing to strive for when playing the double bass?

The hands and body must be natural and free of tension. Balance the natural weight of the right hand and the pressure on the bow is also essential. All players have to work for a good contact point with the string to create an equal sound and good articulated bow technique on the different strokes. Work on the left-hand shifts for good intonation, good coordination of both hands, musical idea, beautiful sound, vibrato, and dynamic lines complete all performances.

You are part of the next generation after greats like Toshev and Petracchi. In the last 30 years, you have proven to be an exceptional educator, training dozens of students who have won national and international prizes and who hold positions in orchestras and universities all over the world. What is your secret as a teacher?

In teaching, there are no secrets. Every pedagogue has their own style. For me, these are some of the most important things:

  • Love what you do with passion for music.
  • Inspire students to love what they do.
  • Always be able to work to achieve a result and explain patiently.
  • Have knowledge, be curious, and develop yourself.
  • Encourage your students through hard times.
  • Encourage your students to strive for high professional goals.
  • To understand and trust each other and be there for the student’s needs.
Playing Simón García’s “Aires Cariocas” (Double Bass Octet) with students.

What do you think is more important, motivation or discipline?

Music is a process that requires constant improvement. I always remind my students that they need to be ready to take a chance when it comes to them. Audition winners are always the ones who maintain a high professional level constantly. To be motivated, you need a current goal, discipline, and work to achieve the result.

The pandemic has caused a lot of hardship. Many musicians are not able to work and perform in front of audiences right now. However, I do believe that this is just a temporary situation. We should continue to encourage ourselves that this will soon be over and that we will all be reunited again with our colleagues, students, and the audience soon enough.

What technical exercises or double bass routines do you usually recommend to students?

I discuss the quality of sound with my students all the time. We talk about the difference between loud, harsh, soft, and volume of the sound and the intensity of the process of work when we are practicing at home. It’s crucial to maintain a balance between work and relaxation to sustain growth as a musician. Usually, after 50 minutes of intensive work at home, it is good to allow yourself at least a 10-minute break. In the process of practicing, we should not be afraid to look and change fingerings or bowings to find the best result.

My students are practicing studies by Todor Toshev, Franco Petracchi, Otakar Ševčík, my own book Double Bass Studies, etudes by E. Nanny, F. Simandl, A. Mengoli, orchestral parts, and as a solo repertoire works by G. Bottesini, S. Koussevitzky, classical works and contemporary music. To play in an ensemble takes a high level of responsibility. Players need to be able to listen and play within the group. It is magnificent when a group creates a good compact and homogeneous sound. Learning to play in a group is crucial for students and for this reason I suggest starting from an early age. It’s encouraging to see bass ensembles for kids these days. I always ask my students to finish our concerts and recitals with ensembles. We have had great success playing in bass festivals in Sofia with groups of 4, 8, 12, or even 16 double basses. We perform various repertoire from classical to jazz music which creates a fantastic atmosphere.

We play a lot of Bulgarian music here. There is a competition for double bassists from ages 14 to 18 and 19 to 25 with only Bulgarian music repertoire every two years. We have many original pieces for double bass by Emil Tabakov, Boris Karadimchev, Georgi Andreev, where the music is in 5/8, 7/8, 9/8, 11/8, and many other rhythm groups.

Petia Bagovska Double Bass Studies


Do you have any projects you would like to share with us?

My current plans include having concerts and preparing my students for auditions, diploma concerts, and teaching master classes in Bulgaria and Italy this year. I have transcribed Bulgarian folk music in a compilation called Bulgarian Double Bass Quartets. It has six pieces for bass quartet on the base of Bulgarian folk songs, some of them we have recorded on my album One Bass One Woman (2005). My sister, Kina Bagovska, designed the cover art of this CD — she has beautiful fine artworks inspired by the bass artists and music.

In 2011, I published a book called Double Bass Traditions and Future, and this year — on the 100th Anniversary of our National Music Academy Prof. Pancho Vladigerov in Sofia, I am working on a book on Bulgarian double bass school, as well as on the new transcriptions of Bulgarian pieces for double bass. It will be announced on my website.

For the future, I wish all my colleagues around the world health, energy, and continued love for our good old friend, the double bass, who brings beauty, joy, and colors into our lives.

Thank you, and good luck to Bass Magazine!

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