Oasis of High Cultural Values
There is no audience crisis, they say at ”Kolarac”. Where once was the position of the state and the media, a horrifying emptiness is now felt. For this reason, the horror of kitch and poor taste has been spreading so fast, as a directed plague. At ”Kolarac”, they fight this with purity and enthusiasm, talent and creativity Almost 80 percent of the program is still free. Most visiting masters who perform classical music around the world are impressed by the fact that young people are dominant in Belgrade audience, which is not the case with other metropolises

By: Radmila Tamindžić
Photographs: ”Kolarac”

When one says Kolarac, the first association is a specialized auditorium for classical music in Belgrade, and only then one would think about the centre for foreign languages, lectures in the area of social and natural sciences, art gallery, bookshop. All this is more or less comfortably placed in Kolarac Foundation at Students’ Square, in a cultural zone of Belgrade, where the Ethnography Museum and National Museum are also located, National Theatre, Belgrade Philharmonic, Faculty of Philosophy and Faculty of Philology... This is surroundings in which small, but selected concert audience feels at home, protected from the horrors of baseness, turbo kitch and poor taste.
Employees of Kolarac Foundation and external associates know how much effort and enthusiasm they need to retain that feeling of loyal audience and to ensure survival of this oasis of cultural values. One should know that for 70 percent of musical events at Kolarac the entrance is free; if we add to this other activities, the number of programs free of charge reaches 80 percent. Great efforts and sacrifices are behind this. Sacrificing one’s fees, for example, or accepting insufficient technical conditions for holding concerts.
– In addition to organizing our own concerts, we also provide logistical support to our regular users, such as Belgrade Philharmonic, Music Production of the RTS, Ensemble ”Kolo”, Music Youth, ”Jugokoncert”... We produce about one hundred concerts a year, and they include ”Promenade Concerts” on Sundays (for more than three decades), concerts ”Wednesday at Six” in our Music Gallery, prestigious cycle ”Giants of the Music Scene”, which has been a kind of trademark of ”Kolarac” for sixteen seasons – says in an interview for National Review Mima Lazarević, Program Editor of the Music Centre at Kolarac Foundation. – In addition to this, we also organize various musical seminars, workshops, master classes, lectures, promotions...


Within the cycle ”Giants of the Music Scene” every season they organize five to six concerts of the world’s top artists – soloists, ensembles and,, when there is money, whole orchestras, mostly from Europe. In the sub-cycle ”Rising Stars”, they introduce young Serbian musicians who are making their successful careers somewhere in the world, and so in February we had a concert of Nemanja Radulović. Sub-cycle ”World Music” also includes some untypical genres, such as Fado, flamenco, gypsy music... We still have fresh memories of the concerts of Roby Lakatos and Diego El Cigala.
Especially interesting is the educational programs fro children, free of charge, initiated two years ago, the so called Little School of Etiquette ”How to Listen to a Concert”.
– All musicians want to participate in this volunteer program, and we enjoy while doing it – says Mrs. Lazarević. – Actually, it is a simulation of a concert, and the moderator is bass player Miloš Milovanović, himself a father of three. He is witty and imaginative, children love him and listen to him. Every other Saturday in a month, he greets the children between five and ten years old in front of ”Kolarac”, tells them about the man into which foundation they are about to enter, they read posters together, then they get tickets and instructions to spit out their chewing gums, to turn off mobile phones and not to make noise. Miloš explains to them what the halls are used for, reads the program of the concert, then he leads them to dressing rooms where musicians are getting ready fro the concert, and then to the stage where they can touch the instruments. In the auditorium, he tells them about various ensembles, applause and curtain call. Then the concert begins, which lasts about half an hour (and the entire program lasts about 50 minutes). We have also printed a brochure, in the form of a quiz ”How to Listen to a Concert”, as well as CD with performed music, so it is one fully rounded project. Although we only have ”word of mouth” advertising, we are very pleased with response from parents, who often bring their children several times. It is an optimum to have a group of about thirty children, but sometimes there are five times as many of them.


