A visit to the music festival at Vrnjačka
Banja in Serbia, July 2004
This summer I was invited to give some talks at the music festival at Vrnjačka Banja in Serbia. Uroš Dojčinović is the artistic director. I accepted with great pleasure, not only for the festival but also to see Serbia which I had always wanted to do. It was a wonderful stay: the music, the place, the country, the people, the festival. See all the pictures from the music festival at Vrnjacka Banja, and from Varvarin.
Vrnjačka Banja is a spa in the south of Serbia, with hot springs. It was famous as a spa in the period around 1900 when people came in large numbers to take the waters in this elegantly laid out town. There is a long pedestrianized central street along which people stroll now, even at midnight with stars, with a big park by the side. There is an internet café (broadband), lots of shops, a fine open-air olympic swimming pool whose waters don't taste of chlorine but of the local springs. Mountains rise up above. 14 July is the feast day of the town and this year they held a celebration (I was seated among four ex-mayors) with speeches, Serbian poems, and another performance of Molino's Grand Trio.
They had the good idea of having not only guitar but general music as well. Members of the old Serbian String Quartet were there to coach and play, and we heard a fine performance of Dvorak's Dumky Trio among other things. David Grimes (he of the GFA) was there (but had left before I arrived). Oleg Kiselev, a Russian guitarist who composes and plays his own bright and cheerful music often for children. Uroš Dojčinović the guitarist who has published and recorded music by composers from all over the ex-Yugoslavia, was artistic director, and Svetlana Redžić the executive director. In one concert, three young people played guitar pieces as an introduction (and very well too), who had come specially from deep in the countryside.
I went to visit the bridge at Varvarin. Back in 1999, the US and UK and Nato bombing of Serbia seemed to many people including me, not only a wrong aggression but also an unwise action because of the precedent which it set of attacking a country which had committed no external aggression (as we have since seen in Iraq). In May 1999 the bridge at Varvarin was bombed. At the time it seemed to me a particularly shocking event because it took place in clear daylight on a sunny Sunday when civilian vehicles were on the bridge clearly visible from the air. And also because they followed their habitual procedure of then waiting fifteen minutes until they knew that people were there helping the wounded and then launching a second bomb which killed the rescuers. Military necessity? No way. I laid flowers at the monument on the bridge.
I don't know what they have planned for 2005. But anyone looking for a charming week or two in a delightful place, with concerts in the evening, could do worse than think of going to Vrnjačka Banja. A pleasant mountain spa where everything works. Prices are low. Fly to Belgrade, then there are buses and trains. I'm told that there are good beaches in Montenegro not far away. You're likely to hear some good music.