Sounds of Serbia Come to Carnegie Hall

Four of the five members of the vocal ensemble Rosa. (Photo courtesy of Rosa)

Music lovers, as well as New Yorkers interested in learning more about distant places, will soon be able to embark on a journey through the sounds of Serbia. For the first time in many years, artists showcasing Serbian music in a concert, “Soul of Serbia,” will perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Sept. 24. A number of renowned performers from around the world are scheduled to appear at the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Recital Hall, and the one thing they all have in common is their admiration for the rhythm and melodies of Serbia.

According to Jasna Popovic, a Serbian pianist who will host the event, the concert could most accurately be described as a “labor of love.”

“With the initial help of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia and the Serbian General Consulate in New York, a group of volunteers decided to create a journey through the 700 years of Serbian music. We wanted to present the musical heritage of Serbia, and I think that many people will be surprised by its beauty and complexity,” said Popovic.

This means that there will be something for everyone, from traditional and spiritual music to classical and jazz.

Many famous composers such as Tchaikovsky were inspired by Serbian music and research of this kind resulted in a significant collection of Serbian folk songs assembled by Milman Parry that were studied, transcribed and archived at universities such as Columbia and Harvard. In a New York Times article from 1942, the composer Bela Bartok, who was commissioned by Columbia University to study Parry’s records, described this archive as “unique” and “a most important collection of folk music” that “scarcely anyone knows about.”

Even members of the Serbian diaspora may hear some of those traditional songs at Carnegie Hall for the first time, thanks to the vocal ensemble “Rosa.” This all-female group is based in New York City, and out of five members, four are Berklee College of Music in Boston alumni. Rosa is known for performing in the acapella style of traditional Serbian throat singing.

One of the songs that Rosa will perform on Monday is called “Cubro Maro.” In it, powerful female voices narrate a story of a groom whose father was killed by an enemy while bringing gifts to his future daughter-in-law. The groom understands that he no longer could claim the wife and lets her decide the fate of their union.

“We came across most of our songs in archives,” said Aleksandra Denda, a co-founder of ensemble Rosa.

The pianist Jasna Popovic. (Courtesy of Jasna Popovic)

“Since many of those songs are not intended for public performance, what Rosa does could be described as community-based music. It is a completely different genre from what you normally can hear at Carnegie Hall, and I am curious to see how the audience will react,” said Denda. These are songs generally originated and were sung in homes, within families, or as part of events such as weddings or funerals.

For Serbian-American actress and singer Mila Milosevic who will introduce the performers, the “Soul of Serbia” concert is an opportunity to show American friends what Serbian music is all about.

“Both our traditional and contemporary music is getting noticed, and international festivals now popular in Serbia, like Guca and Exit, are attracting admirers from around the world. We are delighted to be able to share some of that experience with people in New York City,” said Milosevic.

The concert “Soul of Serbia” is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Sept. 24, 2018 at the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.

A version of this story appeared earlier in Novi Magazin.

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