October 31, 2021 | Sunday

“Through culture we aim to unite the youth of Western Balkans” – Desar Sulejmani

In the interview of the month, Desar Sulejmani, Artistic Director of European Summer Music Academy and Western Balkans Youth Orchestra, tells us more about the 10th edition of ESMA held in Kosovo.

  • Can you tell us more about the Western Balkans Youth Orchestra (WBYO)?

Desar Sulejmani: Western Balkans Youth Orchestra builds on previous events of the European Summer Music Academy (ESMA) in Kosovo, when, in the course of various instrumental courses of pedagogical work in the ensemble, an idea was born to expand the artistic activity, which then happened in the end of 2019, up to the creation of the orchestra as an independent and permanent institution , representing the whole region.

WBYO is an orchestral ensemble with young professional musicians from at least six Western Balkan countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia, Serbia and Albania), which has embarked on its artistic journey in March 2020. The organizers i.e. the Artium Eudora – ArtEu cultural organization, based in Pristina, in full agreement with local and international partners, decided to postpone the activity as a protective step against the rapid spread of the SarS-CoV 2 pandemic worldwide.

The WBYO project was originally funded by a significant fund of the Rotary International District 1810 (Aachen area in Germany). During the subsequent events of late 2020 and in the activity just completed now in October (the 1st Training & Concert Phase), WBYO has also had the support of the Swiss Embassy, the House of Europe, the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Kosovo, the German Embassy in Tirana as well as other local partners, whom I take this opportunity to thank cordially for the valuable support provided to our project.

  • What is the aim of creating a youth orchestra in the Western Balkans?

Desar Sulejmani: Historical developments have taught us that the region of Western Balkans is as important to the whole European continent as it is troubled, complicated and with many ongoing and pending issues. After decades of lack of stability, misunderstandings, mutual non-recognitions and various political polemics, the time has come for the new generation of the entire region to take their destinies into their own hands and to lead peaceful, cooperative developments among themselves, turning to the future with a different approach as opposed to what past generations have done.

By organising pedagogical-artistic activities, orchestral meetings, concerts and programs of various musical forms, WBYO aims to bring a new spirit of cooperation to the audience of the entire region, an idea of close spiritual connection through art, culture, music and development of social awareness. It is these virtues that, in addition to the needs of each participant in our projects to develop professionally, will be the main goals of our long-term work with young professionals in the Western Balkans.

  • This year you held the 10th edition of the European Summer Music Academy in Kosovo. Why was this year’s edition special?

Desar Sulejmani: The 2021 edition of ESMA was an important part of the whole two-phase Building Musical Bridges in the Western Balkans 2021 Project and has come up with quite a few interesting novelties, despite restrictions due to the pandemic. In 2021, ESMA returned to Pristina, where it was born as a pedagogical-artistic organization nine years ago. During the last days of September and the beginning of October 2021, at the Faculty of Arts of the “Hasan Pristina” University, were conducted courses of piano (Ardita Statovci, Kosovo/Austria), violin (Prof. Dr. Orhan Ahiskal, Turkey/USA), flute (Prof. Ljubiša Jovanović, Serbia), andclarinet (Jordi Pons, Spain/Switzerland), as well as artistic performances from internationals professors or from participant students of our courses. 

Also, from 23 to 29 September, in the framework of ESMA 2021, we organized artistic presentations and guitar performance classes with Danijel Cerović (Montenegro), Erhan Mujka (Kosovo) and Sanel Redžić (Bosnia and Herzegovina) held in the the town of Mitrovica, where we have already developed a joint success story with Kosova Ars cultural organization, led by the Kosovar guitarist, Mr. Erhan Mujka.

Third WBYO concert in Tirana

A few days after the completion of the ESMA 2021 events, from 7 to 18 October 2021, our organization kicked off the second stage of the Building Musical Bridges in the Western Balkans Project, namely the organization of bowed instrument performance courses, accompanied by daily orchestral rehearsals and a concert tour by the Western Balkans Youth Orchestra. Following the conduct of relevant courses and intensive pedagogical-artistic work with invited violin teachers Mr. Önder Baloglu (Turkey/Germany) and Mrs. Yukiko Tezuka (Japan/Austria), viola teachers Mr. Dominik Travniçek (Czech Republic), cellists Mr. Diego Hernandez Suarez (Spain/Germany), contrabass players Mr. Thomas Vybiral (Czech Republic), WBYO staged for the audience in Prishtina, Skopje and Tirana a diverse program with the works of prominent European composers, some of which were presented to the participating audience for the first time.

So, as you can see, we have developed a very broad program with many plans as part of our artistic thinking and further and long-term development of our primary idea.

  • Was it difficult to gather 30 young musicians from six countries of Western Balkans and create the Western Balkans Youth Orchestra with them?

Desar Sulejmani: As I mentioned earlier, we have begun our work on creating and turning WBYO into a reality by late 2019, so we have maintained regular contacts with the potential members of the orchestra since then. Given the fact that WBYO is an orchestra that will build on various projects during the calendar year initially, changes in the names of our formation are understandable.

On this occasion, I would like to highlight the assistance that I have personally received from the professors of faculties of music in Belgrade and Niš, Serbia, in complementing our orchestral formation with new members.

Photo credit: Besnik Hamiti

The selection of WBYO members is an exclusive competence of the artistic director of the orchestra, so I had to adhere to the following selection criteria in my work: being a young musician of 16 to 26 years of age, being part of the system of professional music preparation and proper preparation and sincere interest in active participation in the orchestra.

In selecting the musicians, I was also cautious to ensure fair and equal representation of different ethnicities of Western Balkans, so I wanted for us to have a good balance in the orchestra so that we could have a most realistic representation of various ethnicities that are part of Western Balkans currently.

  • What do you think was the main achievement of this year’s edition of the Building Musical Bridges in the Western Balkans Project?

Desar Sulejmani: I believe that by developing the project in the intended form, by combining pedagogical experiences on the ground and by monitoring the achieved artistic result together, we provide for the best form of educating young participants on the needs, requirements and virtues of a true professional above all. Also, the joint connection between WBYO instrumentalists and mutual cooperation between the students and professors participating in ESMA 2021 not only contribute to a deeper professional preparation of the youth, but automatically remove any barrier or obstacle to artistic development or other dilemma that may come naturally in life.

On the other hand, bringing together many young people from the Western Balkans and allowing for a common artistic daily life, which is then brought to the community as a strong element of presentation, strengthens the social feeling of these young people in particular, enables friendly relationships, devoid of ethnic, linguistic and cultural taboos among the younger generation in the Western Balkans, a generation that, in the years to come, will take over the life developments in their respective countries.

We see our work as very important to strengthening the sense of recognition, support and cooperation first towards ourselves and then the others in the Western Balkans. In every activity and step of the work that we make in the future, we want to become an example of a ubiquitous professionalism and, above all, we want to always be the vanguard of a new working mentality and project implementation in Western Balkans.

  • What are the plans for the future editions of WBYO?

Desar Sulejmani: We are now preparing a short WBYO concert tour in Luxembourg, where we will be part of an international orchestra festival, which will be held in mid-December this year. In the meanwhile, after the full completion of the Building Musical Bridges in the Western Balkans Project implementation phase, we will soon begin preparations for the organization of ESMA 20222, which mark the 10th anniversary of its creation in Kosovo. On this occasion, we will have the opportunity to develop broader pedagogical-artistic programs and we will hold concerts and artistic activities in the entire region of Western Balkans in 2022. We also plan to have the WBYO working phases and concerts in 2022 in Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

Essen, Germany, 29 October 2021