On the eve of the Bled Strategic Forum

The black limousines with the darkened windows are heading up the hill to the Vila Bled again today. The BMW shuttle service brings some of the most politically influential individuals in the south western Europe and Balkans region to hotels around Lake Bled. Their four and five star passengers delivered to suitably matching accommodation in the Slovenian summer’s last hurrah.

It is a sunny day in Bled – after the hottest summer in living memory we are now into the hottest days of autumn. As the leaves turn, it hardly seems to be a place for business suits, sweaty handshakes and the exchange of business cards. “Better than last year.” Many will say as the scooted about from venue to venue, event to event, networking lunch to networking dinner in the pouring rain.

The agenda has the heft of an international event, which it is albeit one that is less well known outside this region than say Davos. An European Commissioner here, a Prime Minister there, a President of a country chats to the President of an industry and the lead singer of a band recently returned from North Korea talks to a group of diplomats about the importance of music and arts in international relations. Laibach is to North Korea what Wham was to China.

The Bled Strategic Forum is not just one event; there are three rolled up into a long weekend, BSF, Business and Young. The agenda is filled with grand ideas. There is talk of Partnerships and Visions. But put aside cynicism a moment and dig a little deeper. Darker more difficult subjects are being tackled here; the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice, ending sexual violence in conflict which is a war crime and a crime against humanity. multiple discrimination that older people seem to face based on gender, age and ethnicity. This is not just about suits talking to suits.

It is just 20 years since the Srebrenica massacre – you could drive to Srebrenica from Bled in under 7 hours. And there are other, more positive anniversaries being observed this year. Not the least the first anniversary of the first discussion at BSF on tourism; a well attended and enthusiastic session which should be at least as energetic this year. And even though it is a tourism destination, Bled has still much to learn about tourism – according to many of the tourism service providers in the town.

Abavuki at Okarina


Read more at LakeBledNews.com

 Well, guess you had to be there …

Read more about Abavuki on LakeBledNews website
and on Okarina Festival website

Profile – Leo Ličof Founder And Artistic Director Of The Okarina Festival


“I considered myself, even today, but back then when I was younger, to be a rare bird.” Leo Ličof is founder and artistic director of the Okarina Festival which celebrates its 25th anniversary this summer. We met in his restaurant Okarina to look back at the festival’s history and forward because even after 25 years, Leo still has ambitions for the festival.

Leo Ličof

It began appropriately enough with music, a trip to India and a restaurant specialising in vegetarian food. “I came back from India after I followed the Beatles example and had gone to Rishikesh.” Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas and the place where Maharishi Mahesh Yogi trained The Beatles and others in transcendental meditation.


Leo introduces Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita Okarina 2014

“I was inspired by so many bands playing good music.” He grew up, like so many people of his generation around Europe, listening to Radio Luxembourg and to the Dutch radio station Radio Veronlca. “I found myself really frustrated behind an Iron Curtain. All these bands were “non-moral” or even “prohibited”. I am mad about music – I love music . I played the violin – the fiddle. However it was impossible in Yugoslavia at that time to create anything.”

In 1991 everything changed. Slovenia withdrew from Yugoslavia, communist leaders throughout Central and Eastern Europe lost power and Leo seized the opportunity for his own revolution.

The toughest thing was getting the support.

“So, the first thing I did was to create the festival.” The first festival was held two months after independence in the grounds of the restaurant Leo owned on the shore of Lake Bled not far where the Okarina restaurant is now. There were only two or three bands on the bill. The next year was much the same and from there it began to grow.

“But after the first three or four years of being independent, old powers started getting back into power.” And those regaining power did not like someone trying to bring this music “to our beautiful country. Listen to our folk music!” In their opinion this was a “Strange guy bringing strange tunes. So they gave me no support; not moral, not financial. I kept on – there were many people around who were open minded.”


Okarina Restaurant in Bled where art and music play a complementary role to the food

Moral support that gave me the strength to carry on

It was individual contributions from supporters that kept the festival going. His butcher gave him a small contribution, his baker the same and with these small amounts he could book another band, and then with some more money, book another. He was hanging on to the festival by his fingernails. “Then another mayor came along, who did not want the festival at all. ‘You have the right to do it – but don’t come to me.’ He was told.

