The role of the first baroque violinist in Croatia has defined my life

Saturday, 26. October 2019.

The Croatian Baroque Ensemble, which she has been leading, is celebrating its 20th anniversary and preparing a celebratory series starting with a concert at the Croatian Music Institute

Allegro, Adagio, Minuet, Sarabande, Gigue – one goes through an entire life within 10 minutes, says Laura Vadjon in her vivid description of baroque music. She was the first Croatian artist playing the baroque violin and remains the leader of early music reproduction in Croatia, calling herself a “barocker”.

Our fast changes and diversities correspond well to the young “here and now” generations – Ms. Vadjon added. She is the director of the Croatian Baroque Ensemble celebrating its 20th anniversary and preparing a celebratory series starting this Sunday with a concert at the Croatian Music Institute.

The first concert is called “Nord&Sud,” and we will be joined by our long-time friend and one of the best baroque violinists of our time, Italian Enrico Onofri. We are going to perform works that have never been performed in Croatia and have been composed by artists such as Pergolesi, Durante, Sammartini, Lee and Scarlatti – Vadjon commented proudly. The celebratory series will continue with monthly concerts until the end of May.

Notable names

HRBA is special in that the ensemble performs early music, primarily that from the baroque period, in the way the music was performed at the time it was composed, using original historical instruments or reproductions.

They replaced metal strings with gut strings, armed themselves with bows of different lengths and with dangerous points, woodwinds, natural trumpets and horns, different styles of harpsichords and organs… According to Ms. Vadjon, they read books and treatises, studied original scores and the context in which they were created, as well as historical articulation practices. They attended seminars and masterclasses held by top European artists and professors. They started as a small group of enthusiasts but are now capable of addressing even the most demanding scores that also require a large ensemble of performers.

Today, the Ensemble is formed by some of the best younger generation instrumentalists who have not neglected the skills and virtuosity attained while being trained on modern instruments, but are ready to explore new and convincing interpretations and articulations, colors and affects, characters and tempos in their work, willing to find a different harmony of sound, even apparent and sometimes unwanted disharmony, reading the scores with ever new insights on style, spirit, and poetics of the time in which they were created.

For their jubilee twentieth season, HRBA prepared a celebratory program.

– We will be joined by our favorite and esteemed guests and contributors of many years who have left a significant mark on the work and development of the Croatian Baroque Ensemble during the last twenty years. These include some of the best-known names of the European Baroque scene: Catherine Mackintosh, Enrico Onofri, Herve Niquet, Adrian Butterfield, Laurence Cummings and Andreas Helm. They were all happy to accept our invitation to participate in this special season and sent us sincere congratulatory notes for our anniversary. The selection of the repertoire for the programs, in which all Ensemble members participated, also has a celebratory note. – Ms. Vadjon said.

The big news is – she explained – that on December 15, in a concert called “Exsultate!,” the ensemble is going to exclusively play works composed by W. A. Mozart, but using the historical instruments of the classical period. This will be the first time for the baroque ensemble to play classical works as well.

– What is extremely important to me is that our approach to music playing should not be considered as something old-fashioned, rigid, boring, or standardized. We love to move things around, explore, and use different styles. That is why I often say we have “barock’n’roll” programs, and I am sure our audiences hear, recognize and enjoy that. Our audience is large and loyal. They are of all ages and always make sure our concerts in the HGZ hall are sold out.

The approach to interpretation needs to be creative, stylistically pure, but also interesting and fun to be convincing to the audience. But it does not need to be fun in the profane sense of the word. Baroque music is quick, dynamic, its movements are short, contrasting, its themes and musical ideas simple and changing quickly, which corresponds well to our times and the pace of our lives, Vadjon pointed out.


But why Baroque?

