No Borders Orchestra


Balkan Season Tour 2021

No Borders Orchestra in Lauba – Goodbye to Normality 

Author: Zoran Stajčić  

During this year Balkan tour – ‘No Return to Normality’ – the No Borders Orchestra performed at Zagreb’s Lauba Gallery last night and brought a breath of classisistic avant-garde. 

The No Borders Orchestra is a symphony orchestra consisting of prominent professional musicians from all countries and most of the ethnic and religious groups of former Yugoslavia. It was founded by artistic director and conductor Premil Petrovic. NBO was created out of a desire to make a symphony orchestra of the former Yugoslavia that transcends regional borders, and sets the highest artistic criteria of quality, while seeking a new form of communication.

At its core, NBO is not only a fusion of the region’s best musicians, but also an NGO that supports the strengthening of civil rights through politically and socially engaged artistic and cultural projects. It serves as a platform for change and overcome of nationalism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia and bloody legacy of the Western Balkans.

This year tour called “No Return to Normality”, started on August 23 in Rijeka, and two days later came to Zagreb. Premil Petrović explained a few days ago with the words: “With the title “No Return to Normality” we would like to send a message that the normality that we were living before the pandemic was actually not normal, and that we should not strive to return to such a world. We live in a time of ecological catastrophy, great social disparities, hyperproduction and hyperconsumerism and we need a change for the better. Therefore, all the compositions from our repertoire on this tour thematise the transformation of society and we send an invitation to everyone that we need to change“, at a press conference ahead of the performance in Export on the Delta in Rijeka. This is where the orchestra was to perform last year as part of Rijeka – European capital of culture, but the concert was canceled due to a coronavirus pandemic.

The author of these lines rarely writes about classical music, not because he doesn’t like classical music, but because he doesn’t like where classical music has gone thanks to commercialisation. In particular, large revue concerts and various tenors with a pop mindset inherit popular melodies and arias in a context of modern grandiose productions, which the musical experience mostly leads to a kitschy presentation of times long past. What is sorely lacking could be reduced to a slogan: old instruments and settings – new ideas. We should have more of such avant-garde transformations of ‘classics’ that artistically ‘deeply plow’ at present, because in the classics there is this kind of underground which is in the shadow of revue, easy-listening-music classical performances for the masses. In that sense, the No Borders Orchestra is a truly superb story – a story that is able to eclectically provoke the present, including this pandemic.

The selection of the work “Shaker Loops” by the American composer John Adams testified that the No Borders Orchestra hit where it should at the very beginning of last night’s concert. “Shaker Loops” is a minimalist work in which Adams ‘captured a couple of tones in the loop’ and where the main focus is on the dynamic game of quiet and loud. The orchestra led by maestro Premil Petrović ‘cooked up’ that gloomy atmosphere for the audience in which, as a listener, you constantly expect the work to open and the orchestra to ‘play’, but this does not happen, because after every indication that it could have happened, again things are annulled and the ‘infinite’ loop brings victory. Could the lockdown and Godo-like waiting of the civilization for the shout “back to normal” be stronger musically evoked? Hardly. “Shaker Loops” is exactly a work that seemed to be waiting in a time capsule for time and ambience to adapt to its understanding.

After Adams, hitting the mark again. Petrovic, with half of the orchestra, withdrew from the podium and left the leadership to Vladimir Kostov, violin virtuoso from Skopje, who then brought, for the audience of today – expected, show moment through the most famous work of its kind – Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. But of course, there was also a catch. Kostov performed with the orchestra “Vivaldi recomposed” by Max Richter, who decided to reshape and merge Vivaldi’s work nonlinearly, like a musical Burroughs. Kostov and the orchestra performed the mixed parts of “Spring” and “Winter” masterfully and musically gave a perfect commentary on today’s life in the conditions of disturbed seasons.

After the musical trailer “Rethink!” by Ivan Božičević, in the second part the main position went to Strauss’s “Metamorphosen”, a work that was created in the final period of the Second World War, from August 1944 to March 1945. Premil Petrovic was again in the position of conductor, and the novelty is that the entire orchestra performed this, on average half-hour work, standing up (of course, except for the cellists, which is understandable). And once again fantastic pointing out. The No Borders Orchestra performed “Metamorphoses” magically metamorphically. It was as if a multitude of waltzes spilled over each other. It was as if some had begun before the previous ones had ended. The perfection of harmony that is constant in an echo and that creates a feeling of dizziness and at times you think that everything is in a whirling cacophony because you constantly miss the sense of rhythm and you constantly ask yourself: “where is the first beat?”. As you are watching the waves bounce off the rock and create counter waves.

