One way to measure the success of a composer is by the guitarists who choose to play his or her music. In the case of contemporary Bulgarian guitarist/composer Atanas Ourkouzounov (b. 1970), his works—now numbering more than 80 for the guitar; solos, ensembles, concerti—have been embraced by an ever-growing legion of top players from all over the world, including such “name” artists as Antigoni Goni, Zoran Dukic, Thibault Cauvin, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Carlos Perez, Denis Azabagic, Duo Gruber-Maklar, Shin-Ichi Fukuda, the Miscelanea Guitar Quartet (who just put out a full CD of his music), and so many others. In the past month alone, we’ve received a half-dozen CDs or sheet music editions featuring his work.
When you see Ourkouzounov’s name attached to a piece on the back of an album or in a concert program you never quite know what you’re going to hear, and that’s part of what makes him fascinating—he is unpredictable, adventurous, challenging. He can be sonorous one moment, dissonant the next; delicate or insistent; show the influence of folk sources in a passage and follow that with something modern, abstract, even confounding.
Our Video Pick of the Week this time features Ourkouzounov playing the world premiere one of his own pieces, Trois Balkanesques, at the Royal Palace in Stockholm in September 2015. I’d say the three-part work sits on the more accessible/conventional end of the spectrum of his writing, with a number of bright rhythmic passages in the first and third movements, and a slower middle movement that’s quite appealing. When I reached him by email in Paris recently to ask about the origin of the piece he replied, “I wrote the piece for guitarist Denis Azabagic [who is also known as one-half of the highly successful Cavatina Duo with flautist Eugenia Moliner]. As you may know, he was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so that’s why I made the choice to write a piece with very ‘Balkan’ mood, with strong influence from the folk music of that area. The music for this piece is available from Les Productions D’Oz. —Blair Jackson