Music Slovenia – Slovenia Cantat 2021

New compilation is out!


Branka Kljun: Sing Joyfully - Slovenian Choral Creativity and Performance Today


Due to the nation’s specific historical circumstances, Slovenians were comparatively late to open the door to the artistic musical expression which includes choral or polyphonic singing culture. Up until the Renaissance period, our nation boasted above all a diverse and colourful treasury of traditional creativity. If we sidestep Renaissance master Jacobus Gallus, who – though born on our soil – composed his numerous motets and madrigals to Latin lyrics and worked outside Carniola, we can perhaps bestow the title of initiator of Slovenian composed music to Primož Trubar, the principal representative of Slovenian Reformation. With his belief that music can serve to shape the human soul, he had a considerable impact on his contemporaries as well as successors; contemporary harmonisations or arrangements of Trubar’s compositions still appear in Slovenian choir repertoires to this day.


Choral music first began to flourish in Slovenia in the 19th century in the period of reading societies. It was intended to rouse national consciousness, solidify the use of the Slovenian language, and illuminate and edify the “uneducated Slovenian nation”. Next, Slovenian singing culture developed with increasing speed, substance, and comprehensiveness.


The 20th century yielded a few notable composers while simultaneously seeing a development in the sphere of performance. This was in large part thanks to the Slovenian Public Fund for Cultural Activity, which has been holding the ‘Naša pesem’ state competition in Maribor and various further training programmes for choir leaders since the 1980s. Later these events were joined by the Gallus international and regional competitions, competitions for children’s and youth choirs, various singing showcases, and “Potujoča muzika” – a large-scale choral production aimed at presenting children’s choirs. All these productions initiated the development of the enviable quality of our choral ensembles and their leaders; these progressed in lockstep with the production of choral music, which grew increasingly substantial and demanding. And this is how the Slovenian world of choral music spins to this day: new composers create ever new works, which in turn prompt the formation of ever new singing ensembles and vice-versa.


Recent history yielded important names in the sphere of choral creativity, such as Marij Kogoj, Anton Lajovic, Karol Pahor et. al. These were followed by Uroš Krek, Pavle Merku, Lojze Lebič et. al. The advent of a new generation of composers opened a new world. If a mere few decades ago the only Slovenian performers shining abroad were the Slovenian Octet and Academic Choir Tone Tomšič from Ljubljana, we now boasted a whole range of ambassadors of Slovenian composed music, choirs, conductors opening the door for Slovenian creativity to break out into the world abroad. By all accounts this irrepressible trend is bound to continue in the future. Some from among these creators and performers form the album before you and present the Slovenian choral “today”.


Damijan Močnik (1967) is a member of the middle generation of Slovenian composers. He is prolific both in the sphere of a cappella choral music and instrumental and vocal-instrumental music. He also works as a conductor and pedagogue. He learned about choral music from the renowned Swedish master of the choral baton – Eric Ericson. Today he is among the most notable Slovenian composers both at home and abroad; his works are performed by numerous Slovenian and foreign choral ensembles including the World Youth Choir under Gary Graden.


He composed his composition Ierusalem for St Stanislav Girls’ Choir under Conductor Helena Fojkar Zupančič to perform at the eleventh World Symposium on Choral Music in Barcelona, a prestigious choral production, which is held every three years and hosts the very best choirs of the world. Jerusalem is a holy city, revered by the three greatest monotheistic religions of the world, which is why the composer drew on musical imagery from the Judean, Christian and Muslim traditions. The is built on the structural foundation of a passage from Psalm 122, which is featured in five languages. The result is a picturesque and formidable fresco of sound, which combines immense sonic oppositions into a harmonious plea for peace.