“Then a different mayor came who was a bit more open minded and he gave 2 or 3 thousand pounds. But it was the moral support that gave me the strength to carry on.”

Over it’s 25 years, Okarina has been infused with local and national politics. But the whims of here today, gone tomorrow politicians have not dampened Leo’s spirit or self belief.

As he is talking I notice in the background Joan Baez is singing Dylan’s Forever Young.

“I felt myself being a musical messiah. It was my duty to shake up a bit of conscienceless of these people [in this region] to wake them up a bit. Then after 10 years I thought this is going no where … ‘Enough,’ I thought.”

After 10 years there was no support financial or moral. So there was no festival planned. “The mayor came to ask whether I would do the festival – I said no. But three weeks before the festival would have been due to start he came again pleading with me. ‘I’ll pay you – people are asking around.’ Because after 10 years people were beginning to think this is interesting.”

However over the last eight years Zavod Za Kulturo Bled (the institute for Culture in Bled) has been financially supporting the Okarina festival and Leo especially mentions Špela Repnik, secretary of Zavod za kulturo, who helps to organize promotion, press conference and takes care of local transfers.

Okarina 2015

This year there is a very strong line-up of women; Ester Rada, Cara Dillon, Neca Falk, Josipa Lisac, Gisela João, Carmen Paris along with women leading other bands. Was this planned?

“It’s coincidence. I saw them all performing in big festivals like WOMEX or Marseille. I was also at Iberoamericano festival in Bilbao. The women were the best. They are the strongest at the moment. And I want to pick the best. The festival is blooming now.”


Paul McCartney visited in May 2005

The First Okarina Restaurant
His proudest moment is still the first year in the garden of the original restaurant. Hardly surprising. It was a wreck of a building which had been used as a restaurant. He and friends spent months clearing it out, cleaning it up, planting a garden where the first festival was held. And began to play music – mainly British and American music – and added lots of vegetarian food to the menu. Leo ploughed all his profits right back into the restaurant. Standards improved –the restaurant became more popular. The diplomatic corps from Ljubljana were visitors as Ambassadors with representation in the city became frequent customers. He planted a garden. “It was a natural amphitheatre. I put a fountain in the middle – parachutes above the garden (for shelter and decoration), candles, and huge iron charcoal heaters.” And that was where they held the first Okarina festivals.

The better it got, the more he put into it – and consequently they higher the rent became. Eventually it was ridiculous demands for rent that drove Leo from the original restaurant to the Okarina restraint we were sitting in.

25 years on Leo still has ambition, there are bands and performers he wants to bring to Okarina. Straight off, he names The Chieftains who he has been developing connections with this year, and Sinead O’Connor. And he has been able to attract big names before. He would like to bring back Fairport Convention. But he wants to widen the scope of music at the festival. He wants more Jazz and more energy from other sorts of music.

Leo does everything himself – he’s promising himself a secretary to help next year. “Eighteen groups.” He says.”And I’m arranging everything from flights to t-shirts. Each band needs 30 or 40 emails forward and back.” He deals with all the contractual demands. “The band that has this requirement for staging, the band that has that need s conga drums to be supplied, this guy needs a flamenco guitar the other something else Leo has been arranging all these years. This is now getting over my head.”

We finish our Masala Chai (recommended!) and I get ready to leave. Then in a sentence Leo encapsulated the idea of Okarina in one short sentence.

“To create an atmosphere where people can start communicating – this is what we need most in the world, and in these mountains, even more.”

Festival Bled – SLOJazz


Who was the kid on vibes?

During Festival Bled,  I have listened to and enjoyed more chamber music than I guess I have ever heard performed in concert before. It has been a really memorable experience, filled with learning and surprise and challenge and joy. I mentioned this in passing to the Director of Festival Bled and he asked “Too much?” No – not too much.

Tonight, though, was different.

Who was that kid on vibes?

You’ve heard the term a “scratch band” – a group of jobbing musicians brought together for a gig or short tour. But this was no ordinary gig, no ordinary band. Janez Gabric teaches  jazz drums at Conservatory for Music and Dance in Ljubljana – he is also drummer with Slovenian band Laibach. Igor Matkovič, Professor of Jazz Trumpet at the Conservatory. Guitarist Jani Moder has studied with among others Pink Floyd’s  David Gilmour. Nikola Matošić plays double bass and has a massive reputation in Slovenia and particularly Ljubljana where he organises Monday Jam. And finally pianist Milan Stanisavljevic from Serbia and one of Slovenia’s leading jazz musicians.

