The Belgrade Philharmonic is not only a world-class orchestra but also a movement in itself

We experienced our new renaissance with Ivan Tasovac and thus became what we are today

Jelena Milasinovic, Photo: Marko Djokovic

As an iconic Serbian orchestra, with its inventive artistic concepts and creative marketing, the Belgrade Philharmonic has positioned itself as a true breath of fresh air on the international concert scene. Their unique image attracted a lot of attention, including many famous names in classical music. After the Philharmonic recently celebrated its centenary, we met with Jelena Milašinović, Communications Manager of the Belgrade Philharmonic, to talk about her experience working with the orchestra, their most important awards and engagements, as well as the current situation in the Serbian culture and the legacy of Ivan Tasovac’s work.


What marked a decade of your career as the communications manager of the Belgrade Philharmonic?

It’s the love for the job, thanks to which I don’t view the Belgrade Philharmonic as my employer, but as my second home. As the communications manager, I got the opportunity to consolidate my knowledge, considering that I graduated from the Academy of Music and received a master’s degree in Cultural Management with professional training in the field of communications at the London School of Public Relations. For me, the Philharmonic is an eternal inspiration, so crafting creative communication strategies and developing innovative projects is extremely exciting and fun. After all this time with the Philharmonic, I still enjoy walking the tightrope between tradition and whimsy, exercising wit over formality as the Belgrade Philharmonic has profiled itself. In addition to cultivating artistic excellence, the Philharmonic is a brave, daring and lucid social actor, which is why it stands out as a “love brand”. The Belgrade Philharmonic has a unique character and I am proud to have contributed to its refinement.

I still enjoy walking the tightrope between tradition and whimsy, exercising wit over formality as the Belgrade Philharmonic has profiled itself.


During your career, you received numerous awards and recognitions for your work. Which would you single out as your favourite and why?

I would like to single out the last award that I am very proud of, which is the PRO PR Globe Award because it is an international award that rewards individuals for their personal contribution to the profession. It is common to single out and award projects in the field of communications and much less often to summarize the results of an individual’s continuous work. That is why it is a special honour to be nominated and then awarded by colleagues and excellent communications professionals. Also, this award is a good indicator of the placement of the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra, because the award puts it on the same plane as London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, along with numerous prestigious global corporations. Another favourite is certainly the one that came first – the Public Relations Society of Serbia awarded the Belgrade Philharmonic for the communications of the first open-air concert that we organized in 2017 as a music picnic. We invited the audience to choose the compositions they wanted to listen to outdoors and thanks to a campaign designed in this way, from the very beginning we integrated it into an event that was visited by more than 30,000 people who enjoyed listening to classical music. The open-air concert is one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had in the Philharmonic. I will not forget the river of beaming people who walked back across the Branko Bridge after the concert and cheered when our buses passed by. After a long time, I felt proud to be a citizen of Belgrade, because the Philharmonic restored rightful dignity to our city.


How would you rate the current state of the Serbian culture?

It’s stuck in the gap between program potential and numerous infrastructural problems, which I hope will be solved more systematically, especially when it comes to the cultural scenes of Serbia. For example, our orchestra has almost nowhere to perform in Serbia at full capacity, not only because of the cramped stages of multipurpose cultural centres but also because of inadequate conditions for performing symphonic music. Although the cultural offer is dynamic, I would like to see more top-production events that are globally relevant. It was wonderful to live in Belgrade during the Marina Abramović exhibition, for which the whole world came to the Museum of Modern Art. Even those people who had no direct interest in the exhibition had the feeling that something big was happening around them. Significant projects create an atmosphere that draws you in even if you are not part of them.


Would you say that nowadays it is easier or harder to attract people to come to cultural events, taking into account digitalization and social networks?

The Philharmonic was among the first cultural institutions to understand the essence of social networks in connecting its audience and reaching for new ones. Creative use of all communication channels is an absolute imperative in building relationships with the audience because modern trends put the user in focus. Innovative but also functional communication is important and social networks give us space to develop and strengthen ties with the community. The pandemic showed us the importance of digitization, bearing in mind the huge advantages that the digital market offers as a space for internationalizing one’s own activity. I believe that one world does not exclude the other- on the contrary, they are very compatible and complement each other.


Which international performances of the Belgrade Philharmonic would you single out as the most important?

