No Borders Orchestra

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The No Borders Orchestra (NBO) is an ensemble of classical musicians from former Yugoslavia, founded in 2012 and directed by Premil Petrović. The NBO wants to contribute in overcoming the stereotypes of nationalism, racism, xenophobia and homophobia by artistic excellence in classical music.


Former Yugoslavia consisted of six republics and two autonomous regions. Within a decade after the death of long time president Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980) nationalistic tensions inside this multi-ethnic and multi-cultural state grew enormously, and in the early 1990s Yugoslavia broke apart with an outburst of violence, a bitter war in Bosnia and ethnic cleansing. 2.2 million refugees had been displaced by the end of the Bosnian war. Seven new states were established, each with an own currency, with an own army and with border controls. Many families and friends were split up and large parts of the population deplored the development and the wars. Today Slovenia und Croatia belong to the European Union, thus creating a heavily fortified border within the former Yugoslavian nation. Although Slovenia, Montenegro and Kosovo now use the Euro as their currency and although most of the succession states are seeking membership in the European Union, most borders, currencies and restrictions are still in effect.


Prior to the formation of the orchestra, the musicians declared their intentions in a so-called Manifesto:

"NBO is founded on two basic premises. The social aspect of the project is achieved by the deconstruction of stereotypes, overcoming of nationalism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, the gory legacy of the past and through the affirmation of cultural values that are in a complete state of disarray in local transitional societies. Being fully aware of the past, NBO is not a project nostalgic about ex-Yugoslavia. On the contrary, it is completely committed to the future. Nostalgia abolishes criticism and critical engagement is at the basis of our idea. The right to the future requires the courage to face all traumatic facts from the past. An honest dialogue about difficult responsibility issues dispels demons from the past and opens doors for possibilities that are yet to come."
"From the artistic side, we wish to create a symphonic orchestra where all members will have the motivation, engagement and energy of a chamber orchestra and will breathe like a big chamber ensemble. NBO is an ensemble of soloists. We are asking questions and with our performances we offer some answers: Why a symphony orchestra in 21st century? Why classical music at all? How can music become relevant again? How can music become a way of life again? What can be done with the ritual of classical concert, which hasn’t changed since the 19th century? How can classical music stop being a museum exhibit? How can the relation between the audience and musicians be changed? Why does no alternative scene of classical music exist? What does it mean: to listen? What are our expectations and valuations based on while listening? How can we open up for something different? How can we play and listen freely?"[1]

The founders of NBO furthermore state that their ″main interest is the connection between music and life″, that they were influenced by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and their founder Daniel Barenboim and that they wish ″to avoid the trap of artistic excellence as an excuse for marginalized self-complacency, voluntary exclusion from society and time.″

Stunning start, international acclaim[edit]

Although the originally planned start of the orchestra in 2011 with Mahlers Resurrection Symphony could not be realized due to lack of appropriate fundings,[2] the project had a stunning start thereafter. The NBO unites around fifty excellent musicians from almost all music centers in the former Yugoslavia — from Belgrade, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Skopje, Priština and Novi Sad. They were especially trained by renowned musicians from several German orchestras such as Berlin Philharmonic or WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne.


The orchestra first performed on October 9, 2012 in the small town of Kanjiža (hungar. Magyarkanizsa) in the Banat. The Banat no longer exists as a political entity, but is currently divided between three countries — Romania, Serbia and Hungary. This region is noted for its diversity of population, languages and cultures. Also emblematic was the choice of the musical program — Prokofievs Classical Symphony, Ives' The Unanswered Question and Kodálys Dances of Galánta.

Two days later, the orchestra inaugurated the Belgrade Music Festival with the same program, just adding Beethovens Fifth Piano Concerto with Hinrich Alpers as soloist. Public and critics were stunned, the brand-new orchestra performed as if it had been in existence for decades: “On a specially arranged stage, in a whirlpool of electricity, in the audience vibrating with different generations and sensibilities, gathered for the event as if from an unknown planet and deeply immerged in expecting miracles of sounds, we finally met the No Borders Orchestra,” wrote Zorica Kojić of the daily newspaper, Danas.[3]


The orchestra's 2013 season started on March 16 at the Novi Sad Synagogue with Žebeljans The Horses of Saint Mark, followed by an orchestral version of Albéniz Iberia with soloist Edin Karamazov (guitar) and — again — Kodály. The next night the same program was repeated in Belgrade. In August, the orchestra toured several festivals in former Yugoslavia — Kotor and Herceg Novi, both in Montenegro, Trebinje in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in Ljubljana in Slovenia. Their soloist this time was renowned guitarist Miloš Karadaglić in Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. Stanko Madic, first violin player of the orchestra, noted on their performance in Trebinje:

"In an environment that is extremely nationalistic, we were greeted with significant distrust since we have several Albanian musicians from Kosovo. But at the end of the concert, the audience reacted with standing ovations. They did not only accept the Albanians who were playing in their city, but numerous people at the city square also listened very carefully to the demanding classical music programme in a city where no symphony orchestra has performed before."[4]

In October of the same year, the ensemble played Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, Wagner's Siegfried Idyll and again Kodály's Dances of Galánta at the Cathedral of Saint Mother Teresa in Pristina. Ten days later the orchestra first appeared on an international stage — at the Radialsystem V in Berlin, with Žebeljan, Wagner, Kodály and Auerbach's Sogno di Stabat Mater.

The First Opera[edit]

In 2014, Premil Petrović was invited to conduct Brett Baileys new production of Verdis Macbeth in Cape Town where he conducted a local orchestra. During the preparation of Macbeth, the conductor quoted Serbian performance artist, Marina Abramovic, to explain his frame of reference: ″She said, ‘It’s not important what you are doing, it’s important from which state of mind you are doing it.″ And he explained his uneasiness with Verdi's opera: ″This is very rare. I cannot remember any other opera without love. There is only power, greed, hatred, crime and revenge. […] Between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, there is no love at all. They support each other… strategically.″[5] Nevertheless, the premiere was very well received.

The NBO took over for the European tour of this production starting with festival performances in Brussels, Rotterdam and at the Vienna Festival. Together with the South African singers, conductor and orchestra received acclaim from critics and standing ovations from audiences during the run in Vienna.[6] The tour goes on to Montpellier, the German Festival Theaterformen in Braunschweig, to the Barbican Centre in London, thereafter to Lisbon, Catalan Gerona, as well as to the French cities, Tarbes, Toulouse and Strasbourg. It will be concluded in November at the Festival d’Automne in Paris.

The NBO is funded by the European Festivals Association.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Founding Manifesto, No Border Orechestra, retrieved May 25, 2014
  2. ^ No Borders Orchestra, project description, retrieved May 25, 2014
  3. ^ No Borders Orchestra ready for next steps after inauguration concert at BEMUS Festival, retrieved May 25, 2014
  4. ^ Balkan musicians promote interethnic co-operation, retrieved May 25, 2014
  5. ^ Theresa Smith: ‘Ugly’ drama made beautiful, ToNight, May 20, 2014
  6. ^ Sophia Felbermair: Macbeth als afrikanischer Warlord. ORF, May 25, 2014