Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra in Cleveland

Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra
Severance Hall - Cleveland Ohio
October 7, 2014

On October 7th, Clevelanders had a unique opportunity to indulge in a pure musical treat when The Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO), established 91 years ago, made a visit to Severance Hall as part of the Serbian orchestra's first-ever United States tour.

The orchestra visited Chicago, Cleveland, North Bethesda, and New York City. Under the direction of its conductor Muhai Tang, they delivered two programs. Sibelius' Symphony No.2 was performed at each location. Tchaikovsky's March of the Slavs and arias from Verdi's Rigoletto and Macbeth, sung by the Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic, were performed in Chicago and New York, while Cleveland's and North Bethesda's audience had listened to the Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite and Suite No. 1 from the ballet, The Legend of Ohrid by a Serbian composer Stevan Hristic.

It was of great importance that The Legend of Ohrid (1948), was performed during the BPO debut tour, as the American audience have never encountered the music of the Serbian composer Stevan Hristic (1885-1958). Hristic was also the founder of the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra and its first conductor.

Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra at Severance Hall

Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra at Severance Hall

In addition to the regular program, after standing ovations at Severance Hall, director Tang and the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra offered two encores: Glinka's Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila and Stanislav Binicki's March on the Drina ( a march that incorporated a familiar Serbian tune from the World War I era) which caused delightful participation of the audience.

The Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra has come a long way to get where they are today and has had to endure the turmoil that Serbia has faced in the 1990s. Ivan Tasovac, who was the orchestra's general manager form 2001-2013, stated that "the orchestra's budget was at the level of a statistical error, the musicians were unmotivated and playing on terrible instruments…". Under the skillful, original and very unique leadership, Tasovac managed to invigorate the orchestra and turn it into a "cultural institution of a national importance".

It is very important and interesting to mention the unique relationship and collaboration between the BPO and world renowned conductor Zubin Mehta. The maestro made his professional debut with the Orchestra in 1958, and remains an enthusiastic supporter to this day through establishing the Belgrade Philharmonic Foundation in 2004, which now bears his name.

Aside from fulfilling the life-long dream, the orchestra is using the American tour to start a fundraiser to help build a new concert hall in Belgrade. In addition, ticket price included a $5 donation from each ticket sold in Cleveland to the Serbian Garden at the Cleveland Cultural Gardens.

Credits for the fact that the Belgrade Philharmonic included Cleveland in its U.S. tour go to Alex Machaskee, a retired publisher of The Plain Dealer and the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Serbia, who met with Ivan Tasovac a few years ago and emphasized that "the orchestra had to come to Cleveland and visit Severance Hall, one of the world's most wonderful concert venues".

Nada Martinovic and Ivan Tasovac

Nada Martinovic and Ivan Tasovac

Ivan Tasovac is currently serving as a Minister of Culture and Information in the Government of Serbia. Coming from an artistic family (he is son of an actor Predrag Tasovac and Marija, piano professor) Tasovac is an accomplished pianist, with a Master's degree from "Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky" Moscow conservatory, who made his debut appearance at the age of twelve, as a concert-pianist with the Belgrade and Zagreb philharmonic orchestras.

Chief Conductor Muhai Tang achieved international recognition when Herbert von Karajan invited him to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1983. Following this success, maestro Tang appeared with a number of the leading orchestras such as the London Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Staatskapelle Dresden, Bayerischer Rundfunk Symphony, Orchestre National de France, Sydney Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony. With an engaging stage presence and graceful and natural technique, maestro Tang has worked with numerous great artists such as Mstislav Rostropovich, Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, Martha Argerich, and many others.

During a brief but heartfelt conversation after the concert with the group of the orchestra players, they revealed that the American experience exceeded their already high expectations. "I feel this is some kind of a new world, a place where only sky is limit for those who work hard" said the young musician and his colleagues agreed that "this attitude is also an intrinsic quality of our orchestra".

Tasovac assures that "Optimism is the core of everything. It grows into conviction, conviction turns into work, and work leads to success. It's really that simple. Our society needs more of this kind of optimism that escalates into conviction."

Nada Martinovic with members of the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra

Nada Martinovic with members of
the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra

With the average age of The Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra's musicians of 40, their vast energy, and undeniable talent, this ensemble convinced us last Tuesday, that they are a group to watch in the future and we look forward to listening to their "divine music" in Cleveland again.

By Nada Martinovich, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Music, Online Masters in Music Education, Kent State University

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