Design & Culture

Ljubljana Festival – The Quality is at The Heart of Any Successful Endeavor


Miodrag Spahić - May 07, 2024

Interview – Mr. Darko Brlek, Ljubljana Festival – General and Artistic Director

The Ljubljana Festival is the leading and the most well-known cultural brand and event of Slovenia and its capital city. It has created an artistic world that runs parallel to everyday life in Ljubljana throughout the year. With over 300 events annually, it includes the main summer event – an international festival featuring a wide variety of genres such as ballet, opera, theatrical productions, musicals, chamber and symphony concerts, and many more taking place at renowned venues across the city center within the span of two and a half months. The Ljubljana Festival also organizes the Winter Festival, with a series of concerts happening in February, and it also hosts other events throughout the year, such as the Ljubljana Festival Masterclasses, Young Virtuosi, Christmas Concerts, and workshops dedicated for kids.With so much to offer, it is an absolute must-see (and hear) for anyone visiting or just passing the region, especially in the summer months. To unpack it all, we talked to Mr. Darko Brlek, the Festival’s General and Artistic Director. He is a celebrated concert clarinetist and has held significant titles and positions from a young age, such as the youngest-ever director of the SNG Opera and Ballet Ljubljana. He also served as the President of the European Festivals Association for over a decade…Mr. Brlek, what is the secret behind the decades-spanning success of the Ljubljana Festival?

I believe that any work I undertake should be done to the highest possible standard, whether it involves playing or organizing the festival or anything else. It’s been about creating and bringing QUALITY – this is the most important thing for me. We attract the audiences “simply” because of the quality of our events. It is also about a variety of genres that appeal to people from across the globe.

When I first started with the Ljubljana Festival, it was a small festival with only 18 chamber music concerts. Now, it’s a completely different story, since we have more than 300 events per year, attracting more than 60 thousand people.I also need to mention one of my proudest initiatives – The Young Virtuosi, which I started thirty years ago. It warms my heart to see that the kids who participated at that time are now some of the most popular and prominent musicians in our country and the world, such as Lana Trotovšek (violinist), Andrej Žust (horn player), the cellists Luka Šulič and Stjepan Hauser, and others.

What is the impact of the Festival Ljubljana’s offerings beyond cultural and touristic leadership?

We slowly built a worldwide family and an international community around the festival. It’s evident that the presence of renowned artists attracts more attendees. This results in a mutual benefit, as the guests contribute their thoughts and help us promote the festival. However, what is especially significant in the long-term are the partnerships we have forged with established cultural institutions, such as the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra and RTV Slovenia. We are proud to connect these institutions with the best conductors and soloists in the world, such as Charles Dutoit and Martha Argerich, for example, who will be performing with the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra at the closing of the 72nd Ljubljana Festival this September. Such connections provide our musicians with global exposure and invaluable experience!

You have been leading and shaping the Ljubljana Festival for the past thirty years. During this time, how have you observed the audiences changing?

The digital evolution has brought changes to the audience, with higher standards now being developed. Additionally, educational background seems to play an important role in shaping audience preferences and values. As a result, we must balance our commitment to quality and values with the need to adapt to changing societal trends.

Diversity is also a key consideration in our programming. While classical music has always been a staple of our festival, we have expanded our offerings to include musicals, ballets, theater productions, etc. Ultimately, as I keep emphasizing, the quality of the performances is what matters most, and people can appreciate that regardless of their musical background.We also focus on building our audiences over time, using various strategies. This includes organizing masterclasses and inviting students and professors from around the world to participate.

In addition, we provide free workshops for children, teaching them dance, painting, and singing, and building a connection with their parents, as well. Through these efforts, we hope to create a long-term relationship, encouraging people to return year after year.

How do you innovate to stay relevant?

Having a vision is a must. Right now, we are finalizing the program plan for 2025, and there is already work to be done for the following years as we cannot fit everything we want to include in just one year. For instance, we know now that we will host another international piano competition during the Winter Festival of 2026. We carefully curate our programs to ensure that we include world-class content that people can relate to or connect with. For example, in the past, we have performed music by Ennio Morricone, and this year we will feature the music of John Williams, performed by the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra. Our events demonstrate that the world is small and that it’s powerful and beautiful to connect through art.The festival’s summer program was released in early March and it includes performances by some of the biggest names in the music industry. Zubin Mehta will conduct three events, and there will be a musical adaptation of the famous Hollywood movie “The Bodyguard”, and many more…

What would you additionally point out, and could you provide some insight into the behindthe-scenes process?

I would like to highlight the chamber music concerts held at Križevniška Church in Križanke. The venue has a limited capacity of only 230 seats, and it’s always packed with audiences who appreciate this more intimate type of event.We have a wonderful lineup of events again. Two concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra and Filarmonica Della Scalla, conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano and Riccardo Chailly respectively. Mikhail Pletnev will be playing Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos over two nights. We also have a beautiful Italian production of Puccini’s “Tosca”, performed by the SNG Opera and Ballet Maribor. The performance features the fantastic soprano Rebeka Lokar as well as Željko Lučić as Baron Scarpia and Jonathan Tetelman as Cavaradossi, who is flying all the way from New York to Ljubljana just for this show! This is why we have international audiences – because when you put together such talented people, it’s recognized and appreciated by everyone.

You’ve mentioned that festivals should echo societal changes. Considering your influential position, how do you envision the art showcased at festivals impacting society?

I believe that art and music can play a vital role in restoring relationships between nations and countries. I also said a lot of times that festivals act like a litmus paper, reflecting and responding to changes immediately. In comparison, operas and philharmonic orchestras move like tanker ships, slowly and steadily. Festivals, on the other hand, are more flexible and can adapt quickly to the changes in society. Although we make mistakes, we have the opportunity to correct them immediately since we learn on the spot with events going on every day.To make this happen, having a great team and wider support is essential. We’ve been fortunate to have a great partnership with the Mayor of Ljubljana and the City of Ljubljana for the last seventeen years. They understand what we do and provide us with finances, logistics and connections, enabling everything to work smoothly. It’s a whole network that contributes to the wider success!



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