November 29, 2021 | Monday

Siparantum Choir Winner at “World Choir Games 2021” – interview with Memli Kelmendi

Siparantum Choir founded and directed by the conducter and composer Memli Kelmendi, is particating in numerous international festivals and competitions. Recently they have scored their biggest success yet, by winning “The Open Competition – Musica Contemporanea” award at the “World Choir Games 2021” in Flanders, Belgium. To learn more about their history and activities, we have interviewed Memli Kelmendi – Conducter and Head of the Siparantum Choir.

  • Can you tells us a bit more about the Siparantum Choir?

The Siparantum Choir was founded in 2017, in a voluntary initiative with a common goal: promoting our culture and composers in different parts of the world.

Setting from the cultural tradition of Peja, the city where the choir was founded, since the onset, the idea was to include different generations of people in the choir, people who had contributed to the culture even during the 80s. Due to the circumstances of that time, when as we know all cultural activities were suspended, we wanted the choir to would have a mixture of generations, including people who once sang in other choirs, pupils and students who love art and choral singing, entertaining the idea of giving them the stage, to be closer to the music-choral scene. The idea for the foundation was started by me and a group of volunteers, including the well-known guitar professor Luan Sapunxhiu, Fatmir Bajraktari – the man who has given a lot to the Peja culture; Burim Kasapolli, who has also been a member of almost every choir in the city of Peja, and also in the formerly well-known choir, “Collegium Cantorum”.

Departing from such facts, we thought that the city of Peja deserves a different spirit, and that is where the idea was born for establishing the Siparantum Choir. Thus, after a very short period (less than two months), the Siparantum Choir managed to gather about 50 members. In addition, within a very short period of time, we formed, within the choir itself, a Chamber Orchestra, but also the children’s choir “Siparantum Kids”, which is showing excellent results. 

  • How difficult has it been to establish such a group, and bring together artists and other members of the Choir in Peja?

A choir, with new performance ideas had been missing in Peja. This was exactly my goal from the beginning; the formation of a choir of a different dimension, a choir that would not assume a “static position”, a choir which I would call “unpredictable”, a choir that at times, it would appear with choreographic elements.

At first, I was a little skeptical about the idea, since I come from “a classical school”, but being in different art activities in the world, I thought that we should bring a completely new atmosphere to our country, and I think I have done well. I think that is exactly the reason why we still, almost five years after its founding, function fantastically on a voluntary basis, with clear goals for the culture of our country. Today, the Siparantum choir is no longer only from Peja, it is from all over Kosovo, because our choir includes “volunteers” who come from different cities of Kosovo, such as; Pristina, Mitrovica, Gjilan/Gnjilane, Vushtrri/Vučitrn, Gjakova/Đakovica, Skenderaj/Srbica, Klina, Istog and others. Thus, the choir of today is spread almost throughout the territory of Kosovo.

  • Can you tell us more about the activities that the Siparantum Choir has had in recent years?

During these years, since its establishment, Siparantum Choir has made over 85 appearances, 28 international, including various festivals in the most important centers of choral culture in Europe. In 2017, we were part of the 3 most important choral music concerts in Croatia, including; POU – Petrinja, St. Paul, Zagreb; the festival “Emil Cossetto”, where we performed in the central concert hall, Hrvatski Glazbeni Zavod – Zagreb; Mimara Museum; in 2018, we went for the first time at the international choir festival “Nancy Voix Du Monde” in France, we performed concerts at “Nancy Cathedral”, “Grand Salon de Ville”, “La Temple Protestant”, “La salle Erkman Luneville”, “Porta Here”, “Stanislas Square – Nancy”, then two important concerts at “Chiesa di San Salvatore” in Lauro and “Basilica di San Antonio” in Rome.

In 2019, we took part for the first time in the international choir festival ’15th edition of the Biennial International Choir Contest Flanders’, in which case, the Siparantum Choir was awarded the “Honorable Mention” prize by the festival, there was a successful concert in C-Mine, Genk. Also this year, the Siparantum choir has successfully performed a concert in the famous church “Church of the Abbey of Notre Dame de la Cambre” in Brussels, a concert that has been highly praised by music critics present at this concert.

Of course, the pandemic has affected the artists a lot all over the world, especially the choral music, due to the specifics of working with a choir, however the Siparantum choir never stopped, it became part of the virtual festival “TEHO”, then it collaborated with the famous German composer Carsten Gerlitz in the realization of the “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho” project.

