by John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
Stilian Kirov is a refreshing anomaly in an age of young conductors who regard each podium appointment as just another conquest to pad out their resumes.
The 33-year-old, Bulgarian-born conductor, who will lead his first concert as music director to kick off the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra’s 40th anniversary season next month, is a serious and dedicated musician. He doesn’t think in careerist terms. In that respect he is a throwback to what resident music directors used to be, 40 or 50 years ago.
Kirov came away from that January audition excited, he says, about the “limitless growth potential” of the orchestra as the hub of the expanding cultural life of southland Chicago.
“I think there is a great passion for music among the musicians and at every level of the IPO,” he says. “All the musicians really care about this orchestra. I find the working atmosphere to be very friendly. It’s the right environment in which to make music, so that everybody feels free and inspired to express himself as an artist.”
Kirov’s training at the Juilliard School under conductor James DePreist gave him the technical skills and confidence he needed to realize career ambitions that first took hold of him as a piano and oboe student at a specialized high school in his native Sofia, Bulgaria.
He served as associate conductor of the Seattle Symphony and the Memphis Symphony before taking on his current music directorships in New Jersey (Symphony in C) and California (Bakersfield Symphony). He sees no conflict whatsoever, and many mutual benefits, in his holding down three podiums at the same time.
“It’s like having three children — you love them equally and try to be there for them,” he explains. “With careful planning I am available to work with all three groups within the season. I find it very inspiring to be able to develop relationships with different people in different places.”
Like Danzmayr, Kirov intends to make American music an integral element of his programs. He plans to launch a composer-in-residence program in the near future and, as a forestaste, will introduce a work by the American-based Iranian composer Gity Razaz, a former Juilliard classmate, to conclude the 40th anniversary season.
Kirov is a realist about what his job entails.
“The conducting profession involves many different aspects besides music — diplomacy, community relations, artistic vision, leadership, fundraising,” he observes. “You have to be able to work with and inspire people. Many of these skills I am still acquiring. But I really do feel my job is my passion. I feel very lucky to be where I am.”