One of Slovenia's Most Prestigious Cultural Events
by Vivien Schweitzer
BBC, July 23, 2001
After the Slovenian war for independence one of the first public events held in the country was its annual Early Music Festival.

The festival has grown into one of Slovenia's most prestigious cultural events since it began in 1983 - supported by the Ministry for Culture and attracting top international artists. The festival began in the northern town of Radovljica, when it had minimal initial support.

Five years ago artistic director Klemen Ramovs moved the event to Brezice, in the hills of the Posavje region of southeastern Slovenia. It was a shrewd move for attracting festival-goers - the various spas near Brezice are one of Slovenia's top tourist attractions.

Rheumatics have been bathing in the thermal spring at Terme Catez since the late 18th Century, and the huge complex has nine thermal water outdoor pools. The local wine is another attraction of the Posavje region - which has seven vineyards.

The festival has been successful partly because Ramovs has brought significant business sponsorship to the event. This is a new development in Slovenia, and some still find it difficult to ask large companies to invest in culture, which was left to the state in the former Yugoslavia.

Andreja Rihter, minister for culture, said: "The Ministry of Culture has recognized the festival's formula for success and we are providing support. With such a project, business and culture go together."

Veronika Brvar, a producer for Radio Slovenia, which is broadcasting the entire festival, said: "The festival is one of Slovenia's biggest cultural events. "It's not only good publicity which has made it so successful, but the feel good factor as well."

Brvar pointed out that early music is popular with young people and many children also attend the events. Highlights this year have included a world premiere of music from the Netherlands, and London Baroque with Emma Kirkby performing Handel and Vivaldi.

The programmes feature music ranging from medieval to classical, and includes everything from little known composers to Beethoven, all performed on authentic instruments. Finale concerts include critically acclaimed ensembles La Stagione Frankfurt playing Telemann and Bach, and Belgian group Il Gardellino performing an all Vivaldi programme.

Many of the concerts take place in the acoustically outstanding Knight's Hall, part of the Brezice Museum - one of provincial Slovenia's best - housed in the town's Renaissance castle. An Italian baroque masterpiece, everything except the floor is painted with landscapes and mythological heroes, which may seem vaguely familiar as various television programmes have been filmed here.

Other venues include the stunning 15th Century Mokrice Castle - the finest in the Posavje region, and the Kostanjevica monastery - which boasts one of the largest arcaded courtyards in central Europe. Masterclasses, the student festival and other concerts take place in other equally spectacular medieval castles and churches in the region.

So why is early music becoming increasingly popular in Slovenia?

Perhaps it is because, as Klemen Ramovs asserts, that listening to early music should be no different than any other style. "It is the same as any other genre. Do the musicians convince or do they not? "These composers who died 500 years ago still speak to us, and that is what is important."

Copyright BBC, 2001