The Republic of Macedonia, one of Europe’s newest additions with about 2 million inhabitants, is probably little known to most Americans. The landlocked Balkan country, formerly part of Yugoslavia, declared its independence in 1991.
One of its most famous citizens is the internationally acclaimed pianist Simon Trpčeski, who will appear Feb. 14 and 16-17 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as soloist in Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3. In September 2011, he was named Macedonia’s first-ever national artist. Born in the capital of Skopje, with a population of about 800,000, he continues to make his home there.
“I have family and friends here, and the lifestyle suits me because it’s a good balance with all these activities that I have and my busy schedule, said Trpčeski, 39, said from the city. “I really feel lucky that I come from this kind of culture and mentality, because I do think that the balance in life is really important.”
Although Macedonia is one of Europe’s poorest countries, people can still find contentment there. “Those people who just try to lead a normal life, and exclude themselves from the everyday pressures from the political side, then, of course, the life can be really beautiful,” he said. “This country is small. It does have the potential to provide all the goodness in terms of the normal needs of normal people without the pretty big pressures that people are used to having in big countries and big cities.”
But he acknowledged that the last few years have been difficult for the country politically. After a dispute with Greece over what Macedonia calls itself, the two nations reached an agreement last year to rename the country the Republic of North Macedonia. The change is expected to become official some time early this year. “Maybe by February when I come to Chicago, it will be like that,” Trpčeski said. “But I think that they still have discussions in the Parliament.”
Not surprising, given the deep love he has for his homeland, Trpčeski has been an important ambassador for Macedonian culture. In 2017, he launched Makedonissimo, a program that features transcriptions of Macedonian traditional music for a five-member ensemble featuring Trpčeski, piano; Hidan Mamudov, clarinet, saxophone and kaval; Aleksandar Krapovski, violin; Alexander Somov, cello, and Vlatko Nushev, percussion. The arrangements were commissioned by Trpčeski, whose first love was the accordion, and undertaken by Macdedonian composer Pande Shahov. The quintet debuted at the Ludwigsburg Festpiele; it has since toured Europe, performing in London’s Wigmore Hall as part of Trpčeski’s residency there in 2017-18 and most recently in Belgrade in December.
Last summer, Trpčeski brought Macedonian music to the United States, presenting the world premiere of Shahov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with conductor Cristian Măcelaru at the Cabrillo Festival of Conemporary Music in Santa Cruz, Calif. It, too, draws on folk music, especially the country’s traditional dances. “Our music is full of very interesting and exotic rhythms,” he said.