Press Room

Michael Bakrnčev: On Macedonian Influences

Composer Michael Bakrnčev was recently interviewed by the Macedonian Human Rights Review about his Macedonian influences and his work to date. Read more below.

`Interview with Michael Bakrnčev’ By Johnny Tsiglev

Hi Michael. Thanks for taking the time out to ‘Conduct’ this interview with me for the MHR Review. I’m personally happy to ‘Compose’ this interview…. Ok, Ok… enough of that.. It must be my nerves as I’m slightly out of my depths here. I thought I’d introduce a bit of humour into the interview! Maybe I’ll stick to my night job. So thanks again and I’ll endeavour to formulate informed questions, as the Classical music scene is not really my thing… I was going to say: “It’s not really my bag”… but man, that sounds so old!

You're welcome, and it's my pleasure. 

Hey, I just noticed your initials, ‘MB’, and then a whole bunch of Musicians and Actors with the same ‘MB’ initials sprung to mind- Michael Bolton, Marlon `Interview with Michael Bakrnčev’ By Johnny Tsiglev It’s music, sweet music back in the hot seat.. I love interviewing Musicians. Maybe because I secretly wanted to be a Musician?… Hey, didn’t we all?? But it’s music of a different kind. MHR Review June 2016 page 37 Brando, Mel Brooks, Matthew Broderick, Michael Bublé…. and Milton Bradley, but he doesn’t really count I guess? This might sound like a slightly left-of-centre question, but from the above mentioned fellow ‘MB’ initial-lites, who best sums you up?? I’d personally guess Michael Bublé?, but I might be completely off kilter?

Although I do enjoy Bublé's music and the whole croon revival thing, if I could pick one person in your list that I would like to think would best sum me up, it would have to be Mel Brooks. His work has made me laugh so much over the years, and laughter is one of the best things humans can experience. I try to make people laugh, I'm nowhere near as funny as my younger brother, so that is why I try to steal his best jokes.

Ahh, so my introduction of humour early on was not so incongruous after all! You’re a Composer who lives here in Melbourne and have won awards for your Compositions, which are performed by Orchestras. Can you please explain for our readers (and myself!) what you do and some of your highlights?

As a composer, I am paid a commission to write a new piece of music for an individual or group of people. The instruments I write for can be varied, for example I wrote a piece for saxophones, clarinets and iPhone's once. On another occasion I arranged "Se Nevali Shar Planina" for Andrijana Janevska and the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra. At the moment, I am working on a flute concerto for an Australian flute player by the name of Maddi Goodwin who is based in Belgium. During the week, my time is spent studying and researching, working for my family's business and writing music. Some of the highlights of my career have been writing for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Macedonian Philharmonic and winning the Australian New Works Award for my Piano Trio which was based on the "Janino" oro. The work went on to be performed by three ensembles from around the world. It's always a good feeling when the Macedonian nature of my music reaches such a large audience.

Thanks for clarifying all that. You have already achieved some great work for your young age. A be bravo be! It’s interesting because the previous Musician I interviewed, George Sevinis (Sarbinov) hailed from Selo Bouf, and I noticed on your website https:// michaelbakrncev.com/ that you mentioned that you can’t seem to move beyond the Bufsko Pushteno. You quote that it still has some sort of mystical hold over you. I can understand where you’re coming from as I personally love Zaiko Kookaraiko and its rhyming folksy flow. It was my favourite Macedonian song as a kid because it felt like it just optimized so much about our culture. I too believe Zaiko Kookaraiko had some sort of mystical hold over me, but can you please elaborate on why the Bufsko Pushteno does this for you?

Ahh the Bufsko Pushteno. Now that is a magical oro, and a brilliant recording too. I use the word 'brilliant' specifically, because I don't think there is another word that so wonderfully captures the essence of this marvellous dance. The off kilter phrasing of the melody as well as the additive time signature of 17/16 threw me off for years. This, along with the fact that many of your readers won't know what I'm talking about, yet, are able to 'understand' the oro and dance to it with so much natural ease and grace, is again one of the brilliant facets of Macedonian folk dance. It ultimately comes back to the people.

