As a guest in Croatia at the invitation of friends, I discovered an extremely beautiful country, which went through a bloody war, proceeding to its establishment. It is rich in ancient monuments, generous land, and powerful, very specific, human resource. My stay there coincided with opening of the 45th International Festival of Baroque Music. Thanks to my friends again, I could visit its opening, and what I saw and heard there produced such a strong impression on me that I decided to write about it.
The small town of Varazdin, where the truly aesthetic music festival is held, is located over 70 kilometers away from the capital Zagreb. Its population is 45,000 people. This number during the festival grows incredibly and includes both Croatians who come from all corners of the country, and the guests from the neighboring EU countries. And though the town doesn’t have a specialized concert hall, all local venues, including an incredibly beautiful Catholic church and a huge old castle, are open for the wonderful music and its admirers.
Expressing respect to the festival activities, the country’s top officials, minister of culture, practically the entire diplomatic corps, including even the ambassadors of Japan, Australia, Israel, and Ukraine, attend the opening. This year France was the leading country at the festival. And this festival was a worthy code of three months of French art, which included numerous exhibits (including Rodin’s sculptures), theater, literary, and cinema premieres, different genres of music, and other shows. It would be good for us to borrow the experience of presenting our country to the world namely in this way, with the help of culture. Modern, multi-image presentation would in the easiest and most lucid way to integrate Ukraine in not only European, but the world space as well.
The opening concert featured the music of French baroque, performed by LE CONCERT SPIRITUEL, a band created in 1987 and famous far beyond France. Over the past years it has won numerous, world’s most prestigious, music awards. Its wind group, changing ancient instruments, soothed the ear with many sounds of loud emotions, and was accompanied by string instruments, whereas the bells and the drummer added clear temporary shapes to the music. The orchestra was conducted by a world-renowned star, Herve Niquet. His conductor’s manner is worth of a separate story, but I understand how pale are the words compared with the magic created by the conductor. He worked for the entire concert with complicated content and full duration without a score, from memory. The perfect sound of the orchestra was organically supplemented by full-fledged actor’s performance, created by the maestro. His slim figure and ideally straight back in a stylized camisole sent to the audience the effect of presence in the time of creation of the music. His restrained movements were guiding the musicians not smoothly, but with gymnastic precision. And big hands with long, but not tender fingers spoke about the non-simple everyday work of their owner. When from time to time the maestro turned to the audience, the play of his facial muscles, but not grimacing, made the audience feel the languish, typical only of baroque time.
Professor of music, well-known composer, a graduate of the Kyiv Conservatoire Davor Bobic has been conducting the Varazdin Festival for more than a decade. I couldn’t but use the opportunity to talk to this attractive workaholic.
Your festival is 45. It didn’t become an international one immediately. Neither were you its director from the beginning. How is the program policy of the festival built?
“It started in 1971 as a very modest festival and lasted for only three days. But it soon gained force and 6-7 years later it became international. Even the international Bach Orchestra from Germany, the Chamber Ensemble of the Bolshoi Theater, and many other world-renowned ensembles took part in it. Our maestro Kancac did a lot for the festival, his creative possibilities were well known far beyond Yugoslavia at that time. The maestro boosted the level of the festival and kept it very well till 2005, and then passed his duties on me. I dared to change the concept of the festival, trying to make its music sound like it sounded in historical time. It was decided that every year the festival would have a partner country, which will take up the funding and creative part, presenting for the audience its music of the baroque time, and its performers. Over these years the participant countries have included Israel and Russia, Germany and Italy. This time it is France. Next festival will be dedicated to Spain, there is a contract and the program has almost been detailed. I can say with pride that today our festival has a huge positive reputation in the world. It has become prestigious to take part in it.”
It is very pleasant that such a great cause is being created by former, although temporary Kyivite.
“Yes, I’ve studied at Kyiv Conservatoire. I very much love the city, and I’m very grateful and will be grateful till the end of my life to my teachers. I was taught composition by Hennadii Liashenko. And I was taught the secrets of orchestration by Yevhen Stankovych. That was such a high level. All good things I know and can do I learned in Kyiv. Namely the studying and this city made my life.”
High level of the festival cannot exist merely on theory of ideas. Any show of this kind requires funding. What is the budget of the festival, how is it made, and how do the state and the city help?
“This is a small town, which used to be the capital of Croatia, but it burned down, and the capital was moved. But we are called small Vienna, because big Vienna produced a priceless culture influence on us. And we still feel that it is a culture center. In 1994 our festival became a national one (there were only six of them in our country), and since then we have been under financial aegis of the state. Besides, we receive a lot from the province and namely the city. Of course, that wouldn’t have been enough, but we have very good sponsors who understand that in spite of difficult times culture takes the most important part in the development of an individual, the country, and the world. Our budget is small (may Ukraine forgive me, I understand that this sum is big for you) – 250,000 euros. From this sum we pay the salary to a very small team – there are five people who work at the festival and prepare it during the year; from this sum we also pay the honoraria to the performers. I am thankful to them that they have understanding to the current moment and don’t set too high demands, which they deserve and which they receive in other countries. I am very glad that the tickets to the festival are very popular. This is local audience, and a huge number of foreigners, but the most important thing is that the students from different higher educational music establishments have an opportunity to listen to this miracle, because namely this creates our future.”
Your family members are professional musicians, including your wife Lidia, who is also a graduate of Kyiv Conservatoire, three children are young musicians. What future do you see for your children?
“In spite of all difficulties, I believe that music is probably the most sincere thing in the world. Not only will it shape my children as personalities, but will give them an opportunity to live a worthy life, doing what they love. My elder son is a pianist, a composer, he has won the 3rd prize at the Festival of Slavonic Music. My daughter and second son are violinists. They are supposed to play Vivaldi’s concert at this festival on the day when we will present the young performers. They have won this right, having gone through a not simple competition. I wish them happy future. I would like them to continue our cause, the festival. Apart from other things, our Varazdin Theater has become a national one, and I guess in autumn they will form their own symphony orchestra and an opera theater.”
I was looking at the Bobic family in admiration of their ability to live with “fast heartbeat,” give themselves to the world, and make this world better. But namely now a wall of refuges who want European benefits, but the humanitarian values of this part of the world are strange to them, rushed to Europe. Over a short term, with a quota of 1,300 people, Croatia has accepted unwillingly over 30,000 people. I saw them. There were few women, children, and elderly people, although I think it would be logical namely for these categories to rescue from the lawlessness of the war. But most of them are strong, quite aggressive men of middle age or younger. Maybe namely they should protect the peaceful values of their countries and their faith. They unstoppably cross the borders, avoiding the border posts, categorically refuse from any registration, but bring forth the demands, which they support with throwing of stones. It is hard to say whether Europe will cope with this long preplanned anti-European campaign. I want to believe it will stand it without losing its face. And that the European values will stand and that amazing festivals will exist for many more years. And that there will be peace.