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Artist of the Week — Mario Grigorov

April 5, 2010 by · No comments

Interview with composer and pianist Mario Grigorov by Dessislava Berndt

Mario Grigorov: “I strive to remain open, young at heart and curious about life”

Photography: Joanna Wilson

Mario, what does music mean to you?

This is not an easy question for me to answer because I have been playing the piano since I was 4. I might take it all a little for granted. I can say that music is definitely a part of me and who I am. I feel lucky to make a living from it and cannot really imagine myself doing anything else.

Photography: Joanna Wilson

As the composer of the Oscar nominated film “Precious,” how did you feel being nominated during the 2010 awards program?

I felt excited, elated and very happy for the director, Lee Daniels and all of the wonderful team involved on the film.

You were born in Bulgaria, you speak five languages, and you lived in four countries and under three types of government before the age of 18: communist, Islamic and democratic. Now you are living in the US. How did this diverse environment affect your personality and your music?

Everywhere I have been has been interesting and every place has given me a great opportunity to create. I was very young in Iran and listened to a lot of music on tapes that gave me a lot of inspiration for improvisation. It was also the first time I connected with world music.

Photography: Joanna Wilson

In Germany I learned how counterpoint works by playing a lot of Bach.

In Vienna I was exposed to orchestration, composition and traditional jazz for the first time.

In between I studied classical piano in Bulgaria with Milena Mollova. She introduced me to improvisation through playing Chopin.

Then in Australia I started to compose for the first time in the style of classical jazz and while in my early twenties I also started to compose for documentaries and feature films. This gave me tremendous opportunity to work with people professionally and experience with composing under pressure. I also had the opportunity to play on stage with Carlos Santana in Australia.

When I ended up moving to America in 1992 I got signed to Warner Brothers and went on tour for three year as a solo pianist. I toured mainly in North America and Europe. Through the concerts I learned how to improvise on the spot and this later helped me with my ability to compose for film.

Photography: Joanna Wilson

You studied jazz piano and orchestration, started as a pianist and shifted toward music composition and production. Where you feel better: on stage, or in the studio?

Both arenas are very different for me. As a composer in my studio I can spend time to perfect the composition. On stage I don’t have that luxury. Therefore, as a performer I would say I am much more vulnerable. However, I love the energy on stage and the instant communication. I can’t really say I feel better in one or the other environment. I really just enjoy both for different reasons.

Photography: Joanna Wilson

You are working in Los Angeles and New York; do you have connections and contacts in Bulgaria? Do you miss anything Bulgarian?

I have family in Bulgaria and I frequently work with Bulgarian musicians here in the States. In fact, the solo violin in Precious is played by Encho Todorov from Plovdiv. I did not realize how much I actually missed Bulgaria until I returned recently and felt so at home and grounded. I hope to keep returning.

What is the source of your inspiration?

Art, music, film and family. (And Romeo Gigli, the Italian designer!)

Photography: Joanna Wilson

Could you please tell us something about your current and future projects e.g. the project “Paris to Cuba” and the tsunami documentary “The Third Wave: A Volunteer Story”, presented by Sean Penn.

Currently, I am working on a beautiful film called “Hopes and Dreams” shot in New Zealand. I am also working on the sequel to “Paris to Cuba” titled “Paris to Rio” with Melissa Newman. The tsunami documentary “The Third Wave” was an incredible film to be involved with.

I recently finished working on a short film (40 minutes) by Snoop Dogg called “Malice N Wonderland The Movie”. It recently premiered in Hollywood on March 23rd. I composed a dramatic underscore for the movie plus the final track (on credit role) which was a classical adaptation of Snoop’s hit “I Wanna Rock”.

Mario Grigorov with Cuba Gooding, Jr. from the second Lee Daniels film The Shadowboxer.

Mario Grigorov with Cuba Gooding, Jr. from the second Lee Daniels film The Shadowboxer.

What is your dream?

To do a sold out concert in the Sala Bulgaria in the near future.

What is the greatest satisfaction for you as an artist and your biggest challenge?

My greatest satisfaction is when I come up with a composition strong enough that I can effortlessly play over and over again. My greatest challenge is actually coming up with that composition!

What is the most important thing you would like that people should know about you?

That I strive to remain open, young at heart and curious about life.

Mario Grigorov with (Precious) director Lee Daniels at a film festival

Mario Grigorov with (Precious) director Lee Daniels at a film festival

For some music from Mario Grigorov on-line:

Mario Grigorov’s website

Paris to Cuba

Mario Grigorov on YouTube

Mario Grigorov was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1963. His father was a concert pianist and trumpeter. At age five, he became the youngest student ever admitted to the Sofia Conservatory. For six years, Grigorov’s family found its home in Tehran, Iran, where his Western classical training continued and meshed with the rich sounds of the Persian culture around him. In 1973, Grigorov and his family returned to Bulgaria, where he would study piano under concert pianist Milena Mollova. Soon afterwards, the family moved to East Germany and later to Austria, where Grigorov studied composition and orchestration under the composer Thomas Christian David at the Vienna Conservatorium. He would soon move once again to the New South Wales Conservatorium in Australia where, alongside Don Burrows, Grigorov studied jazz piano and orchestration.

In 1992, Grigorov traveled to the United States under the mentorship of film composer Miles Goodman. Once stateside—while playing keyboard at a music store in Los Angeles—Grigorov was scouted and signed on the spot by Warner Brothers artists & repertoire executive Bob James. The deal led to the release of his first album, Rhymes with Orange (1994) with which he toured in Europe and North America, as well as the highly acclaimed classical crossover hit Aria on Café del Mar (1998), which climbed to number four on Billboard’s Classical Crossover chart. His most recent project Paris to Cuba (2009) draws from his work in film scoring combining elements of diverse world influences.

Grigorov spent most of his life studying a range of musical forms including jazz, classical and world, before composing the score for Lee Daniels’ 2009 film Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire (Knopf, 1996). This marks Grigorov’s third collaboration with Daniels; the two also collaborated on Tennessee (2008) and Shadowboxer (2005).

Current film projects of Grigorov’s include tsunami documentary The Third Wave: A Volunteer Story, presented by Sean Penn and executive produced by Morgan Spurlock and Joe Amodei. Grigorov worked on Taxi to the Darkside, by Alex Gibney, which went on to win an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for 2008.

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