A young man, who with his nobility and talent draws the attention of the local and international public. At the early age of 14, he wrote his first composition “Sve si premudro stvorio, Bože” which was brought to life by the Niš church choir “Branko” at prestigious concert halls such as the Moscow and Warsaw conservatories, and then the oldest theater in Mexico and the Ilija M. Kolarac Endowment, the Novi Sad Synagogue but also at Christ’s Tomb in Jerusalem and the Church of Saint Sava in Belgrade. This young artist, with his modesty, captivates and awakens admiration with his art of composing, permeating the subtle melodies that emerged from the foundations of Byzantine music.
I have visited all of those halls with the “Branko” Niš choir. In some of those halls, some of my other compositions were performed, in some there weren’t any of my compositions on the repertoire at all. However, it is always a great pleasure to represent my culture in such classical music temples that somehow give you inspiration to show the world how valuable our culture is. The composition, “Sve si premudro stvorio, Bože” is a piece I wrote at the age of 14, and is the first composition I wrote for the choir. The lyrics were taken from the first collection of poems “Košulja od snova” by my mother, Hadži Marina Milutinović. What is interesting is that, that poem “Sve si premudro stvorio, Bože”, is in a way my peer, because it was written by my mother in 2001, the year when I was born. Many wonderful people participated in the creation and performance of this composition. Thanks to them, this work has travelled through many countries. What is the most precious to me is, when performers enjoy playing my music, I think that is crucial for a composition.
THE BEGINNING – CHILDHOOD
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a city that, at the time, had a really wide range of cultural events as well as people involved in culture. Zaječar, despite being a small town during the beginning of the 2000s, had a really large number of enthusiasts who lived for the arts. Certainly, one of them was Mrs. Nada Malenović who was a famous conductor and professor of solfeggio at our music school. In addition to conducting the female choir “Felix Romuliana’’, with whom she achieved great success across Europe, at the beginning of the year 2000, she came up with the idea of founding a children’s choir, that children’s choir was called “Pikoli”, and I had the opportunity to listen to it. I always like to tell the anecdote of how I expressed my desire to be a member of the choir. When I first heard this choir at one of their concerts, I was with my mom and I asked her why I am here, why I am not up there with them.
That is how my great love for music was born. I’ve been singing in that choir for almost ten years and it’s one of my most beautiful musical experiences. That start was quite influential, actually crucial to my journey. Later, when I moved to the city on the Nišava river, two more institutions appeared, which are just as important, the Niš Music School, which I graduated from last year. I attended the piano and theoretical classes in the class of Professor Spomenka Špirić, who always recognized my desire to do music. Another institution, certainly not less important, is the Niš church-singing group “Branko”, which has existed for 133 years, which is one of the oldest musical institutions in Serbia. While I was there, in the children’s and then in the mixed choir I met wonderful people, the first being conductors Sara Cincarević and Jovana Mikić, and then all the other singers as well. This is where I had the opportunity to stand in front of the ensemble for the first time, and to experience my compositions being performed by such ensembles, for the first time. Even now, when I talk about it, I realize how much love these people have given me and how crucial that love has been.
COLLEGE ENTRANCE EXAM…
The entrance exam is certainly one of the most important days in the life of all students, because it is a day that simply changes your life. The entrance exam at our department lasts for four days and consists of four subjects, the first day was that main part of the exam where conducting was taken, the next day we took solfeggio, musical forms, harmony and finally the piano. As for the preparation itself, all of us who are preparing for the entrance exam of the Faculty of Music Arts have actually been preparing for this entrance exam for ten years. Six years of junior high, four years of high school are behind us, so this is not so new compared to what we have already gone through, but of course it takes a lot of effort to put in shortly before the entrance exam. The exam consists of you bringing your own choir, I brought in an ensemble composed of singers from the choir “Branko” and the choir of the Music School in Niš, and we performed “XII Garland’’ – that is one of the most important parts of the exam. Also, you need to prepare for piano accompaniment, reading from a sheet, knowledge of music literature. Our department has wonderful professors who came to recognize future conductors in the candidates that day, and indeed, both the examiner and the other members of the committee, were as always, kind to the candidates. It’s a great atmosphere so to anyone who wants to try enrolling in the Faculty of Music in Belgrade, I can really say that the entrance exam for me, as strange as it may sound, is a beautiful memory.