So no ordinary band – something of a supergroup to use that 1960s/1970s word. And no ordinary gig.

But who was the kid on the vibes?

Together they were the mentors/tutors for a group of around 12 young musicians in a rock/jazz/ethno workshop. While during Festival there were master classes in violin, viola, singing, and other instruments, this is the first time there were workshops in jazz/rock/ethno. The students had not met before this week, they are all just beginning their musical careers and advanced studies. So they are all around 18 or 19 years old.

We were in the Belvedere Pavilion (sometimes known as Tito’s tearoom). It is small – I counted 72 seats. Intimate. My favoured place is the second row – but close enough to stand up at the end of the night and shake hands with the band.

The plan Jani Moder told us, was for the band to play most of the evening. But when they started working with the young musicians they decided to play only four numbers and let the young ones do the rest. Frankly a good decision. I was there to see the established musicians, but having watched the young ones, I can’t disagree. The older guys filled in depending on the line-ups required. One violin, two or three guitars, three or four horns, a couple of keyboards at least one drummer. And some kid on vibes.

The first part of the concert stuck to the programme. But this is jazz … so after the break when the running order became something that had been thought of at some other time and really was not that important any more.So back after the break, and there was this kid on vibes …

If writing about music is like dancing about architecture … then let’s tell the story of last night in photos.

I would love to share the music with you. maybe this is something the Festival could consider for the future. Recording performances = especially with younger musicians – is fraught with difficulties – not the least copyright. But an event like this would benefit from a soundtrack.

Festival Bled ends Thursday night with CELLO ATTACCA! – details here

Festival Bled website

So here are the pics.

So here are the pics.











The Past – The Present – The Future; Violinists under Profs. Robert Szreder and Piotr Jasiurkovski


Read more at LakeBledNews.com

The two great producers of dance music Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards penned and produced the classic Sister Sledge song Lost In Music. (That will give you a hint as to where my music comfort zone resides.) “Classical” music, as we generically refer to what is a much wider range of music (Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic, Modern) can be intimidating. We think too often that even before entering a concert venue you need to know about the music, the musicians, the composers, when to applaud and so on. But this year Festival Bled – and perhaps it always does this – extended an invitation “Here are some young musicians, they are learning, they have a passion. Let them help you explore this musical ideas.”

Prof. Robert Szreder who presented the evening

Some of the ideas are sheer beauty – and there are several examples tonight. Some ideas are tough and demanding, there to demonstrate the ability of the musician as much as anything. But most of these musical ideas lift you above the mundane and set your head reeling.

Tonight The Past The Present The Future is the theme.People say about young people that “they are the future” which tends to diminish their importance in the now. These young people performing tonight are the Now and the Future, the music is from somewhere in the past, yet it is brought to life in the now as it is being performed.

8 performers plus a violin quartet and pianist Antoni Brozek.

For over 2 hours we are lost in music – and geographically on a journey around this region. Performers are from Slovenia, Mexico, Poland, Latvia, and Japan. The music from France, Belgium, (what is now) Czech Republic, Hungary, Spain, Bulgaria, Poland and Germany. Lost in Central Europe.

Wojciech Niedziolka

I am only going to mention three of the performers, which is no reflection on the others, but just to highlight the “future-ness” of this theme. I don’t know what age Wojciech Niedziolka is, maybe 12 years old, maybe less. He played Drdla’s Fantasia on Carmen to an audience that was overwhelmed by his skill. He and Klara Gronet share a teacher who must have been very satisfied with her performance of Vladigerov’s Bulgarian Rhapsody. And finally Neža Capuder who played Wieniawski’s Romance for Violin. It was quite beautiful.

The concert finished with a very fine violin quartet by Bacewicz .

This is the last of the student performances I will see. There is another tonight “Contrasts”: Violinists under Prof. Barbara Gorzynska and Violists under Prof. Matthias Maurer.

