Isidora Žebeljan: The Horses of Saint Mark

January 29, 2022 / ISCM – SERBIAN SECTION

Isidora Žebeljan (1967–2020) remains one of the most prominent and most performed Serbian composers on the international music scene. She wrote about 100 compositions, including five operas, all commissioned by the music festivals and institutions from abroad. She was the first and only Serbian composer who composed music for the Foundation of the Berliner Philharmoniker, La Biennale di Venezia, Bregenzer Festspiele, Siena International Music Festival, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, etc. Her opera Zora D. is the first Serbian opera which had its world premiere abroad (in Amsterdam), as well as being commissioned by an international institution (Genesis Foundation London). The opera Eine Marathon Familie is the first and only Serbian opera which had its premiere at the Bregenzer Festspiele, one of the most important opera festivals in the world, as a commission of that festival. Isidora Žebeljan’s opera Due teste e una ragazza (Dve glave i devojka) was the first Serbian opera sung in the Serbian language at its premiere abroad (in Siena, Italy). She was also the first female professor of composition in Serbia, academician of SASA and member of the WAAS. Her music is published by Ricordi Milano and Donemus (the Netherlands).

The Horses of St Mark (Konji Svetog Marka), which was the first and remains the only composition of a Serbian composer performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, was commissioned by the 2004 Venice Biennale and premiered on October 22, 2004, at the Teatro Piccolo Arsenale in Venice by the Friuli Venezia Giulia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christoph Poppen. After the premiere, this composition has been performed, among others, by Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, No Borders Orchestra, Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by David Porcelijn, Pierre-André Valade, Dorian Wilson and Premil Petrović. Recordings of this composition have been released by CPO and Deutsche Grammophon. The composer has written the following program note about the work: There is a legend that God gave the Greek sculptor Lysippus the ability to make an alloy that could last forever. Lysippus cast four horses from this alloy. Constantine the Great placed them at the gate of the Hippodrome and bade them to preserve the myth of the East and the legend that gave them birth. As a demonstration of their eternal might, famed emperors and commanders took them to the West. As they travelled over the Levant and Europe, the horses carried with them songs from their homeland lest they forget their land of origin. The empires have since fallen. Yet the horses live on to the glory of their creator’s idea.