Ambrož Čopi (1973) also belongs to the middle generation of Slovenian composers. He is exceptionally active not only as a composer, but also as a conductor, pedagogue, organizer of a variety of concerts and festivals, and works hard to promote contemporary Slovenian choral creativity both at home and abroad. He leads several choirs, two of which are particularly successful. The Chamber Choir of the Ljubljana Conservatory for Music and Ballet is the crown jewel of this Ljubljana’s musical pedagogical institution. It has been working under Čopi’s leadership for ten years, during which time it successfully appeared at various international competitions and festivals (in Tallinn, Tolosa, Cork, Stockholm, Basel, Taipei, Beijing, and, last but not least, in Slovenia at competitions ‘Naša pesem’ and ‘Gallus’). His second highly successful ensemble is the Academic Choir of the University of Primorska, which proved itself at several important international events. Both choirs dedicate considerable time to contemporary Slovenian choral literature, which is sourced from the youngest generation of Slovenian composers – who, in fact, arise from among the very members of the two choirs. Andrej Makor, Patrick Quaggiato, Tine Bec, Matej Kastelic, Andreja Hrvatin as well as a few younger composers including Klara Mlakar, Federica Lo Pinto, Jan Triler received their initial encouragement and unofficial lessons as singers at the afore mentioned choirs followed by opportunities to have their works performed by the same ensemble. Today, the older members diligently carry this practice over to their own choirs. Čopi’s composer protégés include the abroad-established composer Nana Forte, who devised her first works already in secondary school and was still a student when she wrote her first masterpiece, Libera me, which is performed by a variety of choirs world-over.


As a composer, Ambrož Čopi is featured on the present album with his cycle Two Sacred Hymns. He wrote the two compositions in 2016, initially for mixed choir, but later adapted them for female choir, i.e. the Music School Koper - Girls’ Choir, which has been successfully lead by conductor Maja Cilenšek for two decades. She more presented the two Čopi’s masterpieces at a competition in Jūrmala, Latvia with great success. The first, Sing Joyfully to God Our Strength, is an homage to the English Renaissance master William Byrd, and the second, Cantate domino, to Italian Early Baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi. The works therefore look to history, which is generally a distinguishing characteristic of Čopi’s creativity.

In 2018, Črt Sojar Voglar (1976), composer and pedagogue at the Ljubljana Conservatory for Music and ballet, composed O lux beata Trinitas, commissioned by the Academic Choir of the University of Primorska and its conductor Ambrož Čopi. The composition is sonically and melodically rich, and interesting and attractive for its beautiful rhythm combinations further amplified with beautiful sonic colouring, so characteristic of this composer. He himself believes this to be a fundamental element of his music – “a test of the listener’s psychological perception of sonic colours”. Črt Sojar is among those composers who largely dedicate themselves to instrumental music. He contributed three symphonies to this field, along with several concertos for different solo instruments, and an opulence of chamber music pieces. In the sphere of vocal music, he penned compositions for a variety of choral ensembles including children’s’ choirs.


Tadeja Vulc (1978) teaches at the Faculty of Education in Maribor; she is a creator of her own brand and a dedicated choir leader. She led several choirs but became more widely acknowledged as the conductor of the Maribor Academic Choir, with which she appeared in various parts of Europe. She started out as a composer of instrumental works and compositions for children’s and youth choirs but soon added various “choreographies”, i.e. refreshed her scores by adding instructions for different body motions. She once argued for her mode of expression: “I am conscious that we listen with our eyes, not just our ears”. Of course body motions in her works serve more than merely a decorative purpose or to spice up the evening, they also always complement or enhance singing matter. Her most important works include the vocal-instrumental composition Requiem for Ancestors, while the song that stands out in her a cappella opus is Sine sole nihil sum (I Am Nothing Without the Sun), composed to the lyrics sourced from sundials. She dedicated it to the Taipei Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Conductor Ambrož Čopi, who later added the song to the repertoire of his Chamber Choir of the Ljubljana Conservatory for Music and Ballet; this is the version featured on the present album. Čopi describes the piece as a masterwork, a combination of different musical or performance ideas masterfully tied together into a cohesive whole.


Katarina Pustinek Rakar (1979) is a composer and pedagogue at the Ljubljana Conservatory for Music and Ballet. She is a highly prolific creator, with her choral works incorporating a variety of creative fields ranging from distinctly unique arrangements of Slovenian folk songs to profound pieces composed to Latin lyrics and stylistically highly diverse compositions to lyrics by Slovenian and foreign authors. Her works are performed by Slovenian and foreign, amateur and professional ensembles including the Swedish Radio Choir and London’s BBC Singers, as well as the Slovenian Philharmonic Choir. In collaboration with the latter, Katarina released her album Poj!Sing! just over a year ago. Under the baton of Sebastjan Vrhovnik the album also includes the composition Remember to the lyrics of English Romanticist poet Christina G. Rossetti. The composer spoke of her work: “The composition was written in 2018 for an English competition for new works, which stipulated the use of the above lyric. This was the first time I came across this poet’s work. Her verses touched me with their lyrical depth, expressivity, and fluid narrative arc.” American conductor and composer, Brian Stevens’s appreciative text about the composition highlighted her interesting palette of wide harmonies, her lyrical depth, and her brilliant use of dissonances.