Yeah, an innate sense of rhythm which can’t be truly explained….but you explained so well. Like many cultures, as we become homogenized into western society, I feel we're losing that essential purity of where these songs emanated from? Do you feel the same way, or am I being a little bit too nostalgic?

I can't speak for those who choose to listen to Macedonian folk music, but as for me, it is a huge part of my musical thinking and I feel that it will remain that way for the rest of my life. As a result, you can bet that my children will be educated in Macedonian music too. 

That’s great to hear. I've interviewed and talked to many other Macedonian musicians who don't necessarily play Macedonian music, but they all without fail have a deep appreciation for the heart wrenching folk classics.. Why do you think this is? 

So maki sum se rodila is an excellent example as the lyrics, melody and harmony perfectly sum up the characteristics of Macedonian vocal music (in a more or less traditional sense). It was described to me as 'the blues' by Australian composer, Robert Davidson. And I think that is a great summation of our vocal music. There is a lot of soul, depth and real human and emotional experiences conveyed in the lyrics. There is much to be said about the structure of such songs too, including the drone aspect as well as the modality which is often melancholic sounding by nature. Coupled with the storytelling nature of the songs and 'lessons to be learnt', it spreads its way very comfortably across generations, right around the world.

Yeah exactly. My Macedonian muso friends always talks about ‘The Blues’ nature of so many traditional Macedonian songs. What has been your greatest achievement to date and where do you see your Musical career heading in the future? In other words; how far do you want to take your talents to? New York? Berlin? Selo Bouf?

My greatest musical achievement so far has been having my music selected to be performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in a competition, and having it performed in the final closing of their Metropolis New Music Series in Melbourne this year. The future holds many exciting things. I am collaborating with the Macedonian Women's Choir of Melbourne, author Fay Thomev and am planning on writing my first symphony which I hope to include Gajda, Kaval, Tapan, Zurli, choir and orchestra – it'll be huge. At some stage, I would like to seriously consider putting on a community musical, which would incorporate the highly talented Macedonian musicians, singers and dancers in Melbourne. Geographically speaking, my music has been performed twice in NYC, in Germany a few times, but never in Bouf – it's a nice thought.

I’ll have to arrange some introductions at some stage in our busy lives… The Selo Bouf experience will be an absolute sellout! Being Macedonian, have you felt any sort of discrimination in Australia (or abroad) relating to your music? Or quite the oppo- (Continued from page 37) photo: Bakrnčev Conducts The Zelman Symphony Orchestra MHR Review June 2016 page 39 site, where 'they', being your audience, view you as somewhat exotic?

 I used to take things extremely personally, but not so much these days. There was one occasion where a lady asked me what nationality I was, after the premiere of my (ancient Greek themed work – The Death of Pythagoras at Metapontum) and after I told her I was Macedonian she said 'oh' with a disgruntled look, and that was the end of the conversation. Generally speaking, the Australian public really enjoy the Macedonian aspect to my music and what different colours and rhythms it brings to their concert programs. It is definitely exotic and I think brings something different and unique to the proverbial table.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced that ‘oh’ and ‘disgruntled’ look at some stage.. I normally make sure the conversation ‘doesn’t’ end there and challenge them on why the ‘oh’? But I’m the AMHRC…..it’s my duty I guess ;) What part of Macedonia do you hale from, and do you think it played a part in your choice to become a full-time Musician?

I was born and raised here in Australia (Melbourne), and haven't had the good fortune of visiting Macedonia just yet, but my family comes from Neret and Negochani. The music from Aegean Macedonia is starting to interest me a little more these days – it seems to be different to other regions of Macedonia, and I would like to do a little further exploration into that.

Yet another Macedonian muso hailing from Neret!!…… Maikata….. What is it with you Neretsi George (Vlahov)!! After reading a quick bio on you, you sound like you have an appreciation or interest in a broad range of music styles and genres. Ultimately though, why did you gravitate to classical/opera music?

I enjoy the rush of writing music for classical musicians, it is very enjoyable for me. I also feel that there is a huge palette of sounds that I can work with in this idiom, and one where I can freely explore my Macedonian roots in a supportive and relevant way.

