the London Bulgarian Choir  
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© London Bulgarian Choir 2017

Led by native Bulgarian singer Dessislava Stefanova, former member of the Philip Koutev Bulgarian Folk Ensemble, the London Bulgarian Choir takes us on a journey around Bulgaria, exploring the landscapes of the voice and the creative traditions of this land.

Dessi and the rest of the choir invite you to join them in finding that ancient resonance in the depth of the human heart.

Read all about the 2010 Bulgaria tour and the newly commissioned Kiril Todorov songs in this lovely booklet, produced for our Big Gig in St. John's Smith Square.

Activities

We are primarily a performing choir, and have sung in churches, concert halls, festival tents, rock concerts, television studios, embassies, nightclubs, restaurants, pubs, hilltops, village squares and a barge on the Thames. We've worked on other people's recordings - including Halo 4 and the award-winning Virgin Queen soundtrack - and have released two professionally-recorded CDs, Alyana Galyana and Goro Le Goro. We've been a competition choir, just once, and came away with "BBC Radio 3 Open Choir of the Year" for 2006-7. You can watch us performing on our fine live DVD, and in the Electric Proms with Doves - we're the ones in traditional costume. Have a look at our calendar page to see a history of our concerts, and to find out about future engagements.

Around and About

You can find us on Bandcamp, Songkick, MusicBrainz, MySpace, YouTube and last.fm. Wikipedia has a page about us, and our photos are on flickr. To follow us, you can use twitter (follow us or subscribe to our twitter RSS feed), Instagram, or join our facebook page. To hear directly from Dessi about concerts, workshops and other events, join our mailing list.

Reviews and comments

Many thanks to all the kind people who shared their thoughts below.


"a guaranteed stunning, aural delight"


It is evident from the first notes of the dramatic Muri Yano that the choir… has effectively captured the hard-edged, precisely focused sound, sudden dynamic shifts, and massively swelling sonic waves vital to this music. Equally at home with the stirring revolutionary ballad Goro Le Goro, playful squibs like Sednalo E Jore, and the moving lament Razbolyal Se E Mlad Stuyan, the choir's greatest achievement is that it does not aspire to being a simple carbon copy of a Bulgarian original, but has instead forged its own sound.


The singing… is strong with Dessislava's the most striking among the solo voices. The material works well too… So are the LBC making a distinctive statement – a record mainly comes down to what comes out of the speakers, which in this case is music from one of the most impressive of the Bulgarian folk chorale diaspora.


The London Bulgarian Choir actually exist. Well this is new. . . Mr. Max Reinhardt for the tip off. Truly, never heard anything like it. my mind is blown.


I found that from out of thin air the London Bulgarian Choir conjured a powerful, otherwordly sound that seemed to resonate in every part of me. They are a magnificent live experience and can't be recommended highly enough.


From joyful exuberance to sadness and longing, the London Bulgarian Choir sing to make your spine tingle, your blood rush and your heart ache. Their voices transport the audience beyond music, taking them into landscapes and places filled with an array of emotions and characters that are both particular and universal. It is a unique experience to be part of their world and they always leave you wanting more.


The London Bulgarian Choir sang with gusto and aplomb — a hugely entertaining evening of beautifully raw music-making.


Thank you for a wonderful event… it was a fantastic performance and a great atmosphere… the London Bulgarian Choir made a colourful splash in the Great Hall, which reverberated with the sound of their voices so that the generally bustling public stopped in their tracks, rows deep, to savour it all.


I was absolutely transfixed... seeing you guys live was genuinely amazing. I find your vocal style and use of harmony truly remarkable — and I don't say this lightly — but I absolutely, genuinely believe that the London Bulgarian Choir is how vocal harmony should sound... period. The use of 2nds, 4ths and 5ths is so achingly beautiful and powerful along with the strong accents and dynamics — it absolutely blows me away... You really are an incredibly inspirational ensemble to me as a musician and composer.


The sheer thrill of hearing the London Bulgarian Choir fill the space of St Ethelburga's with such rich, exotic harmonies is always one of the highlights of our world music programme. I marvel at the choir's ability to move effortlessly from the spiritual depths of traditional Orthodox blessings to the joyful good-humour and pathos of Bulgarian folk and soviet songs. †Dessi and her wonderful band of singers bring something very special to London's music scene, and they will always be part of the family at St Ethelburga's.


The London Bulgarian Choir are a wonderful, powerful choir, who sing with all the spirit, energy and joy of truly committed singers.


...fully integrated into the songs, the effect was spectacular - never more so than on profoundly epic version of The Cedar Room, the band's second ever single, sounding no less majestic almost a decade on.

Doves were joined by the London Bulgarian Choir, whose eerily beautiful harmonies lifted Doves' soaring music to new heights, right into the Roundhouse's exposed rafters. [...] things took off when the LBC joined them on "Firesuite", creating a dense, dissonant soundscape that added cinematic heft. When Doves frontman Jimi Goodwin announced "they're giving me tingles", he spoke for us all.


