Being a woman in Banjaluka is not easy. The legend saying that a female to male ratio in Banjaluka is seven to one has in time achieved a sort of a placebo effect. So it happens that as one walks along the e pedestrian zones in Banjaluka in the afternoon on a sunny working day, one can easily become aware of the veracity of this legend. Consequently, men in Banjaluka, severely affected by this 7:1 phenomenon, sometimes pursue women with such confidence, as if there were not even a slight possibility for them to be accepted by at least one of the seven possible women. Imagine then the effect of having twenty-five, sometimes even twenty-eight, out of possible thirtyish women of Banjaluka to a single man confidently trying to conduct their behaviour. It is nothing but certain death. As much as a sentence like this might sound unbelievable, it is not too far away from the truth. Naturally, it is an artistic one that we are talking about. Even more specifically, a journalist’s attempt to introduce the reader to the story of a recently unbelievable but already for some time true and truly valuable effect of the stage murder performed by the Banjalucanke female chamber choir.
By: Predrag Ćurković
The musical composition “Odbrojavanje ili tri na e“ (“Countdown or three nursery rhymes starting with e”), which was first performed in Budapest, continues to attract public attention. The lyrics of the composition written by Mr Mladen Matović are based on the three famous nursery rhymes starting with letter “e”. The composition represents the author’s short audio commentary on the modern civilisation – a highly ironic one. The peril of the civilisation destroying itself after it has reached its climax becomes an artistically illustrated reality. So, as the musical composition is coming to an end, the choir members, already annoyed, finish the nursery rhyme in a sort of a crescendo by simply, symbolically, audibly, scenically and choreographically “killing the conductor on the scene” a sophisticated way.
It is composer Matovic that has been the conductor of the choir since 2004. His impressive CV says, inter alia, that he is a composer and a conductor born in Banjaluka in 1980, where he attended the Elementary and Secondary Music School “Vlado Milošević”. He resumed his studies at the Academy of Arts in Banjaluka, School of Music, which he completed with an average grade of 10. He later received his master’s degree studying under the guidance Professor Gordana Stojanović at the same institution. Prior to his career as an independent conductor, he worked as a répétiteur and an assistant conductor to Professor Nemanja Savić with the choir ensemble of the Jedinstvo Serbian Singing Association and the Banjaluka University Mixed Choir.
“In order for someone to actively take part in the activities of a serious choir ensemble, it is necessary for them, apart from basic musical requirements, to love choir music and choir singing. With regard to that, I deem that one of the biggest qualities our ensemble has is the fact that we have managed to build an extremely harmonious and healthy environment, where we all function as one big happy family. As an educator, I think this is a great achievement. At the same time, I am very proud of the fact that we have managed to develop a high level of collective responsibility and self-consciousness within the choir, with regard to our sincere wish to represent our city and Republika Srpska to the best of our capacities, “says Matovic.
He also says that it is one of the prerequisites for a successful functioning and yielding results. “In the months prior to the competitions, it is often the case that we have up to five or six rehearsals per week, which illustrates the amount of sacrifice and dedication needed to earn awards. Looking from the outside, it may seem as if it were easy, and the media also tends to show only positive example, but the well-informed ones know how much effort some serious and comprehensive work asks for. Some might say that ‘there is no such thing as a good or bad choir, but only a good or bad conductor”, but I am quite confident that without some genuine Spartans on the ensemble, there would be no results. Naturally, the conductor’s job is to stimulate and motivate the ensemble before every competition and every show”, explains Matović.
Matiović is the author of over three hundred compositions of artistic, theatrical, children’s and popular music. He has received to date the total of forty-two awards at over fifty competitions and festivals in the country and abroad, among which the City of Banjaluka April Award. It is quite clear that he would not have received a great deal of those awards if it had not been for the “Banjalučanke” choir, as it is also clear that the choir would not be what it is if it were not for such a conductor.
A Cultural brand created over the period of thirty-five years
One should also be reminded of the fact that there were other people involved in the creation of an indigenous and globally acknowledged brand in the area of women’s choir singing. And the first one to be mentioned is a famous music educator from Banjaluka, Mr Ante Šašić, who initiated the establishing of the choir in 1977. What started off as a school section where more talented grammar school girls used to sing is today the Banjalučanke women’s chamber choir, which has been recognized for thirty five years now as an indispensable part of the cultural scene of the region. So far, they have taken part at hundreds of domestic concerts and equally numerous competitions abroad.
During the war in the former Yugoslavia and the post-war period, the years between 1994 and 2004, the ensemble was led by Mr Branislav Bane Đaković and Ms Aleksandra Ostojić. Over the past five years, the choir has achieved its best results. The Banjalučanke choir won gold medals at prestigious international choir competitions in Linz, Venice, Malta, Budapest and Barcelona. At the last two World Choir Olympics in China and the USA they won silver Olympic medals at the top level of the competition – the Championship Competition. Their last major success was achieved at the International Choir Competition in Barcelona, where they won another gold medal. Because of the numerous awards it received and the results it achieved in the previous period, the Musica Mundi World Choir Association enlisted the choir at the official list of the world’s top fifty chamber choirs, and they are currently ranked very high, at position 9. For the past three years in a row they have been the best ranked choir of Southeastern Europe.
Matović deems these awards to be very important and stimulating for future efforts into improvement of ensemble’s performance quality, and at the same time, they represent a great satisfaction and acknowledgment of all the efforts they put into it and sacrifices it took.
The Repertoire of the Banjalučanke choir, who came a long way over a relatively short period of time, is quite diverse in style and genre. Starting with pieces of old Renaissance masters, including Mokranjac’s eternal composition called “Rukoveti” and some gems of the domestic choir repertoire to highly demanding contemporary pieces of vocal literature for women’s choirs. Their concert repertoire also contains stylised traditional Balkan melodies as well as choir interpretations of some of the most beautiful evergreens of domestic and foreign music.
A constant support of relevant institutions is required
Matović emphasises that it is necessary to have a constant and a regular financial support in order for the choir, or any other artistic group, to progress, and that the most meaningful and productive thing to do would be to establish an institutional mechanism of a continuous support for those who yield results, that is, such a support should be conditioned by the results achieved, since such individuals or ensembles are few.
“As long as artists are forced to deal with issues of transportation, accommodation, food, costumes and similar things, along with their demanding stage activities every result will be a fruit of someone’s enthusiasm” says Matovic.
Matović adds that, although they have received significant support of the Government, the President of Republika Srpska and the City of Banjaluka respectively over the past few years, they too have hard times managing their activities because there are no systemic solutions in the area of culture yet.
“So we are often witnesses to the fact that some junior ranking clerks, possibly well-meaning ones make some unforgivable mistakes whose tragic effect they only become aware at the moment when it is late to make any changes”, explains Matović.
All the competitions the choir has taken part in the current year were aimed at preparations for the “challenge of all challenges”, which is the participation at the following World Choir Olympics that will take place in Riga, the capital of Latvia, in July 2014. This choir is the only choir from the Republic of Srspka and Bosnia and Herzegovina respectively that qualified directly for the world’s biggest and most prestigious choir competition. All members of the choir, as well as all citizens of Banjaluka are convinced that the authorities will, as it used to be the case in the previous years, show understanding for the participation of the choir at the competition.
The conductor of the choir is also the author of the music and lyrics of Republika Srpska’s national anthem called “Moja Republika“ and the choir is going to perform the anthem in Riga as Republika Srpska flag rises on the flagpole.