Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra 2011 Concert Tour of Bulgaria

Here’s proof that patience pays off: after eight or so years of discussion, two conductors and four orchestra managers, the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra (from Orange County, California) embarked on its first tour on June 26, 2011, to the native country of its conductor, Maxim Eshkenazy: Bulgaria.

Director Maxim Eshkenazy and PSYO members perform in Bulgaria Hall, Sofia

ACFEA has arranged several choir tours to this fascinating country, but this was our first for an orchestra. However, based on the great success of this tour, we very much hope that there will be more in the near future. The combination of excellent halls, good audiences, a variety of sightseeing opportunities and great value makes this a destination worthy of careful consideration by any orchestra. 

PSYO started its tour in the capital, Sofia. This attractive city, with wide boulevards, plenty of green open spaces and some beautiful churches, was a surprise to some members of the group who had a drab, Eastern European image in their minds. A couple of days of rehearsing and sightseeing allowed time to recover from the journey and to prepare for the first concert, held in the magnificent Bulgaria Hall, the most prestigious venue in the country. This concert, like the others on the tour, was completely sold out, and the audience (which included the last Tsar of Bulgaria, His Majesty King Simeon II of the Bulgarians) responded with wild enthusiasm, calling for three encores.

The following day featured a run-out to Plovdiv, an ancient city with a spectacular Roman amphitheatre, in which a small ensemble from PSYO gave a short, informal concert. The main concert that evening was in the Philharmonic Hall, and the crowd was as enthusiastic as in Sofia the previous day.

The next stop was Varna, a flourishing resort city on the shores of the Black Sea. Once the very non-socialist playground of the elite of Eastern Europe, the city is now a popular destination for all tourists. The group enjoyed a visit to the Roman baths, a performance by a local dance group and a piano recital before giving their own concert in the Congress Centre Concert Hall.

PSYO performs in the Congress Centre Concert Hall in Varna, Bulgaria

PSYO returned to Sofia for a festive Fourth of July celebration before flying back to California, but no tour of Bulgaria can be complete without a visit to one of Europe’s most stunning sites, Rila Monastery. Just 75 miles south of Sofia, hidden in the middle of towering mountains and with a trout stream running past it, is this architectural, spiritual and aesthetic treasure – absolutely not to be missed, as the group would now testify.

Accompanying the main orchestral group was a group of patrons: supporters of the orchestra who wanted to share the excitement of the group’s first tour. With their own bus and courier, and an itinerary that only overlapped with the orchestra’s at concerts, this followed the model that groups are increasingly adopting, whereby supporters and parents can be part of the experience but still have some independence and separation from the performing group. Since many groups add a surcharge to the price of these tours, they can also serve as a useful fundraising tool.

Melissa Craig, Director of Youth Ensembles for the Pacific Symphony, wrote this after the first concert: “I have to say, we were quite stunned with the experience, and the musicians were equally stunned. We received a standing ovation that went from the first row, all the way back to the very last row upstairs. I’ve never seen such an enthusiastic audience for PSYO.”

To learn more about Bulgaria as a possible concert tour destination for your ensemble, please visit our Bulgaria and Romania destination page, or contact us.