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For the last ten years Plamen Dimov - a Bulgarian living in the Finnish town of Kitee and once teaching music lessons to the kids who ultimately would turn into Nightwish - gathers talented musician from all parts of the world in search for the next stars.
In the beginning it is Plovdiv
Nine months before the festival Plamen came to Plovdiv believing that the city in which he himself studied music is a source of talents.
He held an audition at a local rock club and the place got crowded. In fact, I've never been to a more crowded concert.
Hundreds of kids fill 'Petnoto' (The Stain). The musicians at the stage are their classmates. Plamen is sitting by the bar but I can't reach him.
The kids at the stage are each one better than the last. The public - most of whom at their age plus some aging connoisseurs like myself - is ecstatic.
One of the kids, however, is utterly impressive. His name is Todor Borissov. He's 11. When I finally grab a chance to get to Plamen, we tell each other this kid is exceptional.
Nine months later I see Todor again, this time in Kitee. I am invited to the dreamed of every musician Nightwish days, when Plamen Dimov gathers musicians from all around the world. He sees in them a potential to become as good as his most renowned students.
I take a seat at the hall where the little Tarja Turunen took her first singing lessons. In which Tuomas Holopainen, then looking like Potter, learned to play the trumpet.
Toshko (Todor) sings ''Eva" from Nightwish's album "Dark Passion Play". A strange album. The first one that came after the split with Tarja. Maybe with the best compositions. Tuomas has obviously worked devotedly to show that he, not Tarja, is Nightwish. As for me, I couldn't get used to the second singer Anette Olsson and for some reason I considered this song a minor one. Now I feel like hearing it for the first time.
I am going to Toshko and telling him he sings "Eva" better than Anette. He's embarrassed. His teacher Rumi scold at us. Tomorrow is his concert, she says, do not distract him.
Rumi Ivanova is the other reason why Plamen counts to Plovdiv that much when searching for talents. She a musical pedagogue of X Factor 4Magic winners and of - what interests us more - the semi-finalist Miroslava Todorova and our representative in the Junior Eurovision Lidia Ganeva. Of the hundreds of children Plamen Dimov has listened to live and on the Internet, in them he has seen the talent he looks for.
The Bulgarian kids are my best, he tells me the morning before the concert. Go interview them. When they become stars, you'll be the only one to have interviewed them as kids.
Lidia is still a kid. She possesses an uniquely deep voice, quite impressive against her fragile body. Miroslava is Plamen's favourite. Fully aware how cool she is and how she can afford everything, she can turn every song into jazz.
The concert where the students will show what they have learned is called Sleeping Sun concert. It is at the
The Finns live quite modest lives. Most houses are made of wood. 80% of the houses are painted with the same nuance of dark red paint. The others are pale grey and yellow, and the few eccentrics have painted their houses in paler yellow.
Among all this uniformity, the stone church definitely stands out.
We have the unique chance for every music fan to hear the rehearsals and the soundcheck. So we have the chance to see two outstanding musicians carefully caressing the still imperfect performances to shine in their full glamour a few hours later in front of the viewers. The one of them is called Samppa Hirvonen - Nightwish's first bassist. Though he's never been part of the band, he's played at their first concerts and tours. Then he was replaced by Sammy Vanska, also a student of Plamen's, who lives next to the school.
Samppa is the most modest person you'd ever know. When we get acquainted, I'm thrilled with respect while he seems quite uneasy. He explains he's respected to talk to a journalist from so far away. After glory had passed him by, he decided to live a normal life instead of one of a murmuring unrealized star. He's in love with Yildiz Mehmet, an extremely beautiful singer from Romania, who he met during the Nightwish Days a few years ago. Since then Yildiz comes to the festival every year. She participates in concerts and teaches small Rotarian singers. Samppa wants her to move to Finland, she wants him to move to Romania. Before deciding where to move, Samppa had brought a camper to the school yard and they both live in it.
Samppa is the sound person for the festival. I'm watching him going around with cables, answering to the musicians' whims, lying down their feet to hear the monitor. And recall the old Bulgarian joke "I don't know who the ol' Ivan is, but the Pope is his driver."
The other outstanding musician whose rehearsal we watch is Giuseppe Iampieri. However, he doesn't like his name and insists on being called Maestro Mistheria. He's the creator, the soul and the leading artist in the fabulous Vivaldi Metal Project and the most astonishing pianist I've ever heard.
Vivaldi Metal Project
Remember this name. This is a great band and there are three Bulgarians in it. Perhaps you've never heard of VMP. It's easy to understand - Kitee holds their first ever concert. If we're looking for the next Nightwish, my humble opinion is that we should very, very carefully follow Vivaldi Metal Project.
Today Mastro Mistheria will accompany several vocalists during the concert. Next to him, with the guitar, is Tsena Stefanova. Listen to them play, because I have a lot to tell about them, and I will hardly be able to describe their music. And the young man carrying the chairs on his head is Nightwish's first bassist Samppa Hirvonen.
Maestro Mistheria is very renowned in the world of music although he's not popular in Bulgaria. When he announces his project - new song with metal sound and elements from Vivaldi, it attracts great attention. 130 musicians are involved one way or another, including some of the most popular people in heavy metal and symphonic rock music.
