Orfeia is a woman’s vocal ensemble dedicated to preserving and sharing traditional music from Bulgaria and Eastern Europe. Orfeia’s repertoire spans the rich and diverse musical heritage of Eastern Europe, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Russia and their neighbors. From traditional to sacred and from the Middle Ages to modern day, the captivating sounds of the Balkans emerge in beautiful melodies, lush harmonies, unusual dissonances and vocal ornaments, unique rhythms, village songs, custom songs with overlapping lines, antiphonal songs with drones, seasonal music, dance music, and children’s songs. Orfeia places the music in its context – history, language, folklore and folk traditions – giving listeners and participants a window into the traditional culture of other countries.
Founded in 2006 by the legendary Bulgarian singer Tatiana Sarbinska, Orfeia made its concert debut at a gala concert in Sofia, Bulgaria in honor of Tatiana Sarbinska and featuring Tatiana and an all-star roster of Bulgarian traditional singers and instrumentalists. Orfeia has performed in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria with the Pirin Ensemble, one of Bulgaria’s foremost national folk companies, at the National Festival of Bulgarian Folklore in Koprivshtitsa, at national competitions for compositions based on traditional Bulgarian music in Chepelare and Sofia, and in concerts in Sofia, Plovdiv and other cities throughout Bulgaria. Orfeia has been featured on The Slavi Show, Bulgaria’s most popular late-night television program, and on Bulgarian National Radio.
Based in Montgomery County, Maryland, Orfeia has performed throughout the mid-Atlantic region and has been the recipient of grants from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County.
Through performances and workshops, Orfeia shares this beautiful and exciting musical heritage with young and old, beginner or experienced musician.
Orfeia is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Your donations are tax-deductible.
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Tatiana Sarbinska, Artistic Director
Tatiana Sarbinska, the founder and artistic director of Orfeia, is a world-renowned Balkan vocalist, composer, teacher and director. Born in the village of Rila, Bulgaria, she began singing as a child and rose to become one of the preeminent singers of her generation. She was the featured soloist of the internationally-acclaimed Pirin Ensemble, touring throughout the world and making numerous recordings and films for television. Her encyclopedic repertoire includes music from all of Bulgaria’s folklore regions as well as the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Tatiana has been awarded “National Treasure” status as “The Voice of Bulgaria” by the Bulgarian government in recognition of her artistry and for preserving the musical heritage of her native country. Tatiana has performed throughout the U.S., including the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage and the Library of Congress, and received a Washington Area Music Award for World Music Vocalist. In 2006, Tatiana received the Ivan Vasov Medal from the government of Bulgaria and in 2015 she received the Saints Cyril and Methodius Medal. In 2016, Ms. Sarbinska was awarded the Honorary Medal of the President of Bulgaria in recognition of her contributions to arts and culture and in 2019 she was awarded the Order of St. Cyril and Methodius, first degree. Tatiana has been recognized with a master artist grant from the Maryland Traditions Apprenticeship Awards Program of the Maryland State Arts Council (with support from the Maryland Historical Trust and the National Endowment for the Arts) and with an Individual Artist Award in musical composition from the Maryland State Arts Council. In 2010, Tatiana’s composition Moyeta Pesen was awarded first prize in the International Competition for Symphonic Composition Based on Traditional Motifs in 7/8. In 2014, Ms. Sarbinska was an honored guest performer at the gala 60th anniversary of the Pirin Ensemble, and in 2015 she was made an Honorary Citizen of the City of Blagoevgrad. Her CDs include Makedonsko Devojche and Katerino Mome and she appears frequently on Bulgarian television. Tatiana’s recording of Katerino Mome, her own composition, continues to be one of the most popular and recognized Macedonian songs in Bulgaria.
Since moving to the United States in 1991, Tatiana has taught and directed many Balkan ensembles throughout the country and is currently the artistic director of three choruses, Divi Zheni and Zornitsa in the Boston area, and Orfeia in Washington, D.C.
Tatiana’s extraordinary mastery of Eastern European music and vocal technique is matched by her unique ability to teach it to others, from beginner to professional. With a degree from the Academy of Music and Choreographic Art in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, Tatiana went on to teach there and at the Western University in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. She was Director of Education for the Art School of Blagoevgrad, where she developed and directed the curriculum for 2500 students. In the United States, Tatiana has taught at, among many others, the Boston Conservatory Chorus, Boston University, Northeastern University-Boston, the New England Conservatory of Music, the Mendecino Balkan Music and Dance Workshops, Village Harmony, and the Augusta Heritage Center, and she has been a consultant for Revels, the renowned international music organization. She has conducted individual and group lessons and workshops for countless singers across the country, from beginners to professionals, and all ages.