What I am really happy about is that at the end of February this year, I had the opportunity to collaborate with the RTS Symphony Orchestra and conduct a concert called “The Wondrous World of Music” thanks to maestro Bojan Suđić. It is a concert that has been organized by the Music production for its youngest audience for the second or third year, so I conducted two concerts together with several of my classmates at Kolarac. This is certainly my most valuable experience, for now. It was a very valuable experience for me both the performance and the rehearsal itself, the teaching of conducting is a little different from other instruments, unfortunately we do not have the opportunity to study on the ensemble but conduct the piano accompanist so this was the first meeting with the big orchestra and this was the first time that everything we did in class really came to life through that music. Of course, it was a great responsibility, first and foremost, not to embarrass the professor, the faculty, the department, and myself, but, on the other hand, I must say that the members of the RTS orchestra were in a great mood for all of us young conductors and they accepted us very nicely. I’m sure that there must have been some, should I say, rookie mistakes that they did not react to, on which I am very grateful; it meant a lot to all of us.
THE INFLUENCE OF SPIRITUAL MUSIC ON THE ARTIST
What we often forget when it comes to the impact of spiritual music on the artist, man and nation is that spiritual music, at least when it comes to Serbian music and all-round world classical music, is actually the root of everything. Based on my personal experience, spiritual music is really something that seems to affect me and the works I create that come out of that space of spiritual music. I cannot describe my creative process, because I forget it very quickly and often when looking at some of my compositions I wonder how did this end up here and how did I come up with that idea at all. This is why I am an advocate of this maybe medieval, but in my opinion, always vital theory that the composer is indeed someone who has the gift of hearing something God has sent him and is tasked to record. My way of creating a piece I simply can’t tell, there are a lot of theoretical things that just have to be applied in order for it to fit it all together and so on, but the essence itself is simply beyond any theory. My greatest composer role model is actually Johan Sebastian Bach, a composer who, in my opinion, has reached such high spiritual heights in his works, that I do not know if there was an artist so far, who has been able to express himself and show us all his depth. So when I listen to Bach’s music I always get the inspiration to look for depth in myself, and in some way express it through music, be it through conducting or composing; and I believe that this is the case with all of my colleagues, as well. In fact, when we hear such music as the music of Johan Sebastian Bach, we always wish to contribute to it.
THE COMPOSITION “SVETOSIMEONOVSKI DIPTIH”
The composition “Svetosimeonovski diptih” is a kind of a commission from the people of the “Branko’’ Niš church choir and was written on the occasion of 850 years since the first Nemanjić endowments were erected – St. Nicholas Monastery and the Church of the Holy Mother of God in Kuršumlija. I got the assignment sometime in late June last year to deal with the writing of one such composition during the summer, and I thought a lot about what would be the best and most appropriate for such an anniversary. I stayed in Studenica for about a week and that is, where I believe with the blessing of St. Simeon the composition “Svetosimeonovski diptih”, was created. It is a vocal-instrumental diptych for string orchestra, mixed choir, vocal soloists, piano and percussion, and, modeled on our composer Rajko Maksimović I dared to include, in one such composition, an actor who speaks excerpts from the Service to Saint Simeon, by the medieval writer Teodosije.
That composition contains two parts, as the name itself implies; The first part is based on an old Byzantine melody, an old Byzantine tune that was processed for a string orchestra, while the second part is based on the familiar song “Rasti, rasti, moj zeleni bore” with the modified “Nemanjić” lyrics later sung by a group of vocal soloists, and then later on by the whole mixed choir… With this composition, I wanted to musically illustrate why the lineage of Nemanjić is important, both for our state and statehood, for our Church and for our culture, so that encounter of what is Byzantine and what is our national, Serbian is what characterizes that composition. The piece has been performed twice so far. For the first time, at the solemn Academy on the occasion of the jubilee at the port of the Monastery of St. Nicholas in Kuršumlija, in front of a large number of people and church dignitaries who came to Kuršumlija. At that time, this piece was performed by the Niš church singing group “Branko”, as well as their string chamber ensemble which gathered for that occasion. The second performance was at the Army House in Niš on January 27 at the Svetosavska Academy, but this time we were joined by the Niš orchestra “Impresija”, in addition to the people from the “Branko’’ singing group from Niš and the chamber orchestra, they have helped us widen this sound even more. .It was a great honor for me to conduct both performances. That is a great joy for any composer.
CYCLE “ZVUCI NESTALIH GRADOVA”
The Cycle “Zvuci nestalih gradova” is a cycle I started writing in 2018, unfortunately for some of my negligence or just lack of time in the past, I have neglected writing these piano miniatures a bit, but I sincerely hope that I will return to writing compositions that would fit into that cycle. Because that’s what I liked the most about this idea of telling the story through music, and that’s the backbone of the whole cycle. And as for the silence that surrounds us all during these days of the epidemic, it is actually very beneficial for all artists, and I think we are all now working hard in our homes, some on compositions, some on interpretations. To me, this silence is inspiring for the writing of spiritual music, so currently the cycle of songs that are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, is in the process of making. Also, this silence inspires me to study spiritual music, so now I am writing a piece that I would like to tell you more about when it is finished. I’m trying to make the most out of this time, and I believe that all my fellow artists, even while the world is in a major crisis, are trying to do as much as possible in the field of art, to somehow replace it with the beauty that art gives us.
