A dream fulfilled through love of music and the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra – West Central Tribune
WILLMAR – When Nickolai Podvin, Associate Conductor of the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra, takes the stage to lead the orchestra through his rendition of Arturo Marquez’s “Conga del Fuego Nuevo” at his May 21 concert, it will mark the start of his final salute with the orchestra. .
“It’s kind of surreal, exciting but sad at the same time,” Podvin said. “I haven’t really thought about it. I just try to enjoy every moment I can.”
Podvin is leaving the orchestra with which he has been playing since 2016 because he is about to embark on a great musical adventure.
From September, Podvin will be enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music in London, England. He will obtain his artist diploma in orchestral conducting from the prestigious school, often ranked among the best music schools in the world. He was the only candidate accepted out of 360 applicants.
“The Royal Academy has something really important to teach me and show me before I turn professional,” Podvin said.
One of the loves of Podvin’s life, music has been his passion since childhood. His family immigrated to the United States from Bulgaria when he was 5, and even then Podvin knew he loved music and conducting. He started learning the piano at the age of 5, learned the trumpet in elementary school, the clarinet around the fifth or sixth grade, then was introduced to his favorite instrument in the seventh grade.
“Then I found the bassoon. I remember that day so vividly,” as he assembled the instrument and attempted to play it for the first time. That first cry wasn’t the most auspicious start, but Podvin said he picked it up pretty quickly and continued to play, including for the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra.
Over the years he has participated in many different orchestras and musical programs, both as a musician and as a conductor.
There was no doubt that Podvin would study music at university and train to become a professional conductor. He began his undergraduate studies in 2008 at North Park University in Chicago.
Then life turned everything upside down.
Before Podvin finished his bachelor’s degree, his father was diagnosed with leukemia, and Podvin transferred to the University of Augsburg in Minneapolis, where he completed his undergraduate studies.
This would be a dark time in Podvin’s life, and it nearly ended his music career.
Podvin’s last memory of his father is of listening to Beethoven’s Third Symphony together. The bassoon played by Podvin was a gift from his father towards the end of his life, marking Podvin’s graduation from Augsburg.
Some time later, music and his bassoon were linked in Podvin’s mind to his father’s illness and death.
“After he died, every time I looked at my instrument, picked up my bassoon, played the piano — I kept breaking down, because it kept reminding me,” Podvin said. He thought at the time that he could leave music behind, maybe become a full-time restaurant manager or car salesman, two jobs he was successful at.
It wasn’t until Podvin got an out of the blue call one day from Robert Whitney, owner of Whitney Music in Willmar and a member of the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra, asking if Podvin would be willing to be a stand-in bassoon player for a gig. coming. , that Podvin rediscovered the love and passion for music.
After this first concert, Podvin was invited to stay with the orchestra, which he accepted. He traveled weekly from the Twin Cities to take part in practices, and under the tutelage of bandleader Stephen Ramsey, Podvin once again took over the bandleader’s baton.
He has been associate chef of the group since 2018.
“This orchestra – the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra and Maestro Stephen Ramsey – are the reason I got out of my rut,” Podvin said. “They gave me that spark that started it all over again.”
Podvin returned to school, earning his dual master’s degree in bassoon and orchestral conducting from Illinois State University.
After graduating, Podvin began to wonder about his future again, this time wondering if he should become a music teacher instead of pursuing a career as a professional conductor. It was his long-time friend Anna Koczandon who convinced him to apply to international music schools to get his artist degree.
“‘You’re a conductor, what’s holding you back?'” Podvin said, Koczandon asked him. “(The) next day I was watching schools.”
He applied to three schools in the UK, including the Royal Academy and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. He has also applied to several schools in the United States, including the University of Minnesota, the University of Miami, and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“No matter what, I was going somewhere,” Podvin said.
While awaiting news of his school applications, Podvin attended the International Conductors Workshop and Competition in mid-January 2022 near Atlanta. Despite a few challenges, including learning a brand new piece of music in just 48 hours, Podvin was one of three winners of the contest.
“That’s when I realized something was up,” Podvin said.
A few weeks later, he learned that the Royal Academy was inviting him to London for a final audition.
After his audition, Podvin feared he had ruined his chance. He had to stop the orchestra a few times for verbal direction, and he couldn’t get through all the pieces the audition committee wanted him to conduct.
Instead, Podvin greatly impressed the committee, enough for him to be accepted into the school’s full conducting program.
“Sian Edwards, the head of the orchestral conducting program, literally told me that I was the only one who produced the best sound in the orchestra. I was absolutely flabbergasted,” Podvin said.
Podvin will arrive in London on September 2, with classes starting on September 5. After completing the course in the summer of 2023, Podvin will follow where his muse takes him, even if the dream is to one day become a professional conductor.
“I’m at the mercy of music. Wherever it tells me to go, whatever it tells me to do, I do,” Podvin said.
No matter where Podvin ends up, he will keep the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra close to his heart, because without them, who knows where he would be today.
“This orchestra will always have a very special place in my life,” Podvin said. “This incredible and passionate group of people, they are the ones who pulled me out of the abyss in which I found myself lifeless. They brought me back to life.”