Whether in performance, conducting or teaching, Tatiana’s magnetic personality, passion and virtuosity create a thrilling experience for her listeners and students.
Carlendra Frank is no stranger to performance as a dancer: she has been a b-girl (breakdancer) since 1999 and is a member of Urban Artistry, a DMV-based dance company. Carlendra, a self-proclaimed “Bulgariaphile,” who reads and speaks Bulgarian, attended an Orfeia concert in early 2011, and she was enthralled with melodic tunes of the Balkans. She joined Orfeia shortly thereafter and has had the time of her life singing about romantic tragedies, sock knitting and talking plants. Carlendra is honored to be under the guidance of Tatiana Sarbinska and her fellow “Orfettes,” and she looks forward to many more exciting performances with the group.
Emily Gray is a long-time singer and student of the Balkans. At Yale, she sang with and directed Proof of the Pudding, an a cappella group specializing in jazz and swing. Her love of Balkan music comes from her time living in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. She is currently learning both Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian and Albanian, and has previously studied everything from constitutional cultures to popular music in the region. She’s thrilled to be singing with Orfeia, adding Bulgarian language, music, and culture to her ongoing exploration of Southeastern Europe.
Scientist by day, musician by night, Daniela Miller has been singing with Orfeia since November 2015. With an eclectic musical background and interests spanning classical, folk, metal, electronic music, and beyond, she feels blessed by the experience to learn and experience through song the wonderful culture of the Balkans with Tatiana Sarbinska and Orfeia. Her favorite parts of singing Balkan music are droning and the many unique, complex rhythms.
Kathryn Mitchell, a D.C. native, heard Bulgarian music by chance through friends many years ago and was stunned. She has since had the chance to learn from several Bulgarian vocalists and Balkan groups and feels lucky to now be working with Tatiana Sarbinska. She also dances with D.C.’s Bulgarian folk dance ensemble, Zharava.
Michelle Morrison is a long-time singer. She has been in Western choirs for most of her life, and studied art song and opera for several of those years. Orfeia drew her interest for its rich Balkan sound and challenging vocal techniques.
A D.C. native, Jessie Rothwell first heard Bulgarian choir music in 2001, shortly before starting an M.F.A. program in music composition at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Los Angeles. She was immediately hooked and, as luck would have it, when she arrived at CalArts a fellow student was starting a Bulgarian women’s ensemble. Jessie quickly joined and after graduating from CalArts, she stayed in Los Angeles and became a member of the UCLA Bulgarian Women’s Choir, “Super Devoiche.” While in Los Angeles, Jessie also worked in various music production endeavors, eventually curating and producing her own multi-media “Salon” shows. In addition to her musical pursuits, she is an avid writer, and enjoys writing about classical music for Minnesota Public Radio and The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, among other writing projects. She also teaches piano to eight wonderful children (and one adult) and is excited to be back in the Balkan music world, singing with Orfeia and (slowly) learning the accordion.
Amita Vempati is a seasoned singer, dancer, and poet performing throughout the DMV. Having trained predominantly in South Asian classical music and specialized in Eastern European and Central Asian Studies, Amita sought out singing lessons with the Stefan Kanev Folkloric Choir in Sofia and fell in love with Bulgarian music thereafter. She found an opportunity to continue studying the beautiful art form back home in the DMV through Orfeia and is honored to be under the guidance of its incredible musicians.
Elin Zurbrigg learned her first Macedonian song singing with the Chicago Children’s Choir, when she was struck by how such a sad song (the story goes that Jordan gets out of jail after ten years only to find his true love has married his best friend) could sound so joyous. Elin re-encountered Eastern European music while playing saxophone in a klezmer band in the mid 1990’s, and her insatiable quest to sing these traditions drew her to join several Balkan vocal ensembles over the next ten years. She began working with Tatiana Sarbinska on Balkan vocal technique after joining Slaveya, and later Orfeia. She has been thrilled to be able to work one-on-one with Tatiana through a grant from the Maryland Traditions Apprenticeship Awards Program of the Maryland State Arts Council (with support from the Maryland Historical Trust and the National Endowment for the Arts).