Harry McDoggus
September 24, 2014
Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra in Historic U.S. Debut

For the first time in their 91-year history, the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra, “one of the leading European orchestras” (The Independent), will tour the U.S., visiting four major markets in October. The Orchestra, under the direction of its Chief Conductor Muhai Tang, will appear first at Orchestra Hall in Chicago on October 6th, then at Severance Hall in Cleveland on October 7th, at Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, MD on October 8th, and at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium in New York City on October 9th. The ensemble will bring two programs on tour, performing repertoire ranging from Khachaturian to Tchaikovsky to Sibelius. At Severance Hall and the Strathmore Center, the Orchestra will add a ballet suite by Stevan Hristic, a founder and first principal conductor of the Orchestra (1923-1934). At Symphony Hall and Carnegie Hall, the Orchestra will add arias from Verdi’s Rigoletto and Macbeth, to be sung by the Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic, a Met Opera sensation. Tickets for the tour, on sale now, have been set at family-friendly prices and can be obtained on venue websites. In Cleveland, $5 from every ticket sale will be donated to that city's beloved Serbian Culture Garden.

The Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) is an ensemble with a rich history which has carved a unique niche for itself in recent times with enlightened artistic planning, innovative marketing and even an enthusiastic embrace of social change in an ofttimes challenging political environment. The Orchestra regularly plays host to major soloists and guest conductors like Nelson Freire, Sarah Chang, Julian Rachlin, Ivry Gitlis, Midori, Fazil Say, Sir Neville Marriner, Krzysztof Penderecki, Mischa Maisky, Maxim Vengerov and many others, while creating opportunity for women conductors in a special series devoted to showcasing both emerging young talents, like Anu Tali, and more established artists, such as Jane Glover and Gisele Ben-Dor. In 2011, the Orchestra was awarded funding from the European Union to support a series of concerts celebrating the New Years of five different religious and ethnic communities, in an effort to break down longstanding regional and ethnic tensions. In the same year, the Orchestra undertook a similar long-term project whereby the BPO and the orchestras of Ljubljana and Zagreb play concerts in each other’s territories. In the 2012-2013 season the Orchestra instituted a concert series called Bizarrte, devoted to unusual repertoire designed to delight and even startle audiences. The concluding concert of the series this year was comprised of compositions marked by a distinct sense of humor: Satie’s Parade, which features noise-making machines; Milhaud’s Le Boeuf sur le Toit, with carnival sounds, Poulenc’s Les Biches, evoking a wanton party, and the pièce de résistance, Mindaugas Piecaitis’ Catcerto, with featured piano soloist Nora the Cat on video. The BPO is, in other words, seeking to upend preconceived notions of what a symphony orchestra can or should do, with everything from bold political gestures to playful programming.

One of the most devoted of BPO’s musical colleagues and friends is conductor Zubin Mehta. The maestro made his professional debut with the Orchestra in 1958, and remains an enthusiastic supporter to this day. He has made generous donations of time, energy, ideas, even concert fees to the Belgrade Philharmonic Foundation, instituted in 2004 and now bearing his name. The Zubin Mehta Belgrade Philharmonic Foundation supports the Orchestra in numerous ways and now principally has established plans to build a new concert hall for the Orchestra in Belgrade. One of the chief objectives of the BPO’s 2014 U.S. tour is to raise money toward the construction of this new hall. The other is to contribute funding to the relief effort for victims of the recent floods in Serbia.

The exciting initiatives of BPO’s present and future rest on decades of artistic accomplishment better known in Europe than in the U.S. This is an orchestra that has endured and prevailed through thick and thin. Probably the chief architect of BPO’s emergence from the enormous challenges posed by years of warfare in the 1990s and its subsequent precarious financial position is Ivan Tasovac, Director of the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra from 2001-2013, now Minister of Culture and Information of the Republic of Serbia. “There is a reason the Belgrade Philharmonic is on such a bright path today,” says Mr. Tasovac. “It is the passion of the players and the leadership of Maestro Tang. The average age of BPO’s musicians is 40. The Orchestra has enormous energy, talent, and excitement about its future. Our goal now is to help this ensemble realize its dreams, and touring the U.S. is an important part of that plan.”

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