Аlеksаndаr Kојić, Conductor of the Serbian National Theatre (SNT): Making music with different people brings great joy

SNT public will soon have the opportunity to see ballet “The Legend of Ohrid” by Stevan Hristić, in all its beauty This production has to be an example of how our most important ballet should sound and look like.

Great people who are guided not only by noble feelings but also by wisdom have always been a spiritual pillar in their surroundings. As a long time conductor of the Serbian National Theatre (SNT), Maestro Kojić has always been a support to his colleagues and associates due to his professional experience and perseverance. Maestro Kojić, have had the opportunity to fill the SNT repertoire not only with standard opera and ballet pieces but also with pieces by Aleksandra Vrebalov (Mileva) for conducting of which you were awarded the SNP Annual Award in 2012 and then, by Rudolf Bruči (Katarina Izmailova), Gian Carlo Menotti (The Telephone), Samuel Barber (A Hand of Bridge), Paul Hindemith (There and Back). He is currently working on a large piece, the ballet “The Legend of Ohrid” by Stevan Hristić, which had to premiere on 28th March 2020 on the SNT Day as the mark of the great jubilee – 70 years of the foundation of the SNT Ballet, but it was postponed due to the pandemic.

Аlеksаndаr Kојić, Conductor of the Serbian National Theatre (SNT)

With reference to previous performances of the ballet “The Legend of Ohrid”, how does the production on which you are working on with the choreographer Vladimir Logunov differ?

The main thing that characterises our performance is strict consistency with the demands of Stevan Hristić’s score. In the ballet art, there is a general choreographic practice to shorten, move or completely delete roles within the ballet. We wanted to avoid that and to preserve ideological and creative thread set by the composer. Also, one of the characteristics of Hristić’s score is the existence of a choir that sings behind the scene at certain moments. In all stage performances so far, the choir has been eliminated. In this way, the Hristić’s music has lost an important sound component.

We are going to return the choir in our performance and thus show a complete sound presentation. This production has to be an example of how our most important ballet “The Legend of Ohrid” should sound and look like.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of your conducting work at the SNT. Which repertoire are you more dedicated to?

In all periods throughout the history of music, there have been good, mediocre and bad compositions. This is also the case with the pieces that are created today. So far, I have performed operas from Mozart to works composed today. I have an inner filter for pieces that carry weight and value and such pieces are those that occupy me. There are, of course, artistic criteria for such an attitude and this has nothing to do with an intuition. The works that you have listed have characteristics of compositions with undoubted artistic values.

Many rewards you have received in the past confirm the importance of your work. However, you have also contributed a lot in the orchestration of the opera score of the Verdi’s La Traviata for the needs of the ballet The Lady of the Camellias (premiere in 2018, SNP). How demanding and attractive is the orchestration of such a piece and what requires the most attention?

For me, orchestration is a form of endless fun. In the case of “The Lady of the Camellias”, it was necessary to make a ballet out of Verdi’s music for “La Traviata”. The music has to be arranged so that it can be danced on it unlike the original, that is, the opera, where the music is sung. Such a procedure brings in itself both the composer’s and the arranger’s interventions of all kinds. In the work on “The Lady” I have come up with ideas for some more opera titles from which a successful ballet can be made.

You have had guest appearances at the Croatian National Theatre (CNT) in Zagreb, CNT Ivan pl. Zajc in Rijeka, Szeged Opera (Hungary) and Opera and Ballet Theatre in Krasnoyarsk (Russia). What were the specificities of these collaborations?

The orchestra is made up of people. Every orchestra in the world carries in its sound   characteristics, qualities and habits of the people who make it up. The specificity in itself is that with the same conductor, the same composition sounds completely different if orchestras are different. And, vice versa, the same orchestra with different conductors sounds different each time. Every orchestra is a mirror of the people to whom it belongs and all characteristics of a nation are very nicely shown when music is performed. It is a great joy to get to know people and to make music with them.

Learning and improving is at the same time a fun and a difficult process that can last for a long time or more precisely as long as each of us is ready and willing to dedicate himself to it. Who were your teachers? What are things in which you find inspiration and motive to set up and fulfil expectations for yourself?

Learning is an endless process. Of course, it is necessary to have formal educational frameworks and in that respect I have been taught conducting the same as all others in my class. However, the real amount of knowledge is visible only when the conductor meets the ensemble. This raises questions about teachers and great conductors that I have met. It takes a lot of time and efforts to accumulate knowledge, both practical and theoretical. The conductor’s vocation is an amalgam of various elements – skills for the preparation of a rehearsal and the way of guiding the rehearsal, knowledge of all theoretical elements, skills of practical balancing of sound, knowledge of the style of a composition and skills of dealing with musicians, etc. I have been very lucky to meet with many of our local conductors in person and to spend time talking to them. I have spent a memorable afternoon at Oscar Danon’s apartment and talked with him about many things in private. He was 92 years old at that time and I was 22. Dušan Miladinović has been a guest in my house on one occasion. Imre Toplak, a very important opera and ballet conductor of Hungarian origin has made an important influence at the Serbian National. I have been very close with him and I have learned a lot from him. Mladen Jagušt is also a great teacher. From Uroš Lajovic, a great professor and a conductor, I have learned a lot about symphonic music. In Belgrade, I have had an opportunity to talk to Zubin Mehta on two occasions. Although formal these meetings have also been extremely enjoyable. In 2017, I was in Ravenna, Italy, on a training course. The course was led by Ricardo Muti and the topic of the course was Verdi’s “Aida”. It is well known that Maestro Muti is the greatest living expert on Verdi’s opus and on Italian opera in general. I spent fifteen days with him then and every day from six to eight working hours. The knowledge that I acquired then has completely changed my view of the way of performing the opera. And it has come at the right time because at that moment I had more than two hundred performances behind me. I have personally met many other conductors. There is always something that you can learn from each of them. From someone, you can learn how to work, from someone, how not to work and everything is very useful.

Is there any difference in the way in which the audience accepts opera abroad and in our country?

The acceptance or non-acceptance of opera is a sociological issue. There can be no comparison between us and countries that have been cultivating opera for 400 years. Vuk Kаrаdžić was born a week after Mozart conducted the first performance of “Don Giovanni” in Prague. There are no doubts that a big difference exists. However, I think that many people in our nation love opera and that they are well familiar with it. In the last and in the present century, we have given a series of exceptional opera singers and conductors of international reputation, who have had regular guest appearances at the world’s largest opera stages. On the other hand, our people have not yet become per tu with the opera. For that reason, it is very important that every theatre that shows opera also has educational opera programmes for the youngest. The Serbian National Theatre has, for example, Mozart’s “Magic Flute” adapted for children. That is very important. The future of this art in our country depends on the children’s love or hatred for opera.

The future of this art in our country depends on the children’s love or hatred for opera. That is why the SNT adaptation of the Mozart’s “Magic Flute” for children is so important.


Interview prepared by Jelena Lagator




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