The annual Paul Cross Memorial Concert, promoted by the Norfolk & Norwich Novi Sad Association, is coming our way Norwich–based music writer, Tony Cooper, reports
The next recital – entitled Music of Love – takes place on Saturday 14th January (7.30pm) in the Georgian splendour of the Music Room of the Assembly House, Theatre Street, Norwich, by Serbian soprano Radoslava Vorgić and Serbian pianist Julija Bal.
(On a historical note, the great Hungarian pianist, Franz Liszt, played in the same room while on a Grand Tour of the British Isles in September 1840. He covered 3389 miles travelling by a coach and four at an average speed of nine miles per hour visiting 65 towns and cities.)
The Paul Cross Memorial Concert, however, is held annually in memory of Paul Cross, the much-loved former chairman of the Norfolk & Norwich Novi Sad Association and celebrates the long-standing friendship and twinning partnership that exists between the historic cities of Norwich and Novi Sad.
The emphasis of Ms Vorgić and Ms Bal’s programme ranges from Baroque to Britten focusing on love with a distinctive Serbian flavour. Indeed, some of the works are inspired by Serbian folk traditions and Serbian love poetry.
The programme is filled with riches offering works by such well-known composers as Handel (Armida’s aria from Rinaldo), Tchaikovsky (The Nightingale), Brahms (Maiden’s Song), Villa-Lobos (Aria from Bachiana no 5 especially adapted by Ms Bal for the Norwich concert), Tavener (Epistle of Love) and Britten (On This Island).
Incidentally, the Tavener work was commissioned in 2000 with funds provided by the Lazar Kostić Fund. A Serbian poet, prose writer, lawyer, philosopher and politician, Kostić was considered to be one of the greatest (and brightest) minds of Serbian literature. He devoted himself to writing poetry and promoted the study of English to balance the German predominance in the Balkans. He was also prominent in translating Shakespeare into the Serbian language.
This enterprising programme also incorporates studies by the highly-rated Serbian composer, Vasilije Mokranjac, which, for all intents and purposes, are virtuosic pieces. There’ll also be works by the Italian-British composer, conductor and music publisher, Muzio Clementi, who was encouraged to study music by his father and was sponsored as a young composer by Sir Peter Beckford who brought him to England to advance his studies. Later, he toured Europe numerous times from his long-standing base in London and it was on one of these occasions (in 1781) that he engaged in a piano competition with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and, therefore, it seems most appropriate that a work by the Boy Wunder from Salzburg is included in the programme.
Interestingly, Mr Mokranjac – who lived from 1923 to 1984 and was professor of composition at the Faculty of Music in Belgrade and a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts – was one of the most prominent Serbian composers in the second half of the 20th century. He was born into one of the most prominent Serbian musical dynasties, too. His father, the cellist Jovan Mokranjac, was a nephew of the composer, Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac, while his mother, Jelena, of Czech origin, was also an accomplished cellist.
However, following Ms Vorgić completing her studies in Serbia she immediately undertook her master’s degree and postgraduate studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. Here she also made her operatic début with the Junges Ensemble of the Staatstheater, Mainz, as Lucia in Britten’s opera, The Rape of Lucretia. She followed this up by singing the roles of Armida in Handel’s Rinaldo, Abel in Scarlatti’s Il primo omicidio overo Cain, Susanna in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Flaminia in Haydn’s Il mondo della luna and the title-role in Offenbach’s Coscoletto.
Last year, Ms Vorgić won the Kammeroper Schloss Rheinsberg competition in Germany which led to a host of concerts as well as a masterclass with Stephan Rügamer, a leading tenor at the State Opera, Berlin. Recently, she undertook a masterclass with Dame Emma Kirkby at Dartington International Summer School. Future engagements include Giuditta in Scarlatti’s opera La Giuditta and Musica in Monteverdi’s Orfeo.
While performing her transcriptions for the piano at the IBLA Grand Prize 2008 competition in Italy, Ms Bal’s originality as a composer and pianist caught the attention of the public and critics alike. As the laureate of the competition and the winner of the Villa-Lobos special prize, Ms Bal performed on the IBLA winners’ concert tour appearing at Carnegie Hall to great critical acclaim. The tour also took in Virginia, North Dakota and Arkansas.
Ms Bal – who’ll play solo pieces by Signor Clementi as well as czardas by V Monti-S Kursanov – has won numerous awards at important and prestigious international competitions such as Bradsaw and Buono (New York), Victoria Caffa Righetti (Italy) and Petar Konjović (Serbia).
Three years ago the Association of Guitarists of Vojvodina – under the patronage of the Brazilian Embassy of Serbia and the Museu Villa-Lobos in Rio de Janeiro – released a CD and the score of 12 Etudes (originally written for guitar) by Heitor Villa-Lobos but transcribed for piano by Ms Bal who, incidentally, studied at the Academy of Arts in Novi Sad where she now teaches comparative piano. Currently, she’s attending her third year of doctoral studies for piano at the Faculty of Musical Art, Belgrade.
As in past years, all proceeds from the concert will be donated to the educational charity supporting the Milan Petrović School for children and young adults with special needs. A party of members from the Norfolk & Norwich Novi Sad Association paid a visit to the school in September and witnessed the excellent work that’s being done there.
Tickets £17 (students £6) available from Norwich Theatre Royal (01603) 598688