Live from Bratislava

Quasars Ensemble, founded in Slovakia in 2008, was supposed to perform their Biennale program in – Zagreb, but due to the pandemic situation, they will be joining the MBZ online, live from Bratislava on April 21st, supported by the Slovak Arts Council.
The composer, conductor and artistic director of the Ensemble, Ivan Buffa, described to us how Quasars Ensemble is coping, artistically, with their current work conditions and spoke to us about their program for the MBZ.
How has your ensemble been functioning in "the new normal", that is, in a situation in which there are very few live concerts, if any, but there is a rise in online, streamed concerts? How have you been handling that for the past year?
In the period between June and September 2020, we performed most of our concerts live for our audience, because Slovakia had almost no cases of Coronavirus at the time. Unfortunately, the pandemic situation took a turn for the worse in Autumn. Since then, we have been excessively tied down by strict rules. This means that many concerts have been put off or cancelled, although not too many of our important projects have fallen through. Every single activity is three times more difficult and complicated than usual and this goes for streaming, too, because gathering musicians and a technical crew all together seems to be rather dangerous. The Slovak Philharmonic and the Academy of Performing Arts have recently upgraded their technical equipment and, as we are the ensemble-in-residence of the Slovak Radio, the live streaming itself hasn't been our biggest problem. We have quite easily managed to perform all our streamed concerts so far. On the other hand, we miss our audience in the concert hall because there is no streaming in the world that could replace that kind of unique touch.
Turmoil, as well as hope
Our artistic logistics, however, are much more complicated. We usually have a plan A, B, and C for every single rehearsal or concert, as Quasars members come from, and live in, three countries and the borders are, in fact, closed. You can't cross them without undergoing extremely complicated procedures, such as sending invitation letters, observing restrictions on the number of players, getting updated PCR tests, etc. Thankfully, our partners and supporters are being much more generous than usual. That's very positive. Many musicians in Slovakia keep refusing to be reconciled to the notion that they won't be able to give concerts for a longer period of time than was initially thought. 
All of us are just trying to take advantage of the time we have to spend at thome, to prepare our concert programmes and make precise plans regarding all our activities, such as workshops, recording sessions, and concerts. 
It remains to be seen when there will be a chance to travel again. 
Our lives were thrown into turmoil by the outbreak of the crisis, and it seems that 2021 is not going to be a bed of roses, especially for artists. We only hope that the situation will allow us to return to the stage with the regular performances soon. Muzički Biennale Zagreb is an extremely good point to kick off!
foto:Zdenko Hanout; "Quasars Ensemble and Ivan Buffa“, 2016
What kind of a programme have you prepared for the Biennale? What is the the ensemble's view of it?
The Quasars Ensemble concert programme brings together young authors from Croatia and Slovakia who have formulated their artistic visions during their studies at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. Two of them (Marko Markuš, Ivan Buffa) have come up with new works that communicate their emotional experience during pandemic days. 
Treibstoff by the German composer Carola Bauckholt  is a cult favorite work that demonstrates the ethereal explosion of new sounds that represent advanced instrument playing techniques. More importantly, however, they bring much-needed humour to the world of contemporary music. 
Mladen Tarbuk's Quatre épigrammes de temps and Jana Kmiťová's Kamea situate a mixed chamber ensemble in breathtaking sound-painting contexts.