[Doves and LBC were]... among the finest examples of the BBC's attempts to pair established acts with unusual backing . Their specially-reworked version of instrumental Firesuite was a wonder to behold - a joyful, cacophonous noise that seemed to shake the Roundhouse's very girders. Less bombastic, but certainly as affecting was their haunting "la la las" on the tremulous Last Broadcast.


as uplifting as Polyphonic Spree, the Bulgarians made already fine songs even better, transforming the good to great, the earthbound to celestial.


For much of the show, the twin staircases behind the Cumbrian band are occupied by the extraordinary London Bulgarian Choir in their traditional embroidered smocks, adding their ghostly voices to "Men Together Today", and gamely assisting the "Easy! Easy!" wrestling chant in "No Lucifer". British Sea Power aren't the first in the indie sector to discover the magic of ancient Bulgarian folk singing: in 1986, Ivo Watts-Russell, encouraged by Peter Murphy of Bauhaus, issued the Le MystËre des Voix Bulgares album on the 4AD label. But it's a timely rediscovery.
Prior to BSP, the LBC belt out a set of their own, all diaphonics, dissonance and irregular rhythms, simultaneously haunting and hearty, eerie yet emphatic, and utterly bewitching.


Jaw dropping. Total sonic high...


As I slouched down, I remarked to my fellow 1st VIII rower next to me (yes, I only hang out with rowers these days) that this had better be funny, or I was going to fall asleep. She expressed total agreement with the notion. To our utter surprise and delight, they were WONDERFUL. The music was all a cappella, and catchy, with shouting and hiccups and clapping, even some whistle music, and a DRUM.


The London Bulgarian Choir looked the part. They jollily wandered on as if they were meeting up with friends in the market place, laughing and chatting. A far cry from a classical English choir – silent, formally dressed, eyes only on the conductor. Their dress was traditional Bulgarian folk – red waistcoats, embroidered full skirts, men in little black hats, women with red roses tucked behind their ear. I felt like I was on holiday in a small Bulgarian village already.


The evening ended with many in the audience enthusiastically joining these indefatigable performers in a Bulgarian dance. Nobody wanted to go home.


The highlight of our Acapella Festival was the London Bulgarian Choir with Dessislava Stefanova. From the opening moments to the last note, the audience were held spellbound by the astonishing beauty and power of the performance. Dessislava captivated everyone with her charm and good humour, and the choir projected a relaxed, happy confidence as well as extraordinary musicality. The following day Dessislava led a packed workshop that almost lifted the roof off the venue. The concert and workshop have since been the talk of the town, and numbers at our regular singing workshop have almost doubled...


'your choir turned me from a virgin to an addict in one night.'


"Those of you who passed over the chance to see British Sea Power play on Friday also missed the best opening to a pop concert of all time (yes, underlined!). BSP came onstage to "Men Together Today" sung live by The London Bulgarian Choir. I will never again view that particular acapella peculiarity as merely the opening noises at the start of a record. It was spine-tingling. In fact, I'd go so far as to say spine affirming; I'm absolutely certain that I have one now after that experience.
The aforementioned ensemble were also the opening band on the night, and far more enjoyable it was than some random bunch of scrawny indie kids ambling onto the stage carrying scratchy guitars (any day). There were around forty people in the choir (thirty-five women), and I was in love with about thirty of them (the other five were too old for me). I'm not superficial or anything, though; Great Uncle Bulgaria was always my favourite womble."


As a composer and half Bulgarian, I find the sounds of a Bulgarian choir utterly enchanting. The harmonies are unique and beautiful. My grandmother would sing at dinners and beguile the whole family with Bulgarian folk tales. Without understanding the stories the music spoke chapters and was always inspirational. I was honoured to witness the London Bulgarian Choir last October when they sang in Brighton and it was truly an experience I shall not forget.


"Saturday night and Chichester was hopping with great music.† In the Main House at the Festival Theatre the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain were in fine form playing in front of a full house for the second time in ten months.† Just down the road at a pub there were 3 indie bands and a VJ entertaining a packed young crowd, while in The Minerva Theatre the London Bulgarian Choir (LBC) were holding court.† Such choice was a no-brainer.† LBC won hands-down for originality, audience engagement, stunning vocals, and simply for giving the audience something a little extraordinary to remember that they had a choice and chose wisely!"


"There was a strong Bulgarian presence on Sunday, when the 17-piece London Bulgarian Choir aroused a hung-over audience with a vigorous, spine-tingling and slightly raunchy performance.
With an equally stunning rendition of a Bulgarian blessing, six choristers capped a humanist wedding service in the afternoon, in a room beautifully adorned by the Cloudbase collective."


"LBC were the hit of the festival and thank you so much for delivering a wonderful performance. Tegwyn, the farmer, is still talking about hearing the choir practising while he was having his dinner."