At the composers and arrangers contest one of them stands out: Jivko Koev from Bourgas, Bulgaria. He didn't know the people in the project, They had just exchanged pieces of music on the internet. Soon after that Jivko became a key figure in Vivaldi Metal Project. He did most of their arrangements and the three best compositions.
When Jivko sends one of these compositions to Maestro Mistheria, he thinks it sounds a little "empty" without a vocal and asks his friend Dimitar Belchev from Varna to mark the vocal.
Maestro Mistheria listened to the composion with a friend of his, also musician. The Maestro is enchanted by the song, and his friend says, 'It's not the song, it's the voice!"
This was how the second Bulgarian was involved in the project. Music is part of Mitko (Dimitar)'s life from his childhood. He sang in choirs, he used to sing in a band with Jivko. Its name is Allegorist. You could hardly have heard of it. In Bulgaria there's no stage life for such bands, and because "no prophet is accepted in his hometown". A few years ago Dimitar Belchev, an IT programmer, abandoned music. When Jivko asked him to sing the vocals, he hand't sang for quite some time.
You should hear the applause of the otherwise reserved Finnish people at the big concert hall in Kitee after Dimitar Belchev sings the arias of Vivaldi Metal Project.
Impossible voice! Knowing the modern symphonic metal scene quite well, I dare say this is the best vocal at the moment. It's weird I needed to go to Finland to hear it.
Vivaldi Metal Project in the stone church. Unfortunately, there's no recording of their performance at the concert hall.
I have unjustly left Tsena Stefanova for last. In fact, she is the most interesting person of the band. Tsena is from Ruse and unlike Mitko and Zhivko, she is relatively popular among the most avid fans of this style of music. Of course, this is not enough to make a living.
Some years ago Tsena realized she could earn enough from rock in Bulgaria and moved to the Canary islands. She founded an impresario agency and soon became the person to send bands to bars and hotels, often she performed herself with different bands.
Dimitar Belchev persuaded her to apply for the Vivaldi Metal Project contest of Maestro Mistheria. But it was too late - the Maestro had already chosen the singers. Still (just out of courtesy, she thinks), he sent her a composition to sing the vocals.
"At this moment I didn't have a studio at hand, I was preparing a concert, I had no time at all. I gathered the mattresses from the beds, I put them against the walls and the windows to soundproof the room and sang the song."
She returned the recording to the Maestro just 40 minutes after he sent her the song. Giuseppe couldn't believe it. Pointing out that the singers are already selected, he sent her two more songs. She returned them recorded with her vocal the same day. It took weeks for the other singers to do it. And they were kindly dismissed. Tsena became Guiseppe's closest person in the band.
It wasn't exactly a band. Although they had two recorded tracks, the member of the project still hadn't met in person. Tsena and Guiseppe finally met in Ruse, Bulgaria, during one of her trips back home. Guiseppe himself lives in Zagreb. They invited Jivko Koev who Tsena hadn't met either.
They quickly assembled a short concert at a club in Ruse and this was VMP's only appearance on stage, though not with all members, before meeting in Kitee. Albeit in a reduced composition, of the VMP before meeting in Kitee. At the Nightwish days most of them saw each other for the first time. And I have the honor of attending the birth of something extraordinary.
Vivaldi Metal Project is a project involving 130 musicians. Out of the Maestro Mistheria selected a few a to be core of the project. It seems to me they'll be the next big and influential thing in symphonic metal.
Angel Black is the other vocal along with Tsena. She is a Greek who lives in London and she was born in Thessaloniki. An astonishingly beautiful woman with angel voice and long to the waist hair.
Abigail Stahlschmidt is even more beautiful. Kids gather around her after the concert. They want to touch her to make sure she's real. Abbie is a top model in the US. A virtuoso violinist with magical presence on stage.
Jonas Turi is from Apocalyptica. He's a student of Plamen's from Kitee. He plays the bass and cello. Only in the hands of Finns these instruments sound like that.
Quentin Cornet is from Belgium. He was invited to Kitee by Plamen because of his potential to bring the next Nightwish. He's such a good guitarist that Guiseppe Iampieri was immediately fond of him. A few days later Quentin was proud to announce he'd join VMP.
It's a weird feeling to watch a legendary band from its very first concert. The credit for it goes to Plamen Dimov. Before the concert he pronounced Vivaldi Metal Project to be the top of the cream. In Kitee his judgement is never questioned. The whole town comes to the big concert hall where 21 years ago Nighwish played for the first time. What the public sees is amazing. The violin in Abigail's hands, the opera voices in Mitko's metal, the dark contrabass of Jonas, the impossibly light piano of Maestro Mistheria.
A Lifetime of Adventure is a composition by Tuomas Holopainen from his solo album Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge
At the front row are Tuomas Holopainen's parents. His mother starts crying. She comes on stage and embraces all musicians. His father, in a wheelchair, thanked that his son's music has gather so many musicians from all over the world in Kitee.
PS Nightwish will play in Varna this Sunday. In case I missed to mention it.