Big auditorium of ”Kolarac” is the only one in Belgrade designed and built for concerts, on February 4, 1932. It has excellent acoustics, but technologically, as we are told, almost at the level from 80 years ago. It has been a long time that we need investments in lighting, sound system, dressing rooms... Still, the musicians have a special relationship with the audience and they feel good, and somehow this compensates for other deficiencies. There are 883 seats, which is and is not enough for Belgrade with population of two million. It is not sufficient when w have the ”Giants of the Music Scene”, so we should put chairs on the stage, and during some other concerts the auditorium is half-empty, even when entrance is free.
– Our user base is not big. Still, when we analyze the number of visitors, we are not dissatisfied. I am sorry that the ”Promenade Concerts” on Sunday mornings don’t have bigger audience, although the entrance is free. Traditionally, it is elderly people from Belgrade who gather there and afterwards go for a walk to Kalemegdan or to have coffee in Knez Mihailova Street – says Mrs. Lazarević.
We do not have audience crisis but media crisis, Mrs. Lazarević is convinced. Current media in Serbia are not interested in quality, mission and dedicated nurturing. They ask money for everything, and often in a very banal way. Even when top musicians from around the world perform here, which would be a first class event in every serious culture and public, the media would publish only short news on the day of the concert.
– We are spinning in the vicious circle. We do not have funds to inform the public in these circumstances, we also do not have media, which are not interested in this, or a radio station that would broadcast classical music. In November we had the exceptional violin player Maksim Vengerov, but not a single word was published about it, not even on the day of the concert – says Mima Lazarević. – Sometimes I have an impression like I am begging the editors to do a personal favor to me. They say that it is sufficient that we have sold out the concerts, but it is not, we must promote those musicians and that music. Everywhere in the world, classical music has become a serious industry, they are trying to modernize it and even commercialize it in a certain sense, but here it is still in the inception phase. We have modernized marketing to a degree. For example, we are present at all social networks where advertising is free of charge...
In the West, such modernization and commercialization would ensure higher ticket prices, whereas here we must think about the audience which can not set aside that much money. Ticket for the concert of Denis Matsuev in Paris was 120 Euros, and in ”Kolarac” it was 25 Euros. Even this is a luxury for the local circumstances.
Still, we learn, there is something in which we are more advanced than the developed countries – young audience, mostly music youth. People at ”Kolarac” are especially proud of this. Around the world, concert audience is mostly grey-haired. Most guest musicians are pleasantly surprised with the wonderful young local audience.


Financing of the Kolarac Foundation is the best part of this story. According to the new Law on Foundations, assistance from the City Assembly to this institution was abolished last year, which had previously been used to cover electricity, heating, cleaning, salaries.
– We support ourselves by renting the Big Auditorium. It has been sixteen years to date that we have assistance from Telekom Srbije, as a sponsor and partner, for the ”Giants of the Music Scene”, and this covers only a part of our expenses, because these are very expensive concerts. We send about a hundred letters to potential sponsors every year, and less than ten percent of them would send any reply, and that only to inform us that they do not have any funds. We have big debt, but I hope that we will find a solution and that we will not come into the situation to close this building because the electricity or heating was cut off. It is all hanging by a thread, we cannot plan anything, but still there are many enthusiasts who are working for free, only to have a concert at Kolarac.
Yes, but for how long?


Nemanja as a Role Model
Tickets for the concert of Nemanja Radulović in February were sold in a single day, including chairs on the stage. The organizers did not know what to do with so many people who wanted to enter. We made an agreement with Nemanja that he would play at Kolarac every February 4, on the Day of the Big Auditorium (on that day, in 1932, the first concert was held there). In February 2012, we celebrated the 80th anniversary with Nemanja. His kindness went so far that he allowed direct broadcasting of the concert by RTS, and then he gave a master class with students of academies of music.


A Little School that Radiates
– Working with little children for the past two years has been true joy for me – says excitedly Miloš Milovanović. – Their curiosity inspires, their questions stimulate and entertain, their looks and smiles are a true reward. Although similar projects do not have sufficient system support, we are doing our best so that our little school would go on despite the obstacles. We are continuously thinking about the ways to expand the program and enrich this beautiful story.


It is Nicer without Culture
– In 80 we have changed the status and methods of financing, but now we are really in great difficulties – says Jasna Dimitrijević, director of Kolarac Foundation. – We do not have a stronghold in the budget of either the City or the State, we are not receiving any regular funds from the Ministry of Culture. In other words we do not have a place in society that this unique cultural-educational institution deserves, an institution where you can study foreign languages, listen to music, attend lectures, go to an exhibition, buy a book at the bookstore, and in which  8 percent of the programs are free of charge.



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