"The absolute highlight, the pinnacle, the best thing I saw at that festival, possibly at any festival ever, were The London Bulgarian Choir. Now, obviously this is a very personal thing: not everybody is going to feel the same way I (apparently) do about Bulgarian folk music, so please forgive me if this seems strange. Having said that, they got a fabulous reception, so I clearly wasn't the only blown-away person in the tent. I don't know, there's just something incredible about the language, and the style of singing: so strong, so strange, such odd harmonies and beautiful dischords. But hey, don't take my word for it: you can watch a goodly chunk of their Small Nations performance (minus some inter-song banter, sadly: Dessislava's ++charming) on youtube (note well: at least one of those handsome Bulgarian men is in fact a very cheeky cockney chappie). Then buy the album: I finally got it last week and haven't been listening to much else since.
Actually, I lie. That wasn't the pinnacle. The pinnacle was about 20 minutes after their performance, when I realised they were singing in a small tent in the middle of the main site (used in the day for face painting and the like), so I ran there just in time to become part of an impromptu spiralling circle dance as all around (and in the dance), a subset of the choir sang the wonderful Shto Mi e Milo. It was just incredible, and (looking back) an introductory taste of the joy to come at Dance Camp, a few weeks later. Seriously, at that moment I felt as happy as I have ever been. Bliss. I couldn't tell you why."


"The London Bulgarian Choir were definitely one of the hits of our 2008 Festival.
The church was packed and those present were treated to an evening of extraordinary singing, rich with resonance and emotion. Haunting melodies and catchy refrains were interspersed with entertaining snippets about the history of each song and by the end of the concert, many of the audience were dancing in the nave with the choir! A local landlord said he felt "privileged" to host an impromptu post concert singsong and we have had requests to bring the choir back for future festivals. Definitely recommended!"


"About a year ago, the wondrous Bulgarian choir appeared before us as if from musical heaven, a total delight, surprise, revelation... a shimmering vision of purest sound and beauty, of the strength of a kickass musical tradition and an independent woman's version of the world and the tender vulnerability of performance, the exquisite harmonies and dissonance of people singing for the love of their music.... Listen and have your spirit kindled, your soul revived and your ears rejuvenated."


"We didn't know exactly what to expect when we booked the LBC. But what we got was an evening of extraordinary emotional range – wonderfully moving singing, a charismatic involvement that ended in a conga, and a ëstand-up' commentary on the songs that kept the audience fully involved throughout. We've already booked them again."


"The London Bulgarian Choir performance at the Rye Arts Festival in September 2007 was one of the highlights of a varied range of events. The exotic music of Eastern Europe seemed perfectly at home in St Mary's Church. Almost 900 years old the church provided the perfect setting for the rich voices of the choir singing a music that drew on a tradition that was even older. At the end, even the audience were on their feet joining hands with the choir members, moving in a human chain around the church to the infectious rhythm of a music that we do not have an opportunity to hear often enough."


"I was bowled over by the energy, the power and the commitment of the singing. It was like being transported to a Bulgarian village. Under the guidance of Dessi the singers had got under the skin of the Bulgarian singing technique. The sound was wonderful… I wanted to surprise and thrill the audience. And in the case of LBC I unquestionably succeeded!"


Judges' Comments from the Radio 3 Choir of the Year competition 2006

"I'm lost for words. I haven't experienced music like that in a long time - a perfect balance between the voices, harmonies; everything was perfect...the most sophisticated physical expression of song I've ever experienced."

"Music for me is about sharing between an audience and performer. That was, for me, the definition of it. Music is almost a level of communication that exists apart from language. Not many people in the audience, I'm sure, understood (the words), but I found a tear coming to my eye at several points during this performance, and that, for me, is communication."

"This was a magical performance from start to finish: technical, dynamic and moving."


"I first heard the choir in the rather dark and cramped surroundings of the Notting Hill Club, where I'd gone to hear something completely different.
What excited me about the choir on that first hearing was the raw energy of the singing and the enthusiasm of the performers - these were not ideal conditions but the choir didn't care and stole the show.
I immediately thought of inviting the choir to Swaledale for all sorts of reasons - I'd been building the international links and exciting our audiences with music and performance that they couldn't have heard before and I was sure that with a strong singing tradition in the Dales I'd have plenty of curious listeners and workshop participants.
Most of all I sensed that here was a group who would really make the most of coming to Swaledale and contribute in a special way to the festival spirit. And you did - many people have described their interaction with the choir (whether in the concert hall, the pub or on the side of a mountain) as a real festival highlight. I thought it was too."


Michael Church of The Independent came to our 2003 Christmas concert, and gave us a five-star review:
... I find the highlight of the week in an urban wasteland. St Pancras Old Church is packed for a Christmas performance by the London Bulgarian Choir: led by the dazzling Dessislava Stefanova, this disciplined group deliver songs of love, war, hunting, and seasonal cheer to stunning effect. Their discordant harmonies are as distinctive as those of Georgian music, but Bulgaria's unique style of voice-production creates a very different thrill.
Read (some of) the review here - some has been truncated.