STEFAN MILENKOVIĆ, Violinist: Violin is Life-time Partner for Artist

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He was only six years old when he performed as a soloist accompanied by an orchestra for the first time ever. Soon
enough, it became clear to everyone that Serbia had a wunderkind. Today, the planetary famous violinist Stefan Milenković is a virtuoso in his branch of art, and yet he manages to remain down-to-earth and frank. His concerts are always a special experience, particularly those that take place in his hometown of Belgrade.

After a long break, you returned to Kolarac in November last year. What were you feeling?

— Belgrade has always been a special challenge, an inspiration and a responsibility to me. Hence, I feel a certain pressure because people know that this is my home turf, in a way. Belgrade is my checkpoint, perpetual inspiration and control stop that I need. I view every single of my performances in Belgrade as an experience which, although not being always easy, is positive and necessary.

What importance does classical music have for people? Do they experience it the same way as the audiences from the times when this music was composed, or maybe people today listen to classic music with different ears, so to speak?

— Not only is classical music more important today, and has the same meaning, perception and reaction in people, but quite possibly is even more influential than before. The value of classical music lies in its classicality – there is no need to change it and it is firmly resisting the vortex of changes around us. Classical music provides audiences in concert halls with an opportunity to return again and again to something that is timeless. Technology has contributed a lot to changes in many areas, but also to changes in people, namely how they consume it. This applies to classical music too. But the very essence and effect of classical music remain unchanged, and are even more valuable today when things are changing maybe too fast.

Do you find the new classical music production and mixing of styles interesting? Do you sometimes engage in that? What is your favourite repertoire?

— It is only natural that styles mix, that we experiment and make breakthroughs in music – this is not a rigid science and it offers a lot of freedom and amplitude. The composers that we consider today classical were innovators in their time, and their ideas did not appeal to everyone. This is normal and absolutely healthy. For instance, Shubert’s  composition or Beethoven’s symphony will not change, but it is interesting to see what is gained when two different thoughts and ideas come together. I have also played jazz and electric violin, and I was open to various styles. I think that this is necessary and classical music will not lose anything because of it. Someone who has practiced their entire life in a classical way, has never experienced jazz, pop or rock and the energy of improvisation, loses a lot. It is beneficial for artists themselves to try something new. I love music and I love different things at different moments, just like the audience does. My repertoire includes practically everything, in terms of variety of styles, intensity, charge or intellectual effort. I find myself in different things, as an artist and as a person.

You spend close to 200 days touring every year. Do you still like that pace?

— I spend a lot of time on the road because of touring, but that aside, I am given an opportunity to enjoy myself, to feel the spirit of a certain city or country, however, not to the extent I would like it to. If I really like a place and I have no time to enjoy it properly at a given moment, then I make a mental note to come back to it.

You were quoted as saying that you liked new technology. How can technology help in your work as an educator? Is technology an advantage or a disadvantage compared to the time when you started learning how to play the violin?

— Technology is a strong force today which, like everything else, can be used in a positive or negative way. It can certainly have a positive impact on any branch. In classical music, technology gives you a new framework for demonstrating what you know – from video clips of one’s concerts to didactic videos that are very popular. Technology can be consumed excessively to. There are generations of people who are growing in an environment where everything is instant and where attention span is quite short, and this is not good. It looks like a bubble that is bound to burst sooner or later. You should always have balance.

You were 12 years old when you performed for Ronald Reagan. Today, you are playing the violin made by one of the greatest violin makers ever, Giovanni Battista Guadagnini, which was made in 1783. Do you consider this an even greater success?

— I am extremely honoured to have been given an opportunity to play such violin because none of us can own something like this. We are just the violin’s temporary guardians in its historical cycle. The violin is a life-time partner for an artist. Your soul needs to reflect in it and vice versa, the violin has to have a voice that moves you inside. If this happens, it’s a very strong combination that yields amazing results, and gives you the power to express yourself without any limitations. This is a phenomenal experience for an artist; to play such an instrument once in their life. And I have the honour to be a guardian of such violin which is really invaluable.

Which places in the world and concerts have left the strongest impression on you?

— As far as concerts go, that is a subjective feeling because sometimes a chock-full concert hall in a large city can leave a weaker impression than a smaller town which has more spirit and where the contact with the audience, the organizers and the town itself is more personal. For me, every concert is something special in regard to my performance, the audience, the repertoire and the artist that I collaborate with at that specific moment. It is difficult to single out anything because, essentially, this is a process. I like to remember all concerts equally, as jewels that I
collect. The concert that has left the strongest impression on me is still in the future.

You have recently been selected as one of the Serbian cultural ambassadors, as part of the Serbia Creates campaign which was initiated by the Serbian Prime Minister’s Cabinet. The initiative was launched with the aim of raising the importance of Serbia’s culture and creative industries in the world. How much does this mean to you, since you have been living in America for a number of years?

— I am very pleased that I am the ambassador for the Serbia Creates campaign because this is a very positive thing. If we look back at history, we can see that a lot of importance was attached to creativity and art, in addition to political power. There was an equal measure of all three in the zenith of each civilization and this is inseparable from the progress of any country. I am very pleased that Prime Minister Ana Brnabić has launched and supports this campaign and understands its importance. For the people like myself – and there are many more of us around the world, eager to support our country in that sense – this is an additional incentive to give back what I have learned out there and to transfer it to here; to support our Serbia. The majority of them are already doing this to a great extent, but now, it has all been elevated to a higher and more organized level and I am very happy to be a part of it.

I SET MYSELF NEW GOALS

You have a harmonious marriage, a proliferous career and you have travelled the globe. One could say that this is all that an artist could possibly wish for. Do you have any wishes, or have set any challenges for 2019?

— I view my life and my career as a process. Life is a challenge in itself, so you can look at everything as more or less successful. I enjoy the harmony of my life at the moment, and of course, there are always challenges and obstacles regardless of one’s experience. I did set myself new goals and concerts for this year have been booked long in advance. I also have a few scheduled recordings and plans with my students. This is a rhythm that is consistently the same. I always look ahead and up, but without sudden and pronounced changes. Obstacles and challenges are an integral part of creativity, as I continue to think in new directions and move forward.

Photos: Nebojša Babić
Stylist: Goga Grubješić (Hugo Boss)

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