• Petar Ralchev

To lots of Americans I suppose the phrase “Bulgarian wedding music” sounds like part of a punch line, but if you’ve heard the stuff—it’s one of the most exhilarating and technically demanding eastern European Romany styles—what those words will most likely bring to mind is the name Ivo Papasov. A virtuoso clarinetist, Papasov is credited with perfecting the mongrel form, which emerged as an underground phenomenon in the 70s after the communist regime cracked down on expressions of ethnic identity. Papasov and his cohorts took the music to wedding celebrations, where they played endless sets—keeping the party pumping while indulging their own love for experimentation.

The accordion is an important part of Bulgarian wedding music, and on his sporadic visits to the States, Papasov has brought along either Neshko Neshev or Ivan Milev; the former, now based in New York, is widely considered one of the greatest accordionists in the style. To be honest I wasn’t familiar with Petar Ralchev until I learned he was visiting Chicago this weekend; I looked him up, and it turns out I’ve already heard him. He’s played and recorded with Papasov, and he cowrote a tune with Stian Carstensen, leader of the brilliant Norwegian group Farmers Market, which is inspired by Bulgarian music.