Interview with Jan Stefanovski and Ivan Kukic: Being part of the Vlatko Stefanovski trio, above all, is an honor and a pleasure

Every musician's dream is to perform with a philharmonic orchestra, and the young Jan Stefanovski and Ivan Kukic have already realized that dream with the concert of Vlatko Stefanovski trio with the RSM Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Gian Emin organized by "Bagi Communications" .

The celebration of the 30th anniversary of Macedonia's independence gave a strong impetus to cultural operators to organize events that will be worthy of the great jubilee. Among the most important and attractive concerts was the performance of the Vlatko Stefanovski trio with the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Gian Emin. The concert had a great response in the public, and the new arrangements for the symphony orchestra of some of the songs of "Bread and Salt" and the biggest hits from the albums of Vlatko Stefanovski caused a frantic admiration among the audience.

An additional dose of attraction is given by the fact that the guitar virtuoso Vlatko Stefanovski in the last two years in his trio included two young and extremely talented musicians. Jan Stefanovski, who plays the drums, is his son and more than obviously he becomes whose genetic structure he carries in his organism. In addition to the informal music education that Jan acquired in his home throughout his life, he studies at the Music Academy in Stip, in the field of jazz drums.

Ivan Kukic, who also comes from a famous musical family, plays the bass guitar in the trio. Kukic is studying Music Production and Sound Design in Belgrade. Since the beginning of 2019, the two young musicians together with Vlatko Stefanovski have performed at more than 50 concerts in our country and in the region. The concert with the Philharmonic Orchestra can be said to be the peak of their career so far. In order to feel the current musical pulse, but also to give them an impetus for further development, we talked to Jan Stefanovski and Ivan Kukic.

What was your feeling and what experiences did you get with the concert of the Vlatko Stefanovski Trio with the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra on September 6 this year?

Jan: Performing and sharing a stage with the Macedonian Philharmonic was a spectacular experience. Of course, the maestro Mr. Еjan Emin is credited for that, whose idea was for Kuki јас and I to come and be part of this wonderful event. I have to admit that a few butterflies appeared in my stomach before the concert, but, as we started, all that "anxiety" fell to a minimum. By the way, I personally felt wonderful while playing the compositions, because I am a huge fan of all my father's work and it can be said that I have listened to and analyzed all his songs and albums to the extent that I know most of them by heart.

Ivan: That feeling is not described in words, it just needs to be felt. A great experience for me and a great honor and responsibility to share tones with the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra and to play music from the legendary "Bread and Salt" together with Vlatko Stefanovski live. I may have had little experience with an orchestra as a double bass player since high school, but for the first time I felt the magic and responsibility when between the whole orchestra the bass depends on me and it is very exciting, when you have to be careful at every step to keep the sound of the original music and be good for the listeners and the whole team on stage.

Over the years with the trio we reach a high level of musical intuition, understanding and mutual communication, both on stage and in the studio / Photography: Free Press / Dragan Mitreski

You are both part of the Vlatko Stefanovski trio for several years. How did you take on the challenge of being one of the most famous guitarists of your time at a young age? Was it a logical sequence for Jan as his son or did something else influence the decision?

Jan: I think that a great mitigating circumstance was that Kukic and I were and still are big fans of my father. As I said above, knowing 90% of his songs and the many albums of "Bread and Salt", it was a great pleasure and happiness for me to get the chance to perform them with him and live. Of course, at the beginning I was more nervous, and in general it took us a while to "stick" as a trio, but, slowly, over the years we reach a high level of musical intuition, understanding and mutual communication, both on stage and in the studio.

Ivan: To be part of the Vlatko Stefanovski trio for me, above all, is an honor and pleasure, the challenge was huge to accept the reality. Reality precisely because when we started performing together and when I looked at who was on the other side of the stage, it was like a movie and disbelief, but as they say - time does its thing, so today I am convinced of what is happening and I am overjoyed to have the opportunity to learn from the best. That experience and the energy that maestro Vlatko Stefanovski transmits to me and Jan is one of the key moments in our lives and in our music career, as a way of thinking and making the right decisions in different situations. It is not taught in any faculty and it is not in any book, so I am happy and proud that, this is how it should be and that in the years of development we learn a lot.

Ivan Kukic - The experience and energy that maestro Vlatko Stefanovski conveys to me and Jan is one of the key moments in our lives and in our music career / Photo: Free Press / Dragan Mitreski

What does it mean to be a child of Vlatko Stefanovski, ie Lence and Goran Kukic? How much does your parents' "shadow" benefit you for your personal development as musicians and did and how much did your parents play a role in your determination to pursue music?

