How did a boy from a small town behind the Iron Curtain in Bulgaria happen to land at Yale University for his master’s degree, win international piano competitions, perform in the most prestigious music centers around the world, including Carnegie Hall, and become head of Catholic University’s Piano Division? Ivo Kaltchev, D.M.A., says it is his fairy tale.

After high school, Kaltchev graduated with highest honors from Bulgaria’s Sofia Conservatory and then taught there. His talent landed him an invitation to the prestigious Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Israel in 1989. “I still can’t believe I was allowed to travel there,” he says. Bulgaria, as part of the communist Eastern Block, did not have diplomatic relations with Israel. After his 1st round performance, the Piano Head of Yale University’s school of music, and a jurist, invited him to Yale to pursue a master’s degree.

The Soviet Union and Eastern Block collapsed in 1990 shortly after the Rubenstein competition. Kaltchev was then able to obtain a visa and received a full scholarship to Yale, which “changed my life completely.” The rest, as they say, is history. Kaltchev went on to perform on the world stage in piano.

Kaltchev says he would not be where he is today without his piano teachers. All graduated from prominent conservatories—Moscow, Juilliard, and Paris—which brought him a mixture of traditions and knowledge.

Kaltchev and students

Outstanding musicians do not always have the gifts to become outstanding teachers, but Kaltchev breaks the mold, winning the University’s Overall Teaching Excellence Award for 2016-2017. Kaltchev says because he teaches in a one-on-one format, he can customize his approach. He loves the strong bond that teaching piano creates between him and his students. Many of his award-winning students keep in close touch. For example, he just gave a lesson via skype to a former student now in New York.

In 2009 Kaltchev co-founded the Washington International Piano Festival. Over 50 students and guest artists come from all over the world for a week of recitals, classes, and a competition. The festival gives students the opportunity of a lifetime to play at the Kennedy Center, which has brought the University international visibility and aids in recruiting.

Kaltchev looks back on 17 happy years at the University, where he sees his mission as “training creative, successful, and happy musicians. The University is the perfect place for achieving this goal. It is a caring and inspiring professional environment.”

Learn more about Ivo Kaltchev