Interview with Ivo Josipović


You have been linked to the Biennale for a long time and have had the opportunity to be a part of its various editions in different roles and duties. How do you perceive your personal connection to this important feature of Croatian music culture today?

In one way or the other, I have been connected to the Biennale my entire life. At first, I attended the Biennale as a high school student and the Music Academy student, and then I performed at the Festival for the first time during my senior year at the Academy. Incidentally, I played the bicycle at the Lisinski Small Hall – an event which is still retold as a particularly entertaining story by my law-school colleagues, whom I had dragged to that memorable concert. Later on, during Nikša Gligo and Stanko Horvat's 'reign', I was also a member of the Program Committee. 

As the Biennale's longest artistic director, I had both the good fortune and the misfortune to manage three ''war editions'' of the Festival, which had been especially challenging. In 1991, luring musicians to a country where the shooting had already started was not an easy feat, believe me, and the situation proved even more complicated for the next two Biennales, because of the very real state of war. Furthermore, contacting those who were ready to come here was a real nightmare sometimes. There had been a lot of difficult episodes that may now seem entertaining, but were essential in order for the Festival to continue. Still, I would like to proudly point out that the wartime Music Biennale Zagreb twice became the host of the World Music Days, something the other festivals have yet to achieve. Looking back, I can say that the Biennale saw great performances and great new compositions, as well as star composers and performers who came to Zagreb. Of course, there was an occasional fiasco, but those I leave to the critics.

What do you think makes this year's anniversary Biennale special?

The main feature of this year's Biennale is definitely the younger generation's role, not only with regard to the program, but also to the program's selection and realization. I was invited to join the Program Committee at a point when the program had already been mostly defined. I can say that there will be many interesting concerts and that the audience will be pleasantly surprised. Although, I have to add that, personally, I prefer the so-called big productions when it comes to festival anniversaries, like an opera premiere for example. But even without that kind of a project, this year's Music Biennale Zagreb offers a diverse and rich program.

This year, the Program Committee came up with a unique sample of various genres and generations. How would you describe the synergy between these 'mighty handful' and what does it mean for a project such as the Music Biennale?

I think the predominance of the younger and the middle generation in the Program Committee, as well as the differing genres and stylistic tendencies, are both a challenge and an advantage. The Committee has done a lot of work without a director for a considerable period of time and did as much as they could in those circumstances. I admit that it was a pleasure to attend every single Committee session and that, after a couple of years away from the music scene, it was an opportunity for me to hear and learn something new from my colleagues, especially about the new generation of composers and performers. I can definitely say that the committed and competent work as well as terrific collaboration with the Croatian Composers' Society management has had a positive impact on the organization of the Festival.

The anniversary edition of the Biennale will focus on the connection between music and the city. As a person with a lot of Biennale experience, how do you see this connection and what do you think of the musical Zagreb in general?

Festivals that have a specific theme, at least for a portion of their program, are not uncommon and are always interesting. Naturally, a big festival like the MBZ cannot be limited to a single theme, so I would maybe call it a thematic complex. Actually, this year's theme reminds me of another Biennale project that I took part in a long time ago called The Sounds of the City. We proceeded through the city from four different directions heading for the Zrinjevac Art Pavilion, carrying pretty heavy Nagra magnetic tape recorders to record all kinds of city sounds. There was an incident when we were passing by the American Embassy with all this heavy gear – Iet’s just say that the Embassy police made it clear they were very interested in our project as well (laughter). Nevertheless, we were lucky, and it all ended well.

How do I see the musical Zagreb? I think that the musical Zagreb is far prettier and far more flourishing a garden than we would have expected, considering the socioeconomic circumstances. It is true that, as the years go by, I catch myself mentioning the 'good old times' more often, reminiscing about the greatest stars and the best orchestras that visited Zagreb then, and participated in the Biennale. But in the end, one needs to be realistic as the mechanisms of cultural collaboration that enabled that kind of exchange are non-existent today. The market dictates many things, and it does not always support the quality of cultural life.

What are you most looking forward to about the upcoming Festival?

As always, I am most looking forward to the premieres, especially of the works by Croatian composers.

Are you perhaps planning to contribute a piece of your own to be premiered at the next Biennale?

The MBZ will soon have a new artistic director and whether my composition, maybe not necessarily a new one, will be included in the program depends on the type of program they choose. I have wanted to write an opera for a long time, and I already have the title. There is an excellent libretto written by Professor Marina Biti and the negotiations about putting it on stage are underway. Maybe it will even premiere at the Biennale, but it will not be the next one. The year 2023 would be an objective date for the opening of the opera Lennon, a story about the murder of that rock music icon.


Interviewer: Martina Bratić