Belgrade Philharmonic Musicians Warn that Orchestra Close to Collapsing

By Francisco Salazar

Musicians of the Belgrade Philharmonic is warning that the ensemble is on the brink of collapsing.

During a concert on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, the musicians of the Belgrade Philharmonic read a letter to the audience that pointed out their difficult position, and organizational and material problems that remain unresolved.

The letter that the orchestra member read said, “Dear audience, in the hundred-year life of this orchestra of ours and yours, there was everything that a century can bear. Certainly, the most valuable thing in the past hundred years has been the audience of the Belgrade Philharmonic, because of which this orchestra continues and because of which it has lived through such beautiful years. Every Friday, in your presence, the musicians of the Belgrade Philharmonic write new pages of history, with the aim of leaving a cultural legacy for generations to come for the next hundred years. But will we succeed in that?!”

The letter added, “Just as we share our artistic achievements with you, we feel an obligation and responsibility to share with you what is taking us further and further away from the secure future of this orchestra every day. Even after more than two years since the death of Ivan Tasovac, the Belgrade Philharmonic is in VD status, celebrating its centenary with the lowest salaries of orchestral musicians in the region, with a shamefully small budget year after year, without a director, without advertising, without a renewed concert uniform already ten years, and without firm convictions that our new hall will be built.”

“By spreading the name of our city and country around the world, we are increasingly confronted with the fact that in our city and in our country we are so highly educated and so low valued. That we play so well and a lot, and that we are paid so little and badly. That the dream of a new Philharmonic Hall of our metropolis is fading more and more, while the audience in Skopje, Podgorica, Tirana is enjoying the auditoriums that befit capital cities. At the end of October last year, we warned the Board of Directors of the Belgrade Philharmonic about all of the above with a warning strike.”

“We regret that in our country and in our city we represent an emblem that may or may not exist. What hardly anyone knows is that the education of a professional musician lasts an average of sixteen years and is one of the most expensive at the University because it is individual. That the competition at the auditions of the Belgrade Philharmonic is fierce and that top musicians fail to get a job several times, because someone even better always appears. That this job requires daily training and practice, regardless of how many years you have been doing it. That each of the members of the Belgrade Philharmonic can, with more or less training, perform many other jobs, but that no one who has not gone through the thorny path of very specific artistic development can become a Philharmonic player. But regardless of us, those who decide about us, ask: ‘What makes you special?'”

The letter concluded, “Being a member of the Philharmonic is equal to being a representative, and the Philharmonic is a cultural representation that repeatedly and repeatedly serves its country with pride and honor. Existentially, our lives on these salaries are extremely modest. Artistically, our lives are very rich. We Philharmonicians live for applause, but unfortunately we don’t live from applause. That is why we will demand that the state raise the salaries of the musicians of the Belgrade Philharmonic, to raise the budget necessary to achieve our further goals and to build a new building that will make the name of the Belgrade Philharmonic and the names of its musicians a more alive and present institution in the next hundred years. Investing in culture and art is the only definitely correct investment for the ages, because the fruit of such investments is a healthy society that stands on strong pillars of humanity. Everything else is the temptation of the existential, which apart from art, nothing has ever won. Dear audience, we want to thank you for listening to us, seeing us and recognizing our value in a city and state that seem to have forgotten about us and everything we represent in this society for a hundred full years. Finally, if you want to support us, we invite you to write to the Ministry of Culture with a few words what the Belgrade Philharmonic means to you and to appeal in your own way that our requests be heard and respected.”

In response to the letter, the director of the Philharmonic, Darko Krstić said that “the resolution of the demands presented in the statement is already in the process of implementation or their implementation will be initiated very soon.” The Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra is in the middle of its 100th anniversary season.