02/12/2022 Juliana Széchenyi


Živa Ploj Peršuh
Conductor, Musicologist, Humanitarian The Greatest
The Magic of Conducting Is Knowing Your Power In
The Moment Itself And Its Transience

Živa Ploj Peršuh, who surprises time and again with her freshness, musical persuasiveness, exceptional talent and knowledge, is a conductor with a wide symphonic and operatic repertoire who loves to lead genre-diverse projects. She can boast of being the first woman to hold a conducting chair SNG Ljubljana Opera and Ballet. She is a firm believer in the importance of passing on artistic knowledge and skills to young people, especially in the field of classical music. Živa is also a humanitarian. She and her husband Tom saved more than 140 young musicians, including members of the Youth Orchestra of Ukraine, from the horrors of the war in Ukraine. Their tireless commitment not only found them a safe haven in Slovenia, but also enabled their further development and work in the field of music and integration. Being a conductor is a rather unusual profession for a woman, how did you decide to take this path? Being a conductor is a profession you don't choose. It's more a profession that chooses you. Obviously, the situation on stage is my cue - both scary and tempting at the same time. Women in the conducting profession today are no longer the exception - just as women in other leadership positions are not. I see the advantage of women in their perseverance and their thin sensitivity to the problems that arise, which we are able to unravel with remarkable skill and never give up. I assume you come from a musical family? That's right, my mother is a musician, a professional cellist, formerly employed at the Maribor Opera. My father is an amateur musician who loves singing and folk songs. So we have always had strong musical roots and a love of different genres. Since there were no nannies, I regularly accompanied my mother to rehearsals, which enriched my childhood immensely. Alongside music, I was interested in many other things: sports, gymnastics, which I trained diligently, dancing, nature conservation, love of animals... In the end, music won out, as it offers endless possibilities for creativity. It requires teamwork, so there is no shortage of diplomacy. You have to convince people that your choice is the right one. These are manager-like moves. What skills do you need to become a good conductor? Extraordinary lucidity, patience, the ability to bring people to a common denominator and the understanding or knowledge to present the work in the best possible light. The greatest charm of conducting, which is the recreation of a work of art, is to be aware of one's power in the moment itself and its transience. A conductor is quite comparable to a director, shaped by knowledge, experience and that cohesive X-factor that every successful leader has. You also boast exceptional knowledge and valuable international connections, having studied abroad. Yes, I studied in Germany, and that opens up different perspectives, opportunities and, above all, a lot of connections. Since 2009, I have been co-designing programmes with many international partners and with the support of EU funding. But in the arts we have to be aware that it is not possible to compare environments like the German one with the Slovenian one. Societal development has taken completely different paths and art has a completely different status in society. When we just look at the cooperation between business and culture, we see that all the most successful CEO attending and learning about concerts and opera performances, and above all working in partnership on long-term cultural projects. In Germany, despite sold-out football stadiums, cultural institutions still sell more tickets than football clubs. In Slovenia, we are slowly developing our own model, even though we have an extraordinary number of promising world-class artists in all fields, both in sport and culture. Just look at "our" three Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras You say that the conductor's baton is a tool of respect, which, as an extension of the arm, allows you to control and communicate with the orchestra, while at the same time making many details easier and even more intentional to point out with the hand. How would you define your conducting style? I often hear that I conduct in a calm and elegant way. That I express total control without nervous gestures. The posture reflects confidence and control. No pressure on anyone. I myself like to use the technique I learned in Mannheim. It comes from the old school, according to which every gesture is deliberate and has a purpose. But how important is dress in conducting? Do you see it as a kind of uniform? Do you ever conduct in a skirt? There is a long tradition of unwritten rules of dress, but in our profession it was made only for men. I dress in the style of the programme I am conducting. Mostly I wear trousers. Sometimes you have to stand with your legs spread, find your balance in some fast and powerful swings, and in a skirt it wouldn't look good in front of a crowd. Of course, my dress is a kind of uniform, also an expression of the attitude I want to present. The basic outfit of every conductor is a tailcoat, and we women can afford to make certain adjustments - a more tailored cut, for example. I notice that the tailcoat is increasingly being replaced by a more relaxed suit, even for men. It can also be just a shirt. You say that you firmly believe in the importance of passing on artistic knowledge and skills to young people, especially classical music from all periods and genres. Why do you think this is so important? The transmission of knowledge in all its nuances is most meaningful