Nana Forte (1981) is a jewel of the Slovenian musical creativity of recent decades. She is among the few who supplement their instrumental and vocal compositional creativity with composing for the opera and musical theatre. Her works enrich the programmes at grand European concert venues, at festivals in Belgium, Italy, Serbia, Portugal ..., with resplendent renditions by vocals group such as the Norwegian National Youth Choir, the Swedish Radio Choir, the Bavarian Radio Chorus, et. al., and, last but not least, the Academic Choir Tone Tomšič, which, under the baton of Urša Lah, inducted Nana into the world of choral music. Her early work, Libera me, is performed by numerous choirs across the globe. In 2017, at the instigation of Janez Jocif and the Association of Cultural Societies Škofja Loka, the composition titled Adesto sancta Trinitas was written for the Štimance project. The work was commissioned with a view to considering the special acoustics of the Church of Pleterje, which has an exceptionally long echo and regulates its acoustics with special clay pots – known locally as štimance, which are built into the church walls. This acoustic phenomenon was initially intended for sung and spoken word liturgy of the Carthusian order. The composition was performed at the church of the Pleterje Monastery by Vocal Group Gallina under the artistic direction of Ana Erčulj.


Composer, percussionist, and choral and orchestral conductor Patrick Quaggiato (1983) stems from the Slovenian minority outside the country. This universal musician with virtually no free time boasts a comparatively vast oeuvre. He composes most of his works abroad for choirs located near borders, which, in turn, often carry his works beyond his two countries – Italy and Slovenia. Patrick Quaggiato defines his style in the following words: “I like to source my lyrics from the oeuvres of ‘our’ authors; however, I wouldn’t dare claim that my motifs are derived from the Slovenian community abroad; here I lean mostly on the realisations, which I gained during and after my studies”.


Patrick Quaggiato’s cycle Dva dukhovniykh khora (Two Sacred Hymns) is linked to his unofficial mentor Ambrož Čopi, who, years ago, with his Academic Choir of the University of Primorska conceived of a concept for the album titled Tebe pojem (I Sing You). The album was to be comprised of works by composers from the Primorska region to an Orthodox Christian theme. In addition to composers from the previous century, Vasilij Mirk and Ivan Grbec, Čopi also included works by “his circle of young composers” of which Quaggiato was particularly successful. Namely, at the 2014 ‘Naša pesem’ competition his Otche Nash (Our Father – The Lord's Prayer) was declared best new composition. The cycle, which in addition to Otche Nash also comprises the composition Khvalite imya Gospodne (Praise the Name of the Lord), is envisioned as a contrasting work. While the composer’s work typically contains a substantial amount of polyphonic lines and a pursuit of interesting harmonic junctions, this cycle widened the composer’s musical horizon introducing him to the harmonic and melodic structure characteristic of Orthodox Christian expression.


The Saint Nicholas Mixed Choir Litija is a choir of the highest quality, which has been proven at numerous international competitions both at home and abroad. Under the leadership of Helena Fojkar Zupančič, the choir consistently composes conceptually rounded, ingenious and interesting concert repertoires. To wit, the cycle of Christmas concerts they prepared in 2015 followed the theme of Gregorian Chants, though they intertwined monophonic chants with newly created works to the same theme. The encouraged composers included Koper’s Andrej Makor (1987), who leaned on the chant Angelus ad pastores ait, a Christmas antiphon from the Liber Usualis. At the time of this composition’s inception, Makor was studying for his Master’s degree with Prof. Giovanni Bonato at the Conservatory Cesare Pollini in Padua. The professor’s influence is reflected in the structure of Makor’s composition, where the choir is spread out across space thereby creating a semblance of quadraphony and by extent achieving the elated hymnal solemnity of the Christmas atmosphere. Later, the composition was also performed by the Vancouver Chamber Choir under the leadership of Jon Washburn. Makor is currently among composers most sought-after among Slovenian choirs and composes exclusively on commission. There is no shortage of orders coming in, including from abroad. In fact, his works are performed by the Brigham Young University Singers with Andrew Crane, Salt Lake Vocal Artists under led by Brady Allred, University of Louisville Cardinal Singers under conductor Kent Hatteberg, BBC Singers, and many others.