It is certainly the American tour that we embarked on in 2014 in Chicago, Cleveland, Washington and Carnegie Hall in New York City. The current generation of musicians was the first to present an orchestra on the American continent. It is a special feeling to perform in venues that are the pivots of musical history. The Belgrade Philharmonic captivates with its charisma and energy on tours. Our ensemble is homogeneous in the context of national identity, but diverse in the playing practices of the musicians, who come from different schools such as German, French and Russian. The result is an authentic symbiosis of unity and diversity. These are the qualities that make the Orchestra special and the top performance level makes it comparable to the world’s A-class orchestras. The same thing happened on the tour of China that took place in November 2023, on the occasion of the international promotion of the Orchestra’s centenary. Today’s China is the future of classical music. We performed in the gigantic and most important music venues in Asia, which in many respects dominate the classical music market through advanced infrastructure, huge budgets for visiting artists and education. Investing in culture is one of China’s strategic goals, which makes it exceptional but, unfortunately, also an exception.

The zeitgeist of that time was marked by a clear vision not only for Belgrade to be like other world metropolises of that time but also to facilitate its potential as a multicultural crossroads


The Belgrade Philharmonic recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. What do you think is the key to success that has helped the Belgrade Philharmonic’s tradition to survive for so long?

It seems that the word “enthusiasm”, which is interwoven into the very beginnings of the Belgrade Philharmonic, took root along with its duration. 100 years ago, a group of enthusiasts led by Stevan Hristić, founded this orchestra. The zeitgeist of that time was marked by a clear vision not only for Belgrade to be like other world metropolises of that time but also to facilitate its potential as a multicultural crossroads. Throughout the Philharmonic’s history, various political and social circumstances directly impacted the orchestra’s status, so golden periods alternated with dim periods during which the Philharmonic survived on pure enthusiasm.

In the last 20 years, with Ivan Tasovac at its helm, the Philharmonic experienced its new renaissance and stability thanks to enormous work and investment in the quality of the orchestra, instrumentation and constant elevation of playing through programme policy and the selection of chief conductors. With the improvement of working conditions, creative programmes, advances in concert formats, methods of communication and marketing, today the Belgrade Philharmonic is not only a world-class orchestra but it has become a movement that has personal importance and significance for people.


As the Belgrade Philharmonic director for many years, Ivan Tasovac did a lot for the Serbian culture. What do you think is the most important legacy of Ivan Tasovac’s work?

Ivan Tasovac was such a gorgeous and authentic personality that it is impossible to define his merits in one answer. In my opinion, Tasovac was a visionary and a reformer and these are the characteristics of the greatest people. He was the first to see and then to find a way to turn his vision into sustainable ideas and to persevere in their realization. Furthermore, his lucidity, flammability and sense of the game made him the most charismatic leader and figure on our cultural scene.

 In addition to the reconstruction and rebranding of the institution, his unique vision saw the Belgrade Philharmonic in a new building required for further progress, as a new symbol of Belgrade, the country and the region in the exchange of artistic excellence. His vision was embodied in the project of Amanda Levete and the London-based architects AL_A. I hope that our time will demonstrate perseverance in the realization of Tasovac’s legacy and that the endeavours of Stevan Hristić from the last century will not be the only example in the realization of progressive ideas that make up the history of the Philharmonic.


What are the plans of the Belgrade Philharmonic for 2024? What can audiences expect in the coming period?

We are celebrating the jubilee throughout this season, until June 2024. With the same enthusiasm when we represent Belgrade and Serbia to the world, every Friday at Kolarac, we bring the world to Belgrade, so the audiences will have the opportunity to listen to famous artists such as violinist Sergei Krylov, pianist Aleksei Volodin and many others. The audience will also enjoy large-scale endeavours, such as the Brahms marathon. The Philharmonic will give a very convincing answer to the famous question “Do you like Brahms?” by performing all 4 symphonies in one evening together with chief conductor Gabriel Feltz. And for the end of the season, we are preparing a true gala event – Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, when the Philharmonic will once again turn Kolarac into an opera stage, with its skill and constant pushing of boundaries.


“Even after more than two years since the death of Ivan Tasovac, the Belgrade Philharmonic is in acting-director status, celebrating its centenary with the lowest salaries of orchestral musicians in the region, with a shamefully small budget year after year, without a director, without advertising, without a renewed concert hall uniforms for ten years, and without firm convictions that our new hall will be built.” This was read last week on the “Kolarda” stage as part of the announcement by the musicians of the Belgrade Philharmonic. Please give us a short comment.

I absolutely share the same concern and dissatisfaction of musicians. I believe that the most important thing is the systematic and long-term solution to the problem of the status of musicians, and I hope that the first constructive solutions will be reached soon, as well as that we will take even bigger strides through the new century towards the new concert hall of the Belgrade Philharmonic.


Photo: N.Babic

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