Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Art Caffe - Croatia's World of Arts Brought to Life Through Interviews

June the 21st, 2022 - Art Caffe, an initiative of Unimedia owner Nikola Mihaljevic and former Dubrovnik Summer Festival director and war veteran Miso Mihocevic, aims to shine the spotlight on those involved in the Croatian arts scene through a series of interviews.

Anyone who has spent any time whatsoever in Croatia can see that this country is awash with culture and arts. From theatre to painting, and from painting to sculpting, and then again from sculpting to acting, singing and the world of performance - this small country packs a punch. 

What better way to get to know the names and faces behind some of Croatia's arts scene than through a series of personal and light interviews held in the perfect surroundings and ambiance of the Croatian National Theatre (HNK) in the heart of Zagreb?

The initial idea for the Art Caffe concept came from Nikola Mihaljevic and his Unimedia Studio, who was inspired by the permanent need to talk about arts and culture, to point out just what this country has to offer in that regard - which is abundant. While the galleries and the performances themselves are well known, much less is known about those who stand behind them, the artists, singers, actors, their assistants, their education and professions. Their lives.

Art Caffe's overall concept is to present those individuals and their work, their slot in the rich world of art, their inspirations, artistic and life philosophies, struggles and achievements. The idea was enhanced and its materialisation accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, when artists, especially those who freelance, had their entire existence seriously called into question in a manner that could never have been predicted.

ArtCaffe was offered as a chance to give them opportunity, a voice, for better visibility in the country's collective consciousness. 45 minutes offers time enough for one person to say a lot, indeed - the opportunity very few people are lucky enough to have, but one each person involved in Croatian arts deserves.

''The title is descriptive in its own merit - sitting in a cafe and talking about arts. It's as simple as that,'' explained Art Caffe's anchor, Miso Mihocevic, who has spent all his life in both arts, and in cafes.

''I'm a big fan of talk shows (if done well and without pretensions), I've watched thousands over the years. By watching them, I was involuntarily learning and preparing for something I never thought I'd do. When I was offered to anchor Art Caffe, I was slightly anxious and had lots of questions roaming in my mind, however, I knew I was ready. To try, I mean. It turned out pretty well from the start, which encouraged me and made me want to talk more and more with those lurking behind the scenes.

Art Caffe is simple as a format, and so am I as its anchor - there are no pre-prepared questions. Questions must arise from the conversation, in order to get something logical, smooth and easy going. My preparation is simple as well - God bless Google for some general (or even detailed) information, and a chat before the shooting.

The rest, as said, comes out of the conversation, the questions I ask are inspired by the interlocutor and nothing else. There are no agendas. I therefore see Art Caffe as a conversation, not as an interview. With that warm feeling of giving a chance to people to introduce themselves by saying precisely what they, and not what you, want.

In this world obsessed with the pandemic, the war, the economy and oil prices, an artist can hardly make the news through any contact with the public, and to an audience without whom the arts make no sense whatsoever.

If you understand Croatian, you can follow Art Caffe on YouTube by clicking here.

Friday, 11 June 2021

Silvio Bilić: Croatia's Classical Guitar State Competition Winner and 4-time Oscar of Knowledge Recipient

June 12, 2021 - Europe is a dream destination for artists and musicians and Croatia is certainly keeping up with the excellent European art scene. Although best known for being a holiday destination, Croatia also boasts world-class academia, professors, artists, and performers, too! TCN meets Silvio Bilić.

Silvio Bilić and the town of Omiš

At the young age of 23, Silvio has already won 34 first prizes for national and international competitions, is a four-time recipient of the Oscar of Knowledge from the Croatian Ministry of Science, Education, and Sports, and a 4-time state champion of Croatia's Classical Guitar State Competition. Currently a student at the Academy of Arts in Split, under Prof. Maroje Brčić, his path to music excellence all began at the age of 8 in a small town of Omiš in the region of Dalmatia. 

What inspired you to be a guitarist? 