Tine Bec (1993) is a representative of the youngest generation of Slovenian composers. He dedicates the majority of his composing efforts to vocal and vocal-instrumental music. In addition to graduating in composition and musical theory from the Ljubljana Academy of Music, he also gained a college degree in singing from the Ljubljana Conservatory for Music and Ballet. He was simultaneously a singer, répétiteur, and choral director in several choirs and vocal groups (Ridiamo, Chamber Choir of the Ljubljana Conservatory for Music and Ballet, Vokalna Akademija Ljubljana, Academic Choir of the University of Primorska, Academic Choir Tone Tomšič, etc.), which undoubtedly served him as an excellent base for composing choral literature. Aside from the list above, he has recently dedicated himself to the pedagogical vocation, demonstrating a special feel for raising young singers and skilfully directing them toward choral activities.

His composition Ave, maris stella stems from the tradition of Gregorian chants; it is a part of a cycle of three compositions written for extended mixed choir. He dedicated it to the Aegida project choir from Koper, which was led by Ambrož Čopi who later added the entire cycle to the repertoire of his Chamber Choir of the Ljubljana Conservatory for Music and Ballet. Tine Bec described his work thusly: “I used a quote from the chant of the same title in my composition, and spent the rest of the composition playing around with ictuses and emphasis, i.e. with the importance of individual syllables, which led me in my choice of time signature, while the varied character of lyrics steered me in selecting the musical course and harmony”. The composition flew around the world, with performances in Taiwan and Spain.


The second representative of this generation is Matej Kastelic (1994). He recently received his master’s degree in composition and musical theory from the Ljubljana Academy of Music under Prof. Uroš Rojko; he also took lesson in solo singing. As a creator, he is predominately known for his numerous choral works, which appear in the programmes of the most successful Slovenian choirs, such as the Chamber Choir of the Ljubljana Conservatory for Music and Ballet, the Women’s Chamber Choir of the Ljubljana Academy of Music, ČarniCe, Maribor Academic Choir, Academic Choir of the University of Primorska, and others. His works have been performed at numerous music festivals and competitions across Europe and their scores published by the Astrum publishing company. Kastelic is a thinking young musician who often composes to his own lyrics, which was how he wrote many choral works as well as his chamber opera Anatomija misli (The Anatomy of Thought). He composed Sredi noči (In the Middle of the Night) for the Vocal Group Gallina – a female vocal quartet formed by Ana Erčulj in 2010. The girls successfully performed at several notable stages both at home and abroad, including the one at the prestigious competition Guido d'Arezzo in Italian Arezzo. Kastelic’s composition, performed by Eva Manca Simonič Jagodic, Urška Banovec, Ana Plemenitaš, and Višnja Fičor, delighted the singers and and artistic director Ana Erčulj in the third year of the group’s existence. It was composed to verses by Slovenian poet Srečko Kosovel, which never leave the composer’s heart and mind indifferent: “Kosovel addresses us with abstract speech which demands replying with a synthesis of spirituality and reason. I feel that the composition was gifted to me; at the same time, I felt it like a first glimpse, an auditory hallucination of our mother tongue. From then on, of course when I get to choose my own texts, I mostly reach for Kosovel. Also for Gregorčič and Prešeren.”