I consider myself lucky because circumstances in life and my own musical taste gave me an opportunity to play and do what I enjoy the most and what fulfills me. As a child, I used to attend concerts by the Zagreb Soloists, and later on, became a member of the ensemble. I believe it was then that their sound determined my future and my affinities. After being trained in the modern violin and after numerous performances, even stellar moments when I had the opportunity to play concertos composed by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Sibelius, Mozart… with orchestras in Croatia, the 1995 meeting with baroque music and the baroque violin was crucial and determined my path going forward – she stated.

Laura is also the artistic director of the Korkyra Baroque Festival, as well as a tenured professor at the Music Academy in Zagreb, where she has been working since 1995, and teaching chamber music since 2002, giving her students the option to familiarize themselves with the historically informed approach to early music interpretation. Many alumni and senior year Academy students attending her classes join the Croatian Baroque Ensemble as guests or even as members.

Laura is a member of the London Handel Orchestra from UK and spends several weeks every year in London and the prestigious London Handel Festival, performing G. F. Handel’s music.

I have played more than ten Handel’s operas, just as many oratorios, not to mention his instrumental compositions and cantatas. Staying in London and playing with those artists is my annual recharging period. Since early music performance has been present there for almost half a century and early music ensembles are equally appreciated as the modern ones, the only things that matter are quality and impressive performance. I have to admit I have many other offers from abroad, but my obligations in Croatia simply do not allow me to accept everything I would like to – Ms. Vadjon added.

Do you regret that? – I asked.

No, I regret nothing. That was my decision and my choice. My role as the pioneer of baroque violin in Croatia determined my path. The Croatian Baroque Ensemble has been growing and prospering, we have excellent students in the Academy, and I am sure some of them will take my path and continue this “baroque journey.”

What are the challenges that you meet as the director of the Croatian Baroque Ensemble? – we wondered.

Well, you hit the bullseye of my daily dilemmas and troubles with that question – Ms. Vadjon admitted. Managing an ensemble and working for its benefit and the prosperity is very time-consuming.

There are days when I forget that I am primarily a violinist and I get frustrated because I spent too much time on a computer. But believe me, the Ensemble would not be what it is today without a lot of engagement, daily emails, memos, proposals, tenders, reports, requests and applications for sponsorship. When I finally take the violin in my hands, it calms me down and makes everything easier. My performance is still very important to me and the violin is my meditation, my rest and unrest, but definitely my greatest joy and my best friend – Ms. Vadjon told us.

Classical music and young generations

The Ensemble is celebrating 20 years of existence, and so is Laura. It was that same year, in 1999, that the famous actor Sreten Mokrović won her over with his voice and his charm, she says.

That was the crucial year that defined my life – admits Laura, mother to the nine-year-old Olga, who has already started her violin training. Laura believes that, with her mother being a musician and her father an actor, their daughter will definitely choose a career in arts.

Perhaps Olga will also become a violinist one day and inherit my instrument, which is my best friend and the extension of my soul. I believe that musical instruments are like living beings, because wood is a living, breathing material that changes and comes alive through my playing, my love, sweat, my perfume, and my emotional states. The instrument needs to be with a musician, and I am strongly against enclosing instruments within museums, turning them into exhibits, dead items.

Royal Albert Hall and Deezer streaming service released a study in April this year which showed that streaming of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music increased by 270 percent and that as much as 43% of classic music lovers are under 35 years of age. But we asked Ms. Vadjon if it were possible to awaken the interest in classical music in Croatian youth as well and show them that this music is not boring, as many tend to believe.

We have excellent music schools in Croatia and there is still a tradition among Croats to have their children learn to play an instrument and gain some musical education outside of elementary school. There is an increasing number of young popular artists who are anything but typical traditional musicians. Here I do not mean the crossovers, although this, too, can help popularize classical music and I am not against it, but I believe we should give a chance to original classical music. One should familiarize oneself with it and give oneself a chance to like it – Ms. Vadjon believes.


Petra Plivelić, Jutarnji list, October 26, 2019

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