Engaging the youth of the country is not only a task for members of the Philharmonic’s administration. The musicians themselves share this goal, and take part in various events designed to reach a younger audience, including visits to kindergartens, to familiarise even the youngest members of society with classical music.
Ljubomir Trujanovic, a young violinist who recently joined the orchestra, and is a student in his final year at the Faculty of Music, was thrilled to see four-year-olds reacting so enthusiastically. “They even danced along,” he recalls.
Specifically targeting the young has resulted in a steady increase in interest. Trujanovic sees the effects at regular concerts. “With each concert, there are more and more young people in the audience,” the violinist says. “It is a pleasure to play with the Belgrade Philharmonic,” he adds. “The level of the musicians is so high, and every concert is of high quality.”
In April 2019, the orchestra was scheduled to close the NOMUS music festival in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad, with most musicians traveling together in two tour buses. As the buses pulled away from the concert hall on their way north, the atmosphere on board was filled with a sense of camaraderie. Groups of musicians gathered in groups and chatted over a steady background of old Yugoslav rock hits. When the musical caravan arrived in Novi Sad, musicians streamed into the city’s historic synagogue, where the concert was to be held. The program featured a performance of Beethoven’s “Edgmont” for narrator and voice.
Vesna Durkovic, a soprano who made her debut with the Philharmonic at this performance, reflected backstage after the concert. “Singing here tonight was a great responsibility,” she said. “The Belgrade Philharmonic is definitely the best we have in Serbia, and it is everyone’s first goal to sing with the orchestra.”
Another violist, Aleksandra Kurilic, who has been with the orchestra since 2001, is delighted by the changes that have taken place over the past few years. “We have a great opportunity in the 21st century to present classical music as something other than funeral music,” she said. “I want to show young people that classical music is for camping – for driving your car.”
On the bus back to Belgrade, Kurilic recalled her training abroad before coming back to Serbia in 2001: “I was educated in Kiev, at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, I also spent a year teaching at a conservatory in Madeira, but I never felt quite at home.” Something about the Belgrade Philharmonic resonated with her, and has kept her close ever since. “I feel like I am at home now,” she said. “We are totally focused on giving our best, and there is no giving up.”
Another factor that has helped the Philharmonic grow, the musicians believe, is its current conductor, Gabriel Feltz. Since he joined the orchestra in 2017, Feltz has built a strong creative relationship with the musicians. “Maestro Feltz doesn’t miss a second of life, and we are very connected in this way,” said Kurilic. It is a sentiment shared by musicians and administrative staff alike. PR manager Milasinovic notes that Feltz has learned to speak Serbian as evidence of his commitment. Feltz himself says a perfect understanding between conductor and orchestra is vital. “Natural authority is the only thing a professional musician will accept,” he says. “This can only come with competence, talent, honest character, and respect for everybody.”
One omnipresent difficulty for the Belgrade Philharmonic, and for all cultural institutions in Serbia, is funding. To help source fresh funding, the orchestra has set up a foundation to which members of the diaspora and the business community can contribute. The internationally acclaimed conductor Zubin Mehta, who has conducted the orchestra regularly since 1958, has also lent a great deal of support.
Meanwhile, the Philharmonic has big plans. Building on its theme of community engagement, it will continue to hold events such as open-air concerts, new year’s concerts, and concerts specifically designed for families with young children. It is also in the late stages of talks to begin construction of a new 1,500-seat concert hall in New Belgrade, which will include a smaller hall, green space, and an outdoor concert venue.
Derek Dzinich is an alumnus of the SIT Study Abroad Program Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo: Peace and Conflict Studies in the Balkans . This story was written as an Independent Study Project in Journalism.
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