The students last night were under the direction of Professors Piotr Jasiurkowski and Robert Szederja. Prof Szederja paid tribute to the festival director Jernej Brence and Selma Brence who organise Festival Bled, a tribute I wholeheartedly echo.

Prof Piotr Jasiurkovski, Antoni Brozek and some performers

There are more – and better – photos from the concerts at the Festival Bled website

DO-RE-ME At Bled Castle – Festival Bled


There is a different excitement in the air when young people are the performers and when children make up a significant portion of the audience. And it is real excitement – anticipation of the expected and unexpected, as they gossip and switch seats and move the chairs on the ground to make a loud reverberating noise, and send each other hand signals and laugh and giggle and … Fun – that’s the word, they are already are having fun. And we haven’t started yet.

Katarina Viher – violin, Ana Viher – violin and Alma Pleteršek cello

Katarina Viher violin, Ana Viher violin, Alma Pleteršek cello

We are in the Barons’ Hall in Bled Castle. Festival Bled tonight features a local and very special children’s musical ensemble Do-Re-Mi. And perhaps like other nights in Festival, a peek into the future of music

The audience silences and the first trio come from the back of the hall which is filled with at least 200 maybe 300 people. The youngest member of the audience I saw, standing on a chair was no more than 3 years old and enchanted by what she was seeing.

Katarina Viher – violin, Ana Viher – violin and Alma Pleteršek – cello begin with Haydn’s String trio in G major op 21. They play it witha confidence that says that they know exactly what they are doing and sitting before an audience is what they are meant to do. They are received energetically – and deservedly, too.

Trio Le Bouqet

Trio Le Bouqet

Trio Le Bouqet follow. They are just a little older. They are Maša Cilenšek – flute, Ajda Portenta – violin, and Pavla Lušin – guitar. They again look fantastic, confident, and in charge. They play three pieces Joseph Kreutzer Trio for Flute, Violin and Guitar (superb) and two sambas by Klaus Wüsthoff. Just because this is a less formal setting than some of the concerts in Festival Bled does not mean that the musicians’ approach is any less serious, or the audience appreciation is any less. There is a strong feeling of family in the event, but outsiders – like me – are just as welcome to enjoy.

Then, the choir.

DO-RE-MI Choir

DO-RE-MI Choir

“Do-Re-Mi Youth Choir consists of girls aged 12 to 16. The girls play different instruments and share the same passion and love for music. “The choir is led by Primož Kerštanj. Under his leadership the choir won the golden plaque at the national choir competition in Zagorje ob Savi in the years 2011 and 2013. At the regionals, the choir attained national level also in 2015.”

You can finds out more about the story and ethos of the choir on the website. Their’s is a unique approach to understanding, learning and performing music. But it starts with song.

The 15 piece choir began with some folk songs, some quite simple and others more harmonically challenging, then through some film songs – “Let it go” from Frozen and Elton John’s ”Can you feel the love tonight?”.

The two outstanding pieces to finish were “Šahasta tokata” (which has confounded Google and Wikipedia so all I can say is – great humour – nice presentations — and that’s why there was a chessboard on stage).

Tina Hribar accompanied the choir and for the final song was joined by Nusa Piber on congas for “Cantus iterates” by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. A mix on modern choir with African echoes to end a splendid evening.

One of the great joys of events like this and Festival Bled is that it exposes you to music you have not heard before. I have never heard of Klaus Wüsthoff. I’ll be spending some time soon researching his music – especially any other sambas there might be.

East Meets West – Young Korean Violinists ed by Prof. Saewon Suh Festival Bled


It is the jaw dropping brilliance of these young musicians that makes nights like last night so memorable. 

Festival Bled continued Wednesday night as a lightning storm raged over Lake Bled. The Grand Hotel Toplice was once again the venue for performances by young musicians attending masterclasses at the Festival. This time it was the turn of young Korean violinists led by Prof Saewon Suh.

Saewon Suh, was born in and studied in Seoul, before continuing his studies in Cologne and Bern where he earned a soloist diploma. He holds a Professorship at the Kärntner Landeskonservatorium. He makes appearances as a soloist and chamber musician around the world and has held masterclasses in Austria and South Korea. This week his masterclass is in Bled.