It’s like the Orchestra has tried to conjure up (and succeed, of course) the harmony of discord that is all around us – this search for meaning in nonsense and the attempt to derive the formula of incomprehensibility. And in fact, the whole of humanity is overturning as was overturning in the first part of 1940’s, musically portrayed by a great German composer, one of the last representatives of the Romantic era and one of the first modernists – a composer of a turning point between two ages, as we all are as well, like it or not, the audience of our historical turning point.

All we need to do is realize that our past ‘romanticism’ can only be seen in movies and series, because the ‘new modern’ is already there, as it was without a single spoken word during the evening, but only musically evoked by an orchestra who realized that putting borders of whichever kind is not good, especially when it comes to the mental sphere, and especially from us people from the Balkans. At least we should not be alien to the notion that there is no return to normality. We absolve it from generation to generation.

Balkan Season Tour 2018

No Borders Orchestra in Sarajevo – TV N1

No Borders Orchestra in Belgrade – TV PRVA


Opera “Macbeth” Tour


The excellent trans-Balkan No Borders Orchestra



Never again can opera be referred to as a European phenomenon…see this production if it´s the only theatre outing you have this year. It´s un unforgettable musical and dramatic experience.”



…visually and musically breathtaking



This is not just another night at the opera, it´s seance – where high Western art meets a pan-African ethos, tongue firmly in post-colonial cheek.



The Belgian composer Fabrizio Cassol certainly created a useful version with a lot of percussion for the No Borders Orchestra under Premil Petrovic. The chamber ensemble shifted acoustically from harsh exclamation to discrete detail with profound effect. Instrumentally, this production was graced with great urgency.



The excellent small ensemble of the No Borders Orchestra under the direction of Premil Petrovic really rocked Verdi. The audience showed everyone involved its thanks with standing ovations.



With a small orchestra and only ten singers, this interpretation excited the audience – and was celebrated with thundering applause and a standing ovation, as no other festival production this year.



Fabrizio Cassol boiled down the score to twelve instruments, yet managed to create a rich colourful effects, which the No Borders Orchestra under the direction of Premil Petrovic savoured to the full. The opera ended with demonstrative applause.



Musically, the evening lay in the hands of the Serbian conductor Premil Petrovic, who enchanted with his No Borders Orchestra, the twelve musicians creating astonishingly intense moments in the open Odeon Hall.



The audience was impressed with the achievements of the singing ensemble, as well with the version of the opera with strong musical accents played by the committed musicians of the No Borders Orchestra under its deserving conductor, and was generous with the richly deserved applause.



The chorus with a few of the protagonists who tell the story, come from Kapstadt, the twelve excellent instrumentalists from Premil Petrovic’s No Borders Orchestra from different countries of the former Yugoslavia. The adaptation by Fabrizio Cassol, known among other things for his Monteverdi and Bach adaptations for Alain Platel, made the opera sadder, more personal, more plaintive. It takes the euphorically activity, the masterfulness out of the musical expression without straying from Verdi; sometimes Africa breaks in with other rhythms and tone sequences, temporarily overlaying the European sound.
It might be a coincidence that children of a European civil war are re-intoning an opera adaptation that tells the story of the Congolese civil war. The dedication and interaction between musicians can be heard and felt. No one on the stage is just there. In a manifesto, the musicians maintained that with their orchestra, they seek to overcome nationalism and racism. Similarly, on International World Theatre Day, Brett Bailey and his company Third World Bunfight called on all artists to “use the power we have” to “create tolerance in society’s heart and mind”.
The singers from Cape Town, impressive in the earnestness and devotion of expression and voice, and the East European musicians through their music and energy provoke the audience to deep thought.
From the take-over of the colonial cathedral, Brett Bailey, Fabrizio Cassol, the singers, Premil Petrovic and the No Borders Orchestra have made a very moving analysis of a devastated country, a sarcastic, polemic and deeply sad lament and accusation. A new culture of representation emerges from the collage of different theatrical, aesthetic and musical styles that will leave audiences shaken.”



The No Borders Orchestra under Premil Petrovic played with the tonal sophistication the score demands. From classical accompaniment to expressive solos. It is a joy to see how much the young musicians from different states of the former Yugoslavia that still look upon each other with hatred and suspicion create such musical harmony, and clearly have incredible fun doing it. The No Borders Orchestra takes its cue from Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and seeks to bring people together who would not have done so otherwise were it not for the music. The struggle against nationalism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia, as well as challenging a glorified national past is the engine of the ensemble.