The Slovenia Times

Bigger Than a City of Million Inhabitants


Interview: Darko Brlek, Ljubljana Festival

Darko Brlek is the general manager of the Ljubljana Festival and the president of European Festivals Association. Last year's Ljubljana Festival brought us several notable performances, such as those of the Munich Philharmonic and the London Symphony orchestra. This season will open with a spectacular open air performance of Mahler's 8th symphony with over a thousand people on the stage (see the event guide). We will be also able to see Filharmonica della Scala with Daniel Harding, guitarist Al Di Meola, Teatro Espanol's "Twilight of Gods", directed by Slovenian Tomaž Pandur, and many more - and these are only in the first two weeks of the festival. The program ranges from classical to jazz, from avant-garde theatre to fine arts and is focused only at the best there is. As such, it attracts a varied and appreciative audience, some 80% of whom are from Slovenia. Next year, the Ljubljana Festival will celebrate its 60th anniversary.

Can you, despite the diverse nature of its events, define the Festival's programming concept?

It's about events at the highest level possible, which we attempt to make accessible to anyone. The term "elite festival" is frequently misinterpreted. It is about elitism on the stage, not in terms of snobbery toward the audience. On the contrary, we do our best to make our program accessible to basically anyone. So our pricing policy has many discounts. For the upcoming 8th Mahler Symphony on Kongresni trg square, prices for seats range from EUR 9 to 99 for the first row. The standing audience listens for free. It's a wide spectrum, indeed; one that not only involves the artistic aspect, but the social and the political as well.

Is it possible to define Ljubljana's audience?

In our case, the actual Ljubljana audience is a minority. Ljubljana, apart from some smaller stages around the country, creates events for the whole country. With some sixty thousand students, who stay here at least until July, I'd prefer to speak about Slovenian audience.

Has this audience changed over the years? Is it easier to offer certain music today than it would be a decade ago?

Mostly, it is easier to attract performers, compared to the first years after independence. The audience, on the other hand, has become more educated, owing mostly to the internet. Anyone can access information and check out what we offer. What we are presenting are pure originals, and the audience is becoming aware of that. If la Scala or the Bolshoi appears, it is the real thing, the original setup, not just one original member and the rest from who knows where.

Is the audience feedback in line with the event's prominence?

Of course. Quite interesting is the growing number of loyal audience, who are following all the high-profile events. Ten years ago, this kind of audience mostly consisted of single, highly educated women, from 35 and 50 years old. Today this has changed significantly - there's more and more young people attending. Meanwhile, we also make an effort to educate young people at our workshops.

Do many foreigners visit your events?

There are many Italians. Our "gravitational zone" seems to be reaching as far as to Trieste and Trevisio. Many international guests, be they from Israel, Iceland or the Netherlands, buy their tickets through internet presale, knowing they will be in Slovenia during that period. There are also tourists who decide on an event on the spot.

How do you view Ljubljana's cultural venues? Are there enough of them?

Definitely! In proportion to its size, it boasts an exceptional cultural infrastructure. I regret the Kolizej project [a planned cultural complex with a concert hall] is on hold; it would add even more to our options. Still, all the recent achievements such as Kino Šiška, Španski borci and Stožice make a significant contribution.

How would you compare Ljubljana to other European capitals?

I shall put it differently: anyone from other capitals who visits Ljubljana is surprised by our rich and diverse offer, wondering how such a small city copes with it. Everyone is excited by the number of professional orchestras and theatres, opera, galleries etc. Ljubljana has the cultural range of a city of a million - four times the actual size.


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