One of the more important aspects of events like these is the happenstance of of the audience mix. Yes, there are musicians and lovers of serious music from Bled and beyond, but there are also the people who just happen to be in town on holiday or staying at the hotel. It is an energising mix – and international audience –  for the young virtuosos whose dedication to their art is received with tremendous enthusiasm. For some of us in the audience, it is an opportunity to hear some music for the first time.

Last night in particular you could see the emotion of the event in the performers’ faces. Apprehension as they come through the door to stand by the piano, extreme concentration as they play, then – for almost all the musicians – that moment between the climax of the piece in that moment of silent appreciation before the applause. Then their faces beam.

A La Cho and Cho Eun Kim began with Prokovfiev’s Sonata for two violins – remarkable interchange between the two.  The third and fourth movement of Stravinsky’s Concerto in D for violin and orchestra followed and was played superbly by Sanayea Song who was to finish the concert with an electrifying Carman Fantasy by Sarasante – even the thunder and lightning outside joined in.

The range of the music was added to beautifully by Jiyoo Park’s interpretation of Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So. Before the final piece, Jiwon Jung violin,  Albert Wasserman Kontrabass (double bass) with pianist A Jin Cho played a really interesting piece by Giovanni Bottesini, Gran Duo Concertante.

Professor Bokjoo Suh-Cho accompanied all the other performances on piano.

Once again this is a moment to see into the future of music with enormously talented and dedicated young musicians. 

The Best of Fritz Kreisler – looking to the past and the future at Festival Bled


It was pretty close to standing room only in the Grand Hotel Toplice, Bled last night, as the room filled with people waiting in anticipation for what was going to be an extraordinary concert.
Prof. Michael Frischenschlager introduces the concert
Toplice is a big hotel. It has a lot of chairs, which is fortunate as the sofas filled and people milled around looking for a place to sit. More, elegant chairs arrived – this is not a place you are likely to find a fold up plastic number.  Even the Festival founder and director – one
of Slovenia’s leading violinists – was to be seen acting as furniture roadie, shifting chairs into the performance area. 

If it were not a free concert it would have been a sellout. For this was an event of significance. The concert was intended to get back to the roots of Festival Bled. It was to celebrate the beginning 20 years ago. The young international virtuosos – all young women – had been attending master classes of Professor Michael Frischenschlager
The 11, accompanied by Ilya Maximov, played individually a programme largely written by Fritz Kreisler  (1875 – 1962). An early highlight was Clara Mesplé playing “Rezitativ und scherzo caprice”. That was followed by an outstanding performance of the 4 movements of Giuseppe Tartini (from Piran –1692 – 1764)
It was a standard of musicianship that would leave you in awe of these talented young women. 
The setting – while in a large room – was fairly intimate. Perhaps it was like this to be in a Viennese drawing room 120 years ago. It was also a privilege to look both back at the foundation of Festival Bled and peek into the future of these young musicians.
This was one of the many free concerts as part of Festival Bled. If you are in town, do try to see some.

KUD Dobreč Concert – Festival Bled Festival Hall Saturday 4 July



Let us start with the not unreasonable question, “What is a tambura?” Well, I think I know, but let me Google that for you.

“The tambura is a stringed instrument that is played as
a folk instrument in Macedonia and Bulgaria.
It has doubled steel strings and is played with a plectrum, in the same manner
as a mandolin.”

We are on a role so, let me Google KUD Dobrečtonight’s performers. 
Simply, this 24 piece comprises
young musicians from Slovenia and is among the top tambura orchestras in Europe. They
are a professional orchestra formed in 1997 and have 600 + performances in the
bag and many awards to boast of – as they should boast – they are excellent. Tonight their programme extends from Bizet and Rossini through to Morris Albert (yes, “Feelings”) and David Lee Roth’s  amalgamation of “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody”.