Jan: I have been in love with drums all my life, I remember from a young age that when my father had rehearsals, I was hypnotized and stared at the drums. Which means it's about to be the most delusional time of the year, as well, as I'm interested in music and instruments, but I believe genetics play a bigger role in that. And, by the way, my father's "shadow" started playing a role since we are together in a band, to be part of the Vlatko Stefanovski trio, of course, requires a level of discipline, accuracy, readiness and resourcefulness. But thank God, whenever we need some advice or help on any issue, he is ready to talk about his 40 years of experience and help me and Kukic.

Ivan: My parents are my biggest support and I always get the best advice from them and, of course, they are always behind what I do, so that "shadow" is a way of life for me, because I have been following the path since I was little. to my parents and so on.

Jan Stefanovski - It simply turned out that my attraction to drums is, in fact, innate / Photo: Free Press / Dragan Mitreski

Why drums or bass guitar? When and why did you decide that they should be your instrument?

Jan: As I mentioned above, since I know about myself, I also know about drums. I have a very clear memory from the distant 2003, when in my studio a rehearsal of my father with the then trio was held. I remember looking at the drums and the drummer with horror and I immediately knew that I wanted to do it in some way. My father noticed my love and for my fifth birthday he bought me a small set of jazz drums that I played until 2019. It simply turned out that my attraction to drums was, in fact, innate.

Ivan: The crucial moment for me to start playing bass guitar was quite interesting. In our studio, a material was recorded where my uncle Zoran Kukic, bassist of the group "Jupiter", played bass guitar and there was a song where the bass had a fantastic line interpreted by my uncle and I listened to it literally every day. One day the idea came to me to take my uncle's guitar and try to play it myself. I succeeded with a lot of effort and since then the bass guitar has become my first instrument.

Besides your parents, who are your music idols, authors and bands that you want to listen to and from whom you have learned the ins and outs of playing your drums or bass guitar?

Jan: I can say that the biggest springboard to the more serious drumming waters was, and still is, Jeff Porcaro, ie the former drummer of the American group "Toto". When I heard his extremely innovative solution to the song "Rosana", I immediately fell in love with his style, image and creativity. As my musical horizons began to expand a little more, I fell in love with Stuart Copeland from the well-known band Polis. Over time I started listening to many more bands with very good drummers, among whom today are my favorites: Winnie Colajuta, Billy Cobham, Gavin Harrison, Todd Sukerman, Manu Kache and others. Of course, there are drummers from our country who have left a huge mark on my development as a drummer, and they are: Garabet Garo Tavitjan and Mihail Parushev.

Ivan: Ever since I was a child, I listened to all kinds of music and I can say that I grew up with quality music and to this day I can not determine stylistically exactly what I listen to and what I play. Music is love, emotion, harmony, music can do wonders, so whatever is good music, I want to listen to it and learn and interpret it.

To be part of the Vlatko Stefanovski trio, certainly requires a level of discipline, accuracy, readiness and resourcefulness / Photography: Free Press / Dragan Mitreski

Where do you see yourself as an instrumentalist in the coming years and what are your plans? Do you plan to stay in Macedonia or like many young people do you want to build your career abroad?

Jan: I am still in no hurry to reach high peaks at any cost. I believe that in time, what life should prepare for me, it will prepare for me. Normally, I plan to play the drums all my life, because it is an activity that fills me the most, but I want to say that I am slowly and surely conquering new fields and challenges. The ideal profession I am striving for is to be the so-called "Session and Studio Drummer", which means that in addition to playing steadily in 3-4 bands, I will be available to record and perform for various artists in various genres of music.

Ivan: I honestly would leave the road I take to get me to the right place, I have no special plans. Naturally, we all have fantasies and try to make them come true, but now I would not plan anything special. I will simply leave time to say its own thing.

What is your message to the youth in Macedonia?

Jan: I still belong to the young population of Macedonia, so I will say what I think I have learned in the past years. It may sound very banal and cliché, but when you start doing something, do not let go of the first obstacle, push yourself to overcome as much as you can and try to invest a lot of love and effort in what you intend to do .

Ivan: My message to young people is to start listening to quality music and try to understand the true values ​​of art. Unfortunately, we live in a time where everything of quality is in the background and that makes me worry about what would happen to the generations to come. Kudos to the exceptions that nurture art in the right way, and I would like my generations to look the other way, because everything that is in fashion does not mean it is the best.

(The interview was published in "Cultural Press" No. 97, in the print edition of the newspaper "Free Press" on September 18-19, 2021)

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