WORKING WITH THE CHILDREN’S CHOIR IN THE CHURCH OF ST. BASIL OF OSTROG
With the blessing of Father Predrag Timotijević, who is the head of the Church of St. Basil Ostroški on Bežanijska kosa, I have been in the position of conductor of the children’s choir, since October last year. There are a total of three choirs working at this Church, one is a mixed choir led by my colleague Katarina Božić, then we have the Middle Youth Choir led by my colleague Jelena Timotijević and I have the great joy of working with the youngest choir. Indeed, it is a great joy for me, but also an even greater responsibility…The age of the children is from the age of four to ten and I am aware that their experience in singing in the church choir will actually have a great impact on their attitude towards religion, Christianity, spiritual music, and what their relationship with God will be like, so I try to make this time that we spend together primarily a kind of religious teaching that we do through music. I strive to talk about the wonderful topics that are an integral part of our religion that, in the beauty of music as art, we are actually praying to God through that music. And really, I like to say it – it’s my one-week dose of the wonderful energy these kids send, they’re really so honest about everything they do, their questions are so charming, yet, on the other hand so deep, that put me in a position where I need to reconsider some things in myself as well…so it’s a great joy. I hereby invite all who wish to join. Everybody asks me if their child has the musical ability to sing in the choir … When it comes to the choir I lead, it’s important that the child loves it, and, the musical ability, we’ll see, there is time. The invitation is open and we really welcome all members primarily to hang out, to have a great time together after Sunday liturgy, and of course to sing and to celebrate God through art. We have rehearsals once a week, so every Sunday from 11am in the Parish Home, unfortunately because of this state of emergency, rehearsals are suspended, but, we believe, that when all this is over we will hopefully, reunite.
LOVE TOWARDS BYZANTIAN MUSIC
My love for Byzantine music began very early in my childhood, with a truly impressive record collection that my parents own. In addition to some releases by Nina Simon, Ray Charles, Zdravko Čolić, “Bijelo Dugme”, and many popular music artists, there have also been releases by Divna Ljubojević and Pavle Aksentijević. These two performers have certainly awakened in me such a love for Byzantine music that, to me, seems grow over time…First of all, they have managed to bring me and of course many other people closer to something that is truly so far from us, in the most natural and traditional way. Later, as my path towards becoming a professional musician someday, I began to explore that music, I have read wonderful works by many great musicologists like Egon Veles, and even our musicologists such as Dimitrije Stefanović who is an Oxford PhD student and Danica Petrović, all of their works were truly an inspiration for me to embark upon, very boldly, into a vast space of information that is Byzantine music. The work that I held a public lecture about is called ”Plavo i zlatno”, I wrote it last year under the mentorship of musicologist Milena Branković who was also my homeroom teacher at the Niš Music School. It is a kind of overview of the development of Serbian music from the 9th to the 18th century, with reference to the most important stages of development, to the most important composers, authors of spiritual music and all events related to our music. I concluded that work by stating that I think that all of us involved in church music should really learn from our predecessors because they had a proper approach to spiritual music. That work has certainly showed me in which way I should approach spiritual music, which is truly special. This is about applied music with very clear use. We must make sure that our personal artistic impression does not impair the use of what is spiritual music.
TIME IN ISOLATION
I like to joke with my friends who are supposed to enroll in the Faculties that I am very jealous of them because I did not have this much time to prepare for the entrance exam. Of course, I’m kidding, thank God there were no pandemics last year and I hope they won’t be any more, but basically I spend my free time, unfortunately, in front of my computer, but that’s kind of the only way we can get in touch with our professors. Across different platforms teaching is taking place at our faculty, so aside from attending classes, I write a bit, I do some research, but now I also have a lot of time to read, so I’ve recently encountered some wonderful pages of literature. So I suggest this to everyone, I think this is the right time to devote ourselves to those things, that unfortunately in today’s busy world, that usually do not have a spot in our daily schedules. I am also overjoyed that the Berlin Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and many truly great music institutions, theaters and museums have all opened their doors to all of us who are far away from both the Metropolitan Opera and Berlin Philharmonic. I listen to their concerts online, watch theater plays and I think that this is the most beautiful way to go about this kind of situation, which unfortunately is not pleasant at all. But this is some of my advice and a recipe for how to actually separate yourself with art and make a kind of self-isolation not only from this but from other negative things that are thrown at us daily.
Translation: Jelena Čolović