I started playing the guitar at the age of 8 - which was quite late for someone who wishes to pursue classical music - but fortunately, I exhibited good potential even as a beginner. I spent the first four months of my early education competing and I ended up in the top 3 young artists of my generation. I chose the guitar as my instrument because it is one of the most celebrated and known instruments in the region of Dalmatia where it is a common sight to see people sing and play guitar. One day, I saw my cousin playing and handling the guitar so eloquently and after that, I had a strong desire to try so that I could feel the elegance of playing the instrument myself. The first time I played the guitar, I felt an immediate connection to it and that was when I discovered my life goal - to be a professional guitarist and performer. 

What was it like to be a young musician in a small town?

Growing up in a small community actually helped me a lot because since the town is small, the engagement and the involvement of the people in our town towards classical music (arts scene, in general) and the local artists are very focused. Because of this, the talents of their youth are recognized early and are highly encouraged by the community. 

How do the people in Omis perceive arts and support you as a budding artist from their hometown?

The people of Omiš are very supportive especially towards my goal which is to present to the younger and older generation that there is a career and profound satisfaction in pursuing the arts, especially music, and to remove the stigma that arts are just a hobby. Omiš Centre for Culture (Centar za Kulturu Omiš) helps me realize this goal by organizing my honorary concerts in Omiš and helps in promoting it as well. They make posters and also arrange collaborations with local drama artists, painters, and photographers. In Omiš,  there are two stunning performance venues which are my favourites (although we have a lot in Omiš) - The Church of Holy Spirit and The Church of St. Peter.

What were your early years of music studies in Omiš like? 

After enrolling at Osnovna Glazbena Škola Lovro pl. Matačić Omiš when I was 8 years old, I discovered that with the guidance of great mentors, I could pursue music professionally and make a great career out of it. My first-ever professor was Neno Munitić who introduced me to guitar and the endless opportunities in the world of art. The first piece I learned and performed was from an etude from a classical composer Fernando Sor. For my first competition, I played this same piece with an addition of an original piece by Prof. Neno which was called December Morning, and coincidentally enough (I took it as a sign that I was on the right path) - I was born in December! Throughout my early music education, I did a lot of chamber music to understand music from a deeper and wider perspective. As years go by, with solo and chamber music training, I've grown as a more defined musician and by the age of 10, I travelled to Italy for my very first competition and won first prize. From then on, I have performed and competed all over Croatia and Europe but I've never forgotten my hometown. At least once every summer, I make sure to organise a concert in Omiš. In 2017, I passed the entrance exam and audition for the Academy of Music in Split, Croatia, and I have been studying under the tutelage of Prof. Maroje Brčic since then.

Series of National and International Competitions

Since my first international competition at the age of 11 in Italy, I have been given the opportunity to travel to Italy, Germany, Bulgaria, and North Macedonia. The most memorable one I have ever done was the International Competition for Young Guitarists "Andres Segovia" in 2014 in Germany with 50 competitors under my category who were all working with outstanding and well-known guitar professors and world-renowned music schools such as The Julliard Music School, USA and The Royal Academy of Music, UK. After the performance, I was standing on the stage with 49 other competitors as the jury announces the winners starting from the last place to first place. After what seemed to be an eternity, my name has not been called and my heart began to pound tremendously because I did not expect that I would qualify for the top prizes since I came from a small country, school, and community. Surprisingly, I ended up winning 4th prize! My career in music competition started to take off after this. 

Ever since 2008 to the present date, I have consistently been winning the first prize every year! So far I have won 22 first places in the solo performance category and 12 first places in the chamber music category. In 2017, I won 1st place in the National Guitar Competition (HDGPP) followed by 2019, after defending the title of national champion once more. In 2021, I again won the title of state guitar champion competition (HDGPP), 1st prize, in the senior category. In 2014, 2017, 2019, and 2021, I was awarded the "Oscar of Knowledge" by the Ministry of Science, Education, and Sports for excellent results in the national competition as a soloist and as a member of the chamber ensembles. 

