Songs of Life Festival "A Melancholy Beauty"

Songs of Life: A Melancholy Beauty highlights

Saturday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Charleston Music Hall, 37 John Street Charleston, SC. For tickets call 1-800-514-3849 or go to

Sunday, Nov. 3, 7 p.m. Koger Center for the Arts, 1051 Greene St. (at Assembly Street), Columbia, SC. $40 – $60. For tickets call (803) 251-2222 or visit

Songs of Life Festival: A Melancholy Beauty is a musical event recounting the little-know story of how Bulgaria’s 49,000 Jews were saved from the Nazis by ordinary citizens, church and government officials. It is being performed to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 1943 rescue.

The event brings together the University of South Carolina Symphony Orchestra, the Philip Kutev National Folklore Ensemble of Bulgaria, University of Florida Chamber Choir, The Bach Festival Youth Choir and soloists. The performance will open with the award-winning film about the rescue, The Optimists, and a performance by the Folklore Ensemble.

Conductor Donald Portnoy is Music Director of the USC Symphony Orchestra and the Brevard (N.C.) Philharmonic, former Music Director of the Augusta Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Opera Theater and the Pittsburgh Civic Symphony and principal guest conductor of the China Opera and Dance Symphony in Beijing and the Harbin Orchestra in China.

The world premiere was at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., followed by performances at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York, both with the National Philharmonic, and the Wang Center in Boston with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project.

A Melancholy Beauty composer Georgi Andreev is chief conductor of the State Folklore Ensemble and has written works for ensembles, piano, orchestra, film and dance, arranged 400 Bulgarian traditional tunes and won the the Alfred Schnittke Prize for Piano Sonata.
Librettist Scott Cairns’ poems been published in The Atlantic MonthlyThe Paris Review and The New Republic and the anthologies Upholding Mystery (Oxford University Press), Best Spiritual Writing (Harper Collins) and Best American Spiritual Writing (Houghton Mifflin). Co-writer Aryeh Finklestein, cantor at Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Massachusetts, has written the libretti for three full-scale oratorios, including Souls on Fire andKings and Fishermen which were performed at Lincoln Center.

The work was organized and commissioned by Varna International, a concert production company based in Columbia, SC. The organization was founded 15 years ago by husband and wife Kalin Tchonev, a native of Bulgaria, and Sharon Tchonev, a native of Israel whose Bulgarian grandparents were among those saved. Varna International produces festivals and concerts and training programs in choral, orchestral and opera music throughout Europe, Israel, Turkey and the U.S. Varna International mounted a concert commemorating the rescue in Bulgaria and Israel in 2008. In Bulgaria, the organization handed out 49,000 flowers to thank them for their part in the rescue.

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