Well, that explains a lot actually. I’ve never looked at it that way. I don’t know you personally and have never met you, however, again, after briefly reading a bit about you, you seem to maintain a strong ‘Macedonian consciousness’. There are many other Australian born Macedonians I know who have lost this beautiful, valuable, intrinsic connection to their heritage and homeland. I find this quite sad and the people who have lost this connection are actually a little bit lost themselves. What was the driving force in your upbringing that maintained this for/in you?

For me, ultimately it is the music. It is rich, beautiful and exciting, and there always seems to be some really interesting thing that I haven't discovered yet that inspires me to write my next piece, or next ten pieces!

Beautiful, mystical, hurt Macedonia…How can it not inspire one to create?  The inevitable question for a muso: Who is/was your most influential Musician, and how did they inspire you to become who you are today? 

Tricky. If I had to choose right on the spot, at this point in time I would say the Bufsko Pushteno (as an inspiring song), and my teacher Elliott Gyger who I learnt from during my time as a Masters student at Melbourne University. The Bufsko Pushteno for reasons already discussed, and my teacher Elliott for his professionalism, clarity and dedication to his work.

It’s always great to acknowledge those who shape your Art. But I’d love to introduce you to some truly inspiring Macedonian musicians one day. They may not be ‘recognised’, but I’m sure you’ll ‘recognise’ why they aren’t ‘recognised’. There’s something very sacred and special some extremely talented Macedonian Artists I know don’t want the rest of the world to know! If you know what I mean? I think I repeat this story every time I interview a Macedonian muso, but for me the greatest Macedonian Musical performance I've seen (a close second to being a guest of Kiril Dzajkovski, and watching him do an underground DJ set in Bitola, yes, literally not metaphorically, as the nightclub was underground) was when I was in Ohrid during Ilinden and the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra was playing a live, moving Orchestral piece to a stage drama. It was up the top of the hill near Tsar Samuel’s Fortress, in the old Amphitheatre, and it was simply magical. I was watching it drinking Tikves Vranec from my balcony and I felt as though I was transported to Ancient Rome! What has been your most memorable Macedonian based performance that you have seen?

Seeing the Macedonian Women's Choir perform for the first time after their 10 year break. It was magical for me, and even the waiters talking over the top of them during their performance couldn't hinder my experience. (I told them to be quiet, and one of them told me to be quiet – concert etiquette classes in the future perhaps?).

Ha ha ha…Yeah, the waiters would have been Macedonian I assume? How do you feel about some of the ‘Anglo’ musicians who have a large following playing Macedonian/Balkan/Folk/Gypsy style music to a largely ‘Anglo’ crowd? Do you think it’s a case of ‘cultural appropriation’ (cultural missappropriation?) where it’s stripping minority cultures of their identity, or just a homage to the cultures that the sound and style derives from? 

 There tends to be a particular style of 'Macedonian' music that is performed in Australia, and I don't think it best repre- (Continued from page 39) Photos this page and right: Bakrnčev accepting the Australian New Works Award from Julian Burnside QC MHR Review June 2016 page 41 sents Macedonian music at all. The style I'm talking about is the Roma brass band style that is popular in Macedonia. I suppose it's easier to grasp and crowds love it, but they generalize it and will call it 'Balkan night' or something like that and it just isn't that inspiring to me. The Sydney based clarinettist, Bobby Dimitrievski is a very inspiring player to me, it would be so great to collaborate with him one day.

Ha… yeah… the ‘Balkan night’… That’s exactly what I meant… Easy on the ears and easy to bop to, but not really deep to listen too. Have I forgotten anything important to ask you? If I have, again, it must be the nerves of going into this without much knowledge! (not really)

Please do.

When I do, I’ll let you know ;) Thanks again for your time Mr Bakrnčev, and be sure to check out this http:// macedonianhr.org.au/tickets. Should be an amazing night and you can hear the moving original film score by another Macedonian musician I interviewed, Anton Klimev, in the short film I produced with Director Anton Blajer.

You are welcome, and it was wonderful to be acknowledged by the Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee.

For more information about the publication, click here