Monday 30 March 2015

Celebrating a Bulgarian emigre in London - Pierre Rouve aka Peter Ouvaliev

Pierre Rouve
Having interviewed composer Dobrinka Tabakova recently (see my article), I was keen to hear some of her music live and was intrigued by the UK premiere of her new work for violin and piano which was being given at the Bulgarian Embassy on Friday 27 March 2015. So I went along, and discovered a whole network of other connections. The event was in fact a centenary celebration for Pierre Rouve (aka Petar Ouvaliev). You might not think you know Pierre Rouve's work, after all why should you know about a Bulgarian emigre, but in fact he worked extensively in the British film industry, starting as second director of Innocents in Paris with Claire Bloom and Alastair Sim, going on to found the production company 'Bridge Films' with Carlo Ponti and co-producing the film The Millionairess with Sofia Loren and filming Blow Up with Michelangelo Antonioni, Vanessa Redgrave and David Hemmings. He was also a talented writer, in both English and Bulgarian, and for over 40 years broadcast regularly on the Bulgarian service of the BBC World Service. 

And the double name? Petar Ouvaliev chose the name of Pierre Rouve as the one by which he was known in the UK, it was the name on his British passport. His wife and biographer feels it shows how his personality and all his artistic activities bridged the two persons: the Bulgarian who had already begun to make a name for himself before coming to the West and the perfect European that he became once settled in the United Kingdom. 

Ivo and Lachezar Stankov performing at the Bulgarian Embassy
Ivo and Lachezar Stankov
performing at the Bulgarian Embassy
It turns out that Pierre Rouve and his wife Sonia lived around the corner from D.'s shop and their house in Markham Street had a plaque unveiled on Friday 27 March, and in fact D. has done work for Pierre and Sonia, and their daughter. Then when we got to the Bulgarian Embassy I discovered that, of course, Dobrinka's violin and piano piece was being performed by a pair of London-based Bulgarian performers, the Stankov brothers (Ivo and Lachezar), whose Stankov Ensemble I am reviewing at the moment and will be publishing a review of their Musical Evenings with the Stankov Ensemble disc shortly.

Dobrinka Tabakova - photo credit Sussie Ahlburg
Dobrinka Tabakova
photo credit Sussie Ahlburg
The evening celebrated Pierre Rouve's many talents. He came to the UK after the war as a diplomat and in fact taught himself English on receiving his posting. Subsequently his career moved in its various directions and he did not return to Bulgaria after 1948, taking up British Citizenship and only resuming his Bulgarian Citizenship in 1994. That he is now honoured by the Bulgarian state was evident from the various strands of celebration that we learned about, ranging from stamps in his honour to his archive being presented to Sofia University. We heard, on film, from the first head of the Bulgarian service of the BBC World Service who first employed Pierre Rouve, and live from the final head (the BBC World Service has subsequently terminated the service), and Rouve's talks on a bewildering variety of subjects are the subject of a scholarly study, volume one of which will be published this year.

The more formal part of the evening (there were drinks to come!) finished with the UK premiere of Dobrinka Tabakova's Through the cold smoke performed by Ivo Stankov (violin) and Lachezar Stankov (playing a piano given to the embassy by Paderewski). Dobrinka had based the work on an image from Pierre Rouve's photographic archive, of a cigarette smoking in front of a microphone, and had used the letters of Pierre Rouve's name to form a melody which came in the middle of the piece. It is quite a contemplative work but with some highly dramatic moments. The Stankov brothers premiered it in Sofia in January on the very day of Pierre Rouve's birthday. I am very sure that it won't be the last time we hear it.

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