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FOURTH INTERNATIONAL MEDIEVAL MUSIC FESTIVAL IN PRIZREN
Under the Auspices of the Holy Salvation
In the atrium of the old church, above the city that was the heart of the Serbian Empire, the high spirit of the Middle Ages sounded music. Thanks to the Association of Friends of the Holy Archangels Monastery, Cultural Center from Gračanica and the ”Holy Archangels” Foundation, the performers and audiences arrived from all Serbian territories and from abroad. It turned out once again: waiting for other forms of return, culture is a good way for Serbs to be present in their holy land. To preserve fire in this deep night

By: Gordana Simeunović


It is rightly nicknamed ”Serbian Constantinople”. In it, in the Middle Ages, the Serbian state experienced its full bloom, and Serbian emperor Dušan the Mighty reigned there. This town in the basin at the foot of Šar Mountain, in southern Metohija, was an inspiration to poets, many people important to the history and culture of the Serbian people lived there. The importance of Prizren for the Serbs, not only symbolic, is reflected in the fact that before the retreat through Albania in 1916, the crown of King Peter was buried in the Prizren seminary, which the ruler did not want to take out of the country.
After a pilgrimage through the Serbian monasteries in the province, organized by the Society of Friends of the Monastery of Holy Archangels near Prizren, we paid homage to the Virgin Mary of Ljeviška. In that largest Serbian sanctuary in Prizren, surrounded by barbed wire, your heart will tremble. In the evening, we headed toward the Church of the Holy Salvation down a steep cobbled path. The church was erected at the foot of the old Roman fortress Kaljaja in 1330 by the Serbian landlord Mladen Vidojević. Over the centuries, like all Serbian sanctuaries, it has been burned and rebuilt several times. It also suffered in the pogrom of 2004. It was then that everything Serbian in Prizren and the surrounding area was burned.
Programs of this year’s MEDIMUS Festival, the fourth, from 23 to 25 August, took place there, around the Church of the Holy Salvation. The festival was born out of the love and enthusiasm of people who had to leave Prizren but never allowed Prizren to be lost for them. They wanted to revive the city and preserve Serbian presence in it. This gathering place in the city was not chosen by chance. The position of the church on the elevation above the city and its long history carry a significant message. The church has been partially restored, with lighting and sound systems, chairs were brought in and a space for art events was opened there.
A large MEDIMUS flag flutters on the terrace in front of the church. From there you can see Prizren slowly sinking into the night. The lights are being turned on, it is Saturday and the city is alive, shining before our eyes. Sadness, like the silk of Prizren, fell over the city. Here, Siniša Cvetković, originally from Prizren, who returned to Prizren with his wife seven years ago, offers his jewelry made of filigree, by which the city is known far and wide.
MEDIMUS Festival (Medieval Music Festival) is held under the general auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Information of Serbia, as well as the Office for Kosovo and Metohija, with the assistance of Hungary (festival partner) and the Diocese of Raška-Prizren, with the blessing of His Holiness Bishop Theodosius.
The organizers of the festival are the Society of Friends of the Monastery of Holy Archangels near Prizren, the Cultural Center in Gračanica and ”Holy Archangels” Foundation. Similar festivals are held in Varaždin, Zadar, Belgrade and Novi Sad, but MEDIMUS is the only one that is stylistically oriented only towards the Middle Ages, according to its Artistic Director Darko Karajić. The festival is the recipient of the 2018 ”Classical Music” Award, as the best festival of regional importance.
Musicologist Roksanda Pejović writes about Serbian medieval music:
”It developed in the sphere of Byzantine music culture in the Serbian state from the 12th to the 15th century, but also during the slavery under the Turks. Music has had its place in a battle, in the court and among the people. In the state of Nemanjić dynasty, it was part of a court ceremony. Just like all over Europe, it was developed by dancers, musicians and entertainers. They are called musicians, actors and jesters. Stefan Dušan, who also had musicians on his estate, donated them along with the estate and exchanged them with Dubrovnik for various festive occasions.”
Serbian medieval writings of 1355 mention Dragan Prizrenac, who played in the squares of Dubrovnik. At the coronation of Emperor Dušan in Skopje, in 1346, he played the Imperial Kolo. With the dance Mowers, which was popular at the imperial court, he played trumpet, and was accompanied by lute players and drummers. And so through the centuries, until our times, when Prizren had its School of Music ”Josip Slavenski” until 1999.
Such musical heritage was one of the incentives to organize a festival that nurtures and represents the music of the Middle Ages, not only of Prizren but of the entire Europe.