Female choir Carmen Manet is comprised of former Kranj grammar school secondary school students who decided they wouldn’t simply stop singing after graduation. They founded a new choir and named it with the Latin phrase which translates to “The Song Remains”. In ten years, under the leadership of Primož Kerštanj, they received several gold and even a platinum award – which they won in China; however, the achievement they are proudest of, is the title of Eurovision Choir of the Year received in 2017 in Riga, Latvia, which was bestowed upon them by the notable jury comprising British composer John Rutter, Swiss conductor Nicholas Fink, and Latvian mezzosoprano Elina Garanča. Young composer, guitarist, and singer Samo Vovk (1989) also aided their success there by composing an interesting piece titled Ta na Solbici (And So We Dance in Resia) explicitly for this occasion. This is an original work whose expression and motif leans on the folk tradition of the Resia region while stylistically reflecting the composer’s adherence to jazz harmonies and rhythms interspersed with body percussion rhythms. The composition is colourful, charming, and not at all simple. It took over the Slovenian choral world in an instant. Samo soon added a version for mixed choir and now this composition is the crown jewel of Slovenian choirs with which they compete for points at various international competitions. It opened the door for its author, young composer Samo Vovk, to the classical part of the Slovenian choral space, which he confidently entered in a duo with violist and partner Barbara Grahor Vovk (1994). The duo is tied either in performance and creativity or both with the a cappella choir Perpetuum Jazzile, vocal band Kreativo, and a few similar Slovenian line-ups. Barbara adapted the known Istrian Moja mati kuha kafe (My Mother is Making Coffee) in an attractive, rhythmically and harmonically interesting way in her pop or jazz style for the excellent vocal ensemble Kreativo, whose artistic director is Samo.


Perpetuum Jazzile is a choral line-up which, thirty-eight years ago, paved the way for vocal pop and jazz in choral line-ups in Slovenia. It was formed by Marko Tiran, who, after almost two decades of leadership, relinquished his baton to Tomaž Kozlevčar. The latter composed new material and offered the line-up his own arrangements including that of the legendary Toto’s Africa, which counts more than 22 million views on YouTube. Under the leadership of Pedro Karlsson (co-founder of the Swedish ensemble The Real Group, a man who brought Swedish experience and tradition of vocal pop and jazz to Slovenia) Perpetuum Jazzile grew renowned and established around the world. From 2014 until today, the artistic director’s position changed many hands, including Samo Vovk’s. Ona bo moja (She Will Be Mine), one of the Slovenian songs in this line-up’s repertoire, was composed by Marko Gregorič and arranged by Samo Vovk.


Perpetuum Jazzile is not just a vocal ensemble, it is also a school where good singing is taught alongside other things, from a tender age to adulthood. It is a hatchery of new singers, composers, arrangers, and new line-ups including the afore mentioned Kreativo, comprised of excellent vocalists Valentina Černe, Katja Kovačič, Jana Gamser, Samo Vovk, Aleš Majerič, Dominik Štrucelj, and Luka Černe, all either former or active members of Perpetuum Jazzile.


Then there is the group Bassless. It comprises two girls and three boys: Nastja Vodenik, Karin Možina Žibrat, Klemen Brezavšček, and Kristjan and Matej Virtič. They perform a cappella arrangements of songs of a variety of genres, ranging from pop, rock, and disco, to funk, jazz, and blues; they also perform their own original music, including the composition Isn't It Good to Be in Love Every Day?, by musician and painter Sašo Vrabič, which was also arranged by Samo Vovk.  


The group Jazzva is the most awarded and one of the most recognizable groups in the sphere of Slovenian vocal pop and jazz. As opposed to other groups, they stem from the so-called classical choral music with most members having sung at the Academic Choir Tone Tomšič during their student years; this includes artistic director Jasna Žitnik, singer and arranger who joined Jazzva a decade ago. Jasna Žitnik is one of the most active individuals in the realm of small Slovenian a cappella groups. Pedagogue, organiser, mentor, and juror, she received several awards for her all-around engagement. Jazzva’s current line-up is: Julija Lubej, Anja Hrastovšek, Andrej Jovanovski, Klemen Dovjak, Andrej Perdih, Anej Kebrič (beatbox), sound engineer Jure Matoz, and the afore mentioned Jasna Žitnik.


The haunting melancholy minor melody of the folk song Zrejlo je žito (The Wheat is Ripe) from the Slovenian Prekmurje region attracted Jasna Žitnik’s attention already in her youth; she added it to Jazzva’s repertoire in 2012, when it’s lyric message spoke to her. This was when the song received that characteristic sonority, which became the distinguishing feature of the Jazzva line-up.