ISIDORA ŽEBELJAN (Belgrade,1967) has attracted international attention with her opera Zora D. which was commissioned by the Genesis Foundation from London. The opera was premiered in Amsterdam in 2003 and directed by David Pountney and Nicola Raab. The same production opened the 50th season of the Vienna Chamber Opera in 2003.

Isidora Žebeljan got commissions from important institutions and festivals such as the Venice Biennale (The Horses of Saint Mark, illumination for orchestra, 2004), Bregenz Festival (opera The Marathon; Hum away, hum away, Stings for orchestra), Genesis Foundation from London (for the opening of Bill Viola’s exhibition ‘The Passion’ at the National Gallery in London in 2003), University of Kent, Muziektheater im Revier Gelsenkirchen (opera Simon the Chosen), International Horn Society, Accademia Musicale Chigiana Sienna (opera Two Heads and a Girl), City of London Festival etc. She composed works for excellent musical ensembles such as Wiener Symphoniker, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Brodsky Quartet, Berlin Philharmonic Octet, Dutch Chamber Choir and London Brass. Her compositions were regularly performed in whole Europe, Israel, USA and Asia including the festivals Venice Biennale, Bregenz Festival, Festival RAI Nuova Musica, City of London Festival, ISCM Festivals (Gothenburg, Wrocław), Festival Classique The Hague, Galway Arts Festival, Tallin Summer Music Festival, WDR-Musikfest, Settembre musica Milano-Torino, Ultima Festival (Oslo), City of London Festival, Swaledale Festival, Walled City Music Festival, Dulwich Music Festival (UK), Eilat Festival (Jerusalem), Festival Nous Sons (Barcelona), Festival L’ Est (Milano), Crossing Border Festival (The Netherlands), Settimana Musicale Senese, Musical Biennale Zagreb, BEMUS (Belgrade), etc. Among the ensembles and musicians who performed music of Isidora Žebeljan are Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Orchestra of RAI Torino, Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra, Neue Philharmonie Westfalen, No Borders Orchestra, Lutosławski Quartet, Nieuw Ensemble (Amsterdam), Zagros Ensemble (Helsinki), ansambl Sentieri selvaggi (Milano), conductors Paul Daniel, David Porcelijn, Christoph Poppen, Pierre-André Valade, pianists Kyoko Hashimoto and Aleksandar Madžar, hornist Stefan Dohr, clarinetists Joan Enric Lluna and Alessandro Carbonare, violinist Daniel Rowland and others. The exclusive publisher of her music is Ricordi-Universal.

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Some of the traditional dances from the Balkans, especially the ones of the Vlachs (an East Balkan population scattered across different countries; in Serbia, they mostly inhabit the Homolje region, Eastern Serbia), are distinguished by characteristic movements: turns, spinning, stomping, rapid knee-bending movements, falling on one’s knees and so on, all of which induce the dancers to be transported into a state of mesmeric trance. This kind of dancing represents a unity of mimicry and ilinx (imitation and trance). It is dancing to small steps with vigorous stomping on upbeats (which seems confusing to an observer), the dancers being huddled together hold each other’s belts and dance for a long time, intensely and ecstatically. The steps are often simple whereas the movements of the body and legs are exceptionally complicated. Some of the dances are complex because the steps, the course of the dance and changes of movements and tempo depend solely on the leading dancer therefore representing an improvisation and a surprise. The changes between duple and triple time are characteristic of some of the Vlach dances. The ¾ bar is always slightly longer for a micro-rhythmic unit and the melodic system of these dances is often non-tempered.

Polomka is one of the most popular dances in Eastern Serbia. The noun polomka is derived from the verb polomiti (which means: to break) therefore this dance could be described as a one in which the body “breaks” to the rhythm of a rather fast tempo and virtuoso playing, in other words – a “traditional Serbian break-dance”. This particular dance, as well as other traditional ones, contains in itself an element of pagan trance. The piece Polomka quartet is inspired by the author’s visual impression of these dances. That impression has transcended into an idea of a dance of an imaginary people, of a non-existent region. Polomka quartet is dedicated to the Brodsky quartet.

Isidora Žebeljan, May 2009

„Polomka Quartet“ published by:

Ricordi-Universal Milano