UNDER THE SKY OF METOHIJA

– Music has been accompanying the creation here for centuries churches and monasteries were built, and later mosques, because other peoples lived here, with different beliefs, but they all found a place under the Prizren roof – said His Grace Bishop Teodosije of Raška-Prizren, opening the MEDIMUS Festival. – It is up to us Orthodox people to turn what our ancestors created, and we restored and preserved, into living places of prayer and song... That is why what has been conceived here we should continue for the benefit of all who respect music and art.
The MCs were Snežana Petrović, music program editor at the Cultural Center in Gračanica, and Simonida Stanković, one of the participants at the festival.
On the first day of the Festival, on August 23, the ensembles ”Medimus” and ”Musica Profana” performed.
”Medimus” ensemble is composed of the best participants of previous festivals, to which, according to Darko Karajić, the audience had the warmest reaction. At the festival they performed European medieval dances and Sephardic songs. The program for this year was designed by Janez Jocif. They meet four days before the festival at the Holy Archangels Monastery near Prizren, with the blessing and hospitality of Father Mihajlo.
”Musica Profana” Early Music Ensemble comes from Hungary, from the city of Pati. For the third year in a row, the Hungarian Embassy has been organizing the arrival of significant artists. The cooperation was realized through the Cultural Center in Gračanica, whose director is journalist and writer presented early Hungarian music on authentic instruments from the 16th to 18th century. Founded in 1987, the ensemble performs throughout Europe.
On the second day, the Greek Byzantine choir from Athens performed, founded in 1977 by Lycurgus Angelopoulos. It has performed all over the world. In Prizren, it performed works by the famous Byzantine medieval composers St. John Kukuzelј and John Kladas, as well as selected compositions by anonymous authors, the most exceptional being the ancient hymn Silent Light, To the Elected Duchess and Psalms from morning liturgy. It is a great experience to hear the chanting of this choir in the silent summer Prizren night, under the blue sky above the atrium of the Church of the Holy Salvation. On the way back, we had the privilege to hear the choir once again in St. Demetrius Church, in the Patriarchate of Peć.
”Renesans” Ensemble, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is the oldest ensemble for early and traditional music in the entire Europe. It held more than four thousand concerts in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa. Through the Centuries of Thunderous Silence of the Music of the Middle Ages and old Serbia – is the title of their program at the second festival evening in Prizren. The songs of old Serbia, full of longing and sadness, had special sound in the church atrium. That ”thunderous silence” echoed in the bosom of the people who were witnessing the program almost prayerfully.
For Žorž Grujić, who plays wind instruments in the ensemble ”Renesans”, the words of an old man from Prizren that only at their concerts he feel as a free man are of the utmost importance.
– When I first played, three years ago, the Church of the Holy Salvation made the most beautiful impression on me, imbued with inspiring spirituality, which made us do our best – he says.

IN ETERNAL COMMUNITY

The audience and performers have established such a close connection in this space, with a strong feeling that we are all together in the Middle Ages.
– One needs to come again – says Jelena Stanković-Janković from Bajina Bašta. – We felt privileged, as if we were members of Serbian medieval aristocracy.
The audience came from all over Serbia: from Belgrade, Valjevo, Loznica, Kosovska Mitrovica, from the Serbian enclaves in Kosovo and Metohija.
– More and more people from Prizren are coming to concerts, which is good. There is no resistance from local Kosovo authorities, even some kind of cooperation is established in some cases – says Bojan Babić, founder and director of the MEDIMUS Festival... – We are together in the atrium of the Church of the Holy Salvation and during these three days we revived our city. Albanians, Turks, foreigners are coming to us.
Babić believes that the return of Serbs to Prizren, a city with a great and important historical heritage, is possible. This should be an incentive for those who might have influence to become more engaged. In the fifteen years of its existence, the Society of Holy Archangels Monastery has organized a series of cultural events, such as the ”Salvation Days” or Holy Archangels Summer School of Calligraphy and History...
– I was fascinated by the ambiance, the position of the church. I was also fascinated by the performers, especially the Greek Byzantine Choir. But I was mostly impressed by the procession of over a hundred people walking towards the Virgin Mary of Ljeviška, in a town where seventeen Serbs live – says Miloš Goranović, a lawyer from Nikšić.
There were a lot of young people in the audience. Ana Marija Veličković is eight years old and came to the festival from Mladenovac with her father.
– It was lovely, the music was exciting, somewhat soothing, somewhat fun. This is the best festival I’ve ever been to – she said warmly, childishly.
On the last day of the Prizren Festival, on 25 August, a part of the project ”Hyperborea” was presented, the author of which is Simonida Stanković, a multimedia artist. She is involved in studio music, as well as directing and music and stage performing.
– Basically, while waiting for other forms of return, we will return to our holy land through cultural events – says Radmila Mrdović, a lawyer from Pančevo. – We will organize them primarily in Serbian monasteries and churches, because there we can do it.

***

Paying Tribute
MEDIMUS is growing in every sense of the word. This year it was covered by all the important Serbian media. Going to the festival is a real pilgrimage. Preservation of the Serbian fire in this vastly important area.

***

The Roads of Great Memory
”Hyperborea” project was created as a result of a long study of the traditions of the peoples of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Scandinavia, Russia, especially Siberia... In addition to Simonida Stanković, Darko Karajić, guitar and lute player, as well as Boris Bunjac, percussionist, are also members of ”Simonida Hiperboreja” Ensemble.

 


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