We also collaborated in the Video Awards in INTERCULTUR with the choir “Cobra Chorale”, and the new conductor William Bennett, in the implementation of the “Counting Music” project, composed by Chris Lawry.  Also, the choir was part of the “Europees Muziekfestival voor de jeugd Neerpelt – European Music Festival for Young People”, and in this festival, the choir participated with my own composition “Me nji lule”, a work commissioned by the EMJ festival, and in that case, the choir was very highly appreciated by the festival jury. 

I cannot miss mentioning other festivals; the Siparantum choir has been part of local festivals; DAM, ReMusica, Classical Albanian Music Scene, etc.

I also want to mention other important things in our work; we collaborated with the world-famous tenor Ramë Lahaj, our collaboration with Tackroom Theater in the realization of the song “World On Our Shoulders” #Resolution2020, a song that was appreciated and became one of the most popular projects on YouTube, then we published two CDs of choral works on the International Choir Contest Flanders, Belgium and most recently, in the release on the CD of Emil Cossetto. The Siparantum Choir is already part of the “Our Voice For Our Planet” project.

  • You have won several awards in the international arena, but undoubtedly the most important was the last prize in the “World Choir Games”. Could you tell us a bit more?

Yes, although we are still in pandemic circumstances, we have never had any absence of will to do beautiful things, and we have it still. Last month, we were in Croatia, namely at the international choir festival “The Golden Lime Of Tuhelj”, where we were part of performances by 16 participating choirs from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia. Thus the Siparantum choir turned out to be the first rated with the highest points ever, 98.33 points and received a “Golden Plate”. This success came as a reward for the hard work and great will we have had over the years, especially the last few months.

Last year we were admitted to the World’s largest CHOIR GAMES (WCG), but due to the pandemic, like any other activity, this one was postponed for the year.  I have to be honest: there are requirements to be met for being part of the WCG, and we did not meet any of them: we needed to have gold, silver and bronze medals; we had to be part of the Open Competition or Championship, to be part of the Ranking Lists, etc. However, it was the last item in the agenda, in which members of the World Choir Council, i.e. Representatives of states in the WCC may recommend choirs to be part of the competition. Of course, as a member, I was the one to recommend the Siparantum choir. However, to be part of the World Choir Games, we had to work to meet the terms and conditions of the WCG, and this time we applied for the Open Competition, in the category “Musica Contemporanea”.  In addition to the WCG competition, we held two other concerts, one in Handelsbeurs, Antwerp and the other in St-Maartenskerk, Kortrik (these were out-of-competition concerts). These concerts had different choirs from different countries of the world, the most influential people of choral music in the world, and of course many prominent personalities of art in general. The comments we have received in such concerts have underlined the fantastic work we do as a society. To be honest, we also had the opportunity to see other choirs that were part of the competition at the World Choir Games, although there were more than 300 choirs from over 85 countries around the world.

Let’s go back to the competition itself. As I mentioned above, we competed in the Open Championship, namely in the category “Musica Contemporanea”, which was held in the most famous hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Antwerp.

The last evening was a highly emotional moment for all the participating choirs, and for us as well. The Siparantum Choir thus became the winning choir of this category “Musica Contomporanea”, and also became the winner of two “Gold” medals. This is certainly one of the greatest successes achieved so far. To be a winner in this category, to be at par with countries that have extensive tradition in music and the development of choral singing, is for us an extraordinary success. This shows that success is proof our hard work!

  • What would be your message to conductors and artists who have ambitions to initiate such cultural projects in other cities of Kosovo?

Work, work and only hard work. Despite the challenges we face as a society, the motivation must always be there.

Plans for the future?

In December, we will travel to another important festival, in which the Siparantum choir has already ensured participation. In Berlin, we will perform in 3 other concerts, very important for our journey. Anyway, these days, these concerts in Berlin will become official.  In addition to Berlin, we have received five invitations for international performances, but we will have to choose our places of travel, depending on our funding.

Although today, the Siparantum choir has 45 members to the choir, collection of all these accolades, the support we have received from cultural institutions is rather minimal in relation to the work we do in our society. Certainly, we have the support of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, the Municipality of Peja, the private companies and many art lovers, however the budget scarcities “limit” us in achieving our goals, and what might be the most irritating thing for us, facing the “visa” process.

We are currently working on the first publication of the “Siparantum Kids” children’s choir CD, which is expected to come out next year, 2022.