Director of the Ljubljana Festival
Born in Ptuj in 1964, Darko Brlek has spent most of his life in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana. In 1988, he graduated from the Academy of Music in Ljubljana before going on to perfect his knowledge at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz, Austria. During his studies he received numerous prestigious accolades, including the Prešeren Award. In 1991, Mr Brlek became the youngest ever director of the Slovenian National Opera and Ballet in Ljubljana, while only a year later he also became the youngest artistic director of the Ljubljana Festival, taking over as executive director of the country’s most important cultural festival in 1995. In addition to his long-running stewardship of the Ljubljana Festival, Mr Brlek has also held various positions at other Slovenian cultural institutions, including being a founder of the Slovenian Chamber of Culture and chairman of the Council for Culture of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia. Despite his extensive commitments to the promotion culture in Slovenia, Mr Brlek also nds the time to participate in several international bodies, becoming vice president of the European Festival Association in 1997 and serving as its chairman since 2005. The Brussels-based institution brings together over 100 festival associations and cultural organisations from 44 countries and is a major force European culture. However, art and culture is not only a profession for Mr Brlek, it is also a way life, and he is still quite active as a concert clarinettist, regularly performing on stages around the world both as a soloist and as a member of the chamber ensemble Trio Luwigana.
HOW MUCH DOES YOUR PERSONAL TASTE INFLUENCE THE PROGRAMME OF THE LJUBLJANA FESTIVAL?
It would be dishonest of me to say that it does not in uence it at all. In a certain way, all artistic directors let their personal taste have some in uence. But when preparing the Ljubljana Festival programme, I am guided mostly by the budget, availability of artists, audience’s tastes and, of course, trends in the festival business. When I am in doubt, I ask my colleagues, who have experiences in various elds, for their opin- ion. A great support, too, is the network within the European Festival Association (EFA), a special platform that unites more than 100 festivals.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS OF PREPARING THE LJUBLJANA FESTIVAL PROGRAMME LIKE? HOW FAR IN ADVANCE DO YOU PLAN AND CREATE IDEAS?
It is a continuous process. I might have some ideas and wishes, but then we are only able to realise them in four or ve years, while some other ideas can be realised the following year or even just before the upcom- ing festival. So it is di cult to say. I am not one of those people that do everything mathematically. Of course, there is a certain clear structure of the festival which has been followed for decades, but we have to be exible and adjust to the current situation. Festivals re ect the current time and space as well as changes in society and the economy.
ARE THERE ANY PARALLELS BETWEEN MANAGING A MAJOR FESTIVAL AND MAKING MUSIC?
Yes, there are and I enjoy doing both. In both cases there is not much space to correct mistakes, or maybe even no space at all, and there are certain responsibilities to the audience. But as the manager and artistic director of the Ljubljana Festival I have even more responsibilities and obligations than as a musician. I do not only depend on myself. Then there is also the aspect of organising a festival, and this aspect is very di erent from just playing music. My obligation is also to put together the budget for the festival and to nd the money for the programme.
HOW HAS THE FESTIVAL CHANGED SINCE YOU BECAME THE FESTIVAL DIRECTOR IN 1995?
It has changed signi cantly. First of all, it has become larger in all aspects: larger audience and venues, more extensive programme and visibility, more co-productions and international collaborations. The Ljubljana Festival has a very long history, ie more than sixty years, and it has always played an important cultural role not only in Slovenia but also Yugoslavia and in the wider region as well. Being a member of the EFA since 1977, it is internationally renowned and has an important impact on European cultural policy. I always say that festivals are like litmus paper, by which I mean that when society changes, festivals change. They re ect society. And we are constantly changing. I recently told a colleague that even after two decades of working for the festival I still feel like a complete newcomer because of completely di erent circumstances – such as the nancial situation in the country and Europe, changes in the educational system, the reaction of society to various cultural events, the popularisa- tion of the internet, electronic communications and social media – this is a real revolution. It is like Big Brother, now everybody can see what we do all the time. However, this increase in the accessibility of information does not guarantee that we will have larger audiences, quite the oppo- site, now we have to work even harder to gain the attention of audiences, especially the younger ones.
ONE THING THAT HASN’T CHANGED OVER THE YEARS IS THE VENUE. WHAT MAKES KRIŽANKE SUCH A SPE- CIAL PLACE?
It is in the very centre of Ljubljana. It has a long and remarkable history, which is still very mysterious and undiscovered. The old buildings have a certain charm that awakens special feelings in visitors. Some of them, and even some of my co-workers, believe that you can feel the pres- ence of ghosts too. It is very important that the premises were origi- nally built and for a long time served as a monastery, which still gives the whole space a really good feeling. When you enter the courtyard of Križanke you just feel good, in part because of the architecture which was reconstructed by renowned Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik, and because, of course, high quality shows and performances.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE DIFFICULTIES AND CHAL- LENGES OF ORGANISING SUCH A MAJOR EVENT LIKE THE SUMMER FESTIVAL?
There are many di culties and challenges, but the main concern is funding. We were founded by the City of Ljubljana, so it has been providing approximately 55-60% of our funding in recent years. But the remaining share must be earned from other activities, such as ticket sales, renting the premises and nding sponsors. The Ljubljana Festival has the highest level of funding from sponsorships among cultural institutions in the country. We are very proud of it and very grateful to sponsors, such as Telekom Slovenija, Spar, Tilia Insurance and Riko, which have been with us for many years.
AND FINALLY, WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR THE LJUBLJANA FESTIVAL?
It has a bright future. We have huge support from the current mayor, Mr Zoran Janković, and the festival has always had strong support from the municipality as well. Over the last 60 years, perhaps thanks to the cultural orientation of the city and also the mentality of its citizens, the local authorities have always supported the festival, so I hope this will be the case in the future too. And with all of the con- tacts that have been established with the rest of the world, as well as the increase in visibility and respect among local and international artists and audiences, I see a very bright and promising future for the Ljubljana Festival.