Details of other concerts at LakeBledNews.com 

From the Festival Hall in Bled,
let the music play.
As they take the stage you can see that the tamboura comes is several sizes and shapes, from the mandolin-like smaller instruments, but with longer necks and six strings, to the small and large guitar-like instruments played à la mandoline rather than guitar. The combination of sounds is immediately arresting. Yes, the sound is like mandolins but with a fragility and a softness. 
The first part of the programme
consisted of many “I don’t know what it’s called, but I can di-di-li the next four bars” tunes. Tchaikovsky’s
(or Čajkovski’s – a much more sensible spelling) Romanca, Bizet’s Carmen and even Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance, which is just a perfect piece for these instruments. At a guess I would say the music that inspired Adam 
Khachaturian was played on instruments like these,
This orchestra of 24 young people conjured up atmosphere’s and themes perhaps they themselves were not even aware of. Imagination took musical threads from Grenada and Seville, to corners of the
Ottoman Empire  via the Steppes and Cafe de Paris and somewhere on a Mediterranean island where there is a third man … probably called Zorba. This is a European music – as European as anything from Vienna, Salzburg, London or Paris.

The second part of the concert comprised mainly songs from Gašper Mihelič and Anja Peselj. At this stage the orchestra became accompanists. The audience – who had turned out in numbers many dressed in while as the is also White Night in Bled – clearly enjoyed every moment.

This was a very enjoyable concert by highly accomplished musicians playing beautifully together.It was a rewarding way to spend a Saturday night. And when the orchestra are in full swing, this is Festival.

If you would like to get an idea of the concert, there are several video clips of KUD Dobreč on YouTube, but below is a longer piece.

Opening concert – Saksofonski Orkester SOS – Slovenian Saxophone Orchestra


A saxophone makes most music better. But can you imagine what 14 saxophones can do? This was a stunning performance to open the 20th Festival Bled. Rather a traditional classical concert SOS played “Golden Classics” in St Martin’s church. Better still, not all the pieces were “golden” or “classics”. 

Let’s give them their proper name first: Saksofonski Orkester SOS You can find them here on Facebook.

St Martin’s church in Bled is a fantastic setting for any performance. The vibrant lively church acoustics set off the sound of the saxes the same way it echoes a grand organ and at times an organ is what SOS sounded like, The programme ranged through Gabrieli, JS Bach’s Brandenburg and Ligeti, on to Barber and Glinka. The players are mainly from Slovenia but a few from Croatia and Poland too.

The first piece Gabrieli, started simply with the orchestra falling into three sections of four to play a short introductory section each. But the fullness of the sound came when all, sopranos, altos, tenors baritones and the bass played one perfect set of organ like chords. And we were off.

A more modern experimental piece composed by Slovenian guitarist, Igor Lunder’s Zeleni Jure based on a Slovenian folk song followed [hear a recording not by SOS here] before the 3 movements of Bach’s Brandenburg which has never sounded so cool and mellow.

Now I do like a bit of Legeti, especially when the music is accompanying a spaceship hurtling timelessly though space. It was the film 2001 which introduced Legeti – even for a short while – to a wider audience. Coincidently the year before Igor Lunder was born.  More like modern jazz than classical (well, it was written in 1978), Hungarian Rock came across as uplifting and optimistic.

SOS take well known pieces like Barber’s Adagio for strings and say, “Hey, how would that sound on 14 saxes?” It’s just a little crazy, but most great ideas are. Barber missed a trick – his most famous piece should have been for saxes.

The relationship between saxophone players and their sax seems different to that between other musicians and their instruments. The players moving with their instruments like graceful dancers coaxing the music from the brass (actually a saxophone is a woodwind instrument – never understood that}. And the sax is a serious instrument – just hear it tackle Barber’s Adagio, but it still retains a sense of humour – as often do the players.

The programme over, everyone in the audience/congregation was well satisfied and presumably like me expected a encore. But that is not quite what happened. A French saxophonist was introduced. A professor of saxophone no less.

Jean- Denis Michat studied saxophone, composition, new technologies and music history at the Paris Superior Conservatory (C.N.S.M.P) from 1990 to 1999. At the early age of 24, he was appointed saxophone professor at the “Conservatoire National de Lyon” and promoted one year later to assistant professor at C.N.S.M.P. 
Jean-Denis Michat has appeared both as a saxophone soloist and in several ensembles and philharmonic Orchestras throughout the world. He is today, one of the most famous saxophonists playing “a la francais”, and has dedicated himself to ensure a greater acceptance of the saxophone in classical music. Read more. 

He played Chaconne by Tomaso Vitali. A profoundly moving end to a wonderful concert,

Festival Bled runs for two weeks. A standard has been set. There is no reason to expect that to be exceeded.