Showing posts with label Bosnia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bosnia. Show all posts

Monday, June 18, 2007

A few essentials

I'm rather 'under the snow' at the moment, hence lack of posting, but wanted to present a few essentials while I can:

The Nigel Osborne opera I went to see in Mostar, Differences in Demolition, is absolutely wonderful: a work full of heart and soul, with hardline modernism set beside glorious lyrical melody in a way that feels entirely natural. Goran Simic's libretto - the first work he has undertaken in English - is so full of wonderful poetry that I'm thinking of framing the copy that I now have. The production is poetic too, and the singing and playing superb - amazing how many different sounds can emerge from an accordion. The work as a whole seemed to have grown out of the soil of Bosnia itself. It will be at Wilton's Music Hall, near Tower Bridge, on 10, 11 and 12 July, as part of the City of London Festival, performed by Opera Circus. Do yourself a favour: go and see it.

The Pavarotti Centre in Mostar, however, is in financial difficulty. It opened its doors in 1997 and still offers the only clinical programme of its type in the world specialising in treating war-traumatised children and PTSD. But as things stand, the entire music therapy programme may have to close due to lack of funding. As Nigel Osborne explained during our trip, this treatment is very cheap and very effective and does a huge amount of good, but it doesn't 'fit into any boxes' and bureaucratic purse-string holders simply don't understand it - even though the methods pioneered there are being applied now in many other countries. They need support, both moral and financial.

Finally, my current snowdrift involves rewriting a play - with three months to go till the premiere - and a novel in one month flat. See you soon, I hope...

Now, have a look at the sensational young Chinese bass Shen Yang, who has just scooped the Cardiff Singer of the World prize.

And gluttons for punishment can read in today's Independent what I really think about English National Opera doing Kismet.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Back to Mostar...

This slide-show of pictures from Mostar is unfortunately not a Jess original but lifted from YouTube. But here's much of what I saw, the place I was staying (the gorgeous Ottoman Muslibegovic House with the courtyard and carved windows is a guest house as well as a tourist attraction) and some of the kind of thing I heard: the music is a typical sevdah song performed by the famous band Mostar Sevdah Reunion, some members of which were apparently at the premiere of 'Differences in Demolitions' on Saturday, joining in the standing ovation, so I'm told. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Just back from Bosnia-Herzegovina

Here's an extract of the poem by Goran Simic on which the new sevdah opera by Nigel Osborne, with libretto by Simic, is based. Like the poem (from Simic's book of poems Immigrant Blues), the opera is called Differences in Demolitions.

In the Country where I live
when a house has to be torn down
a few workers arrive with a contract,
tear down the house in a few days and leave
and later nobody remembers any more the names of those
who lived there until yesterday.

In the Country I came from
before the house is torn down
an armed police squad arrives
and an ambulance for someone who might want
to die grieving under the demolished roof
beneath which he was born long ago.
For months afterwards even the children avoid the place
where once there was a house
because of the ghosts of ancestors who moan
from the spiderwebs and weeds.
There the demolition ball is heavy as a curse.

That's just the first part...

Here's a taste of the difference between London and Mostar.

Do not leave your luggage unattended. Any unattended bags may be removed and destroyed.
Hold the handrail on the ecscalator. Stand on the right.
Do not allow children to ride in the luggage trolleys.
Do not allow children to play on the escalators.
Dogs must be carried.
From 1 July smoking will be banned in all enclosed public spaces in England.
'We are sorry to announce that the 15.55 service to Hounslow is delayed by approximately six minutes. We are sorry for the inconvenience this may cause to your journey.'
All places wishing to present live music must apply for a very expensive licence.
Those with five cars exhort those of us who take trains to oppose planned parking restrictions and pricey residents' permits in our road.

'Attention! Dangerous ruin. Access and parking forbidden.'
'Ticket: Differences in Demolitions. National Theatre, 8pm.'... 8pm: people start to arrive, drink and talk to each other in the square. 8.25pm: doors open; stampede for best seats. 8.40pm: first sounds...
'Oh, Jess, it's best not to wander off the paths into open patches of grass. There could be landmines.'

A trip like this can cause some ructions in the soul. I need to process this before writing about it fully.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Sokolov, a.k.a. PianoGod, is playing at the Wigmore Hall tonight and Guess Who Got The Last Ticket?!? :-)

Meanwhile I'm swotting Noel Malcolm's excellent book Bosnia: A short history. The early 1990s come surging back. The names we heard daily on the news: Milosevic; Arkan; Srebrenica; Sarajevo. The pigs-ear that resulted not least because Western governments, it appears, didn't have the first clue what the conflict was really about.

A few examples. An arms embargo was placed on the entire region - which left most of the old Yugoslavian supplies in the hands of the Serbs, but the Bosnians without recourse to defend themselves. "No-fly zones"? Unenforced and unenforcable. "Safe havens"? Ditto. UN peacekeeping forces? Nice idea, but they ended up becoming human shields. You can scarcely miss the frustration in the text:

"It fell to the British government, as holder of the rotating presidency of the EEC, to chair a joint EEC-UN conference on the entire situation in Yugoslavia...The paralysis of the Wrst was made only more apparent. John Major obtained what he thought were solemn pledges from the Serb leaders to lift the sieges of Bosnian towns and cities and place their heavy weaponry under UN supervision. It later emerged that 'supervision' was to be interpreted in its original, etymological sense: UN monitors were allowed to look over the artillery pieces above Sarajavo every day while they were being fired."

Off to Sarajevo tomorrow.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sevdah at the Barbican

Next week (1 June) the Bosnian sevdah singer Amira is playing the Barbican, part of a celebration of Gypsy (and Gypsy-influenced) music and film. She's also at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester the next day. Good piece about her in today's Guardian:

All who survive a war remain scarred, each in their own way. For Amira, who was studying economics when Yugoslavia brutally disintegrated, war pushed her into song. And not just any song, but sevdah, the ancient lyric ballad of Bosnia. Sevdah - the word is Turkish and suggests desire, yearning, thwarted love - has existed for hundreds of years in this region, often composed of just a voice and a saz (a Turkish lute). Yet it took Bosnia's suffering to focus the world's attention on this small nation's music. Sevdah bears comparison to Portuguese fado and Spanish flamenco; all three are vocal arts rooted in Arabic courtly love songs from a millennium ago. Amira, who comes to the UK for the first time this week and whose debut album, Rosa, is a recording of startling beauty, looks set to do for sevdah what rising Portuguese star Mariza has done for fado.

I am going to Bosnia on 7 June and will hopefully be learning much more about sevdah, the war and musical healing.