Since I began learning the guitar, I have been competing a lot (which I love), but by the beginning of 2016, I had to take a different approach in music after I collapsed in Prague and was diagnosed with arrhythmia which I was completely oblivious to. The doctor reckoned that it worsened due to extreme stress and I have had to live with a pacemaker since this incident. From then on, I shifted my "competition approach" to music towards a more relaxed and enjoyable "concert approach". I began attending various masterclasses with world-famous pedagogues and guitarists and performed as a guitar accompanist in many book promotions and recitations. I also have had opportunities to collaborate with famous drama artists Robert Kurbaš, Ksenija Prohaska, and Otokar Levaj.

Winning Eurostrings competition in Montenegro and 2020 Europe tour

In 2020, I was selected among the top 17 young guitarists in Europe in the Eurostrings program under the auspices of the EU creative program, and was awarded a concert tour in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom and a personal web domain. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tour was postponed. I instead provided concerts to London Guitar Festival and Mottola Guitar Festival in Italy, masterclasses for Twents Guitar Festival in the Netherlands and a concert, TV promotion, and masterclass in Nikšić Guitar Festival in Montenegro. I had my biggest concert in Uppsala, Sweden, where the tickets sold out! I remember being thrilled to see a large projection of my upcoming concert outside a building and to give press conferences about my performances in Europe - I even had a personal guard to accompany me throughout my concert for the national television in Sweden! I also collaborated with maestro/conductor Christian Karlsen and Grammy-nominated Royal Academy of Stockholm professor, Mats Bergstrom. Together with students from the University of Malmö, I had the honor to premiere a piece by composer Sergio Assad entitled The Walls. It is a 5-movement piece for solo guitar and guitar orchestra which depicts historical barriers to migration and cultural assimilation in the world in each of its movement: from 1st to 5th movement - The Great Wall of China, Hadrian's Wall, The Berlin Wall, Middle Eastern Wall and finally, No More Walls. 

Arts in Omiš

In Omiš, we have one of the most famous and traditional festivals in Croatia. It is called "Festival Dalmatinskih Klapa" or Festival of Dalmatian A'ccapella Music. Since its founding in 1966 by a group of enthusiasts from the city who aim to preserve this Croatian traditional singing-style "klapa", over 200 groups, famous musicologists, and composers from across Croatia have performed and attended the festival. The festival was even added to UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. in 2013.

There is also an abundance of excellent musicians, artists, and mentors in my hometown. For example, we have Lovre Marusić who was born in Omiš and began his music career here before continuing his further studies in prestigious schools such as the PI Tchaikovsky State Conservatory in Moscow, Russia, Academy of Music in Zagreb, Croatia, and currently at the Hochschule für Musik “Franz Liszt” in Weimar, Germany for postgraduate studies. He has also won several first prizes from international competitions such as the reputable IMF Internationa Piano Competition in Paris (2018) and International Piano Competition "New Stars" in Manchester (2016), to name a few. Lovre Marušić is also very connected to the young artists of Omiš with a lot of them viewing him as an inspiration in their pursuit of the arts. 

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Photo credit: Zvonimir Kujundžić

Arts in Croatia

Croatia has a very natural affinity in art because the country itself is beautiful - starting from the glorious southern city of Dubrovnik towards the capital city of Zagreb, the country boasts raw culture and beauty everywhere and that is why it is one of the most popular destinations in Europe. In Croatia, any contribution to arts is highly celebrated, and even in small towns like Omiš where arts and its promotion to the community have substantially grown and the support to the local young artists is significant. Since Croatia is small, its artists and musicians are rarely seen in international competitions but once they do, they deliver outstanding performances and consistent excellence in their craft. A lot of Croatian musicians and artists easily qualify to bigger conservatories, schools, and academies all over the world. Croatia is also popular not just to Erasmus exchange students but also to students from all over Europe who come to Croatia to seek established professor that is now teaching and living here.

For more about made in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

For more about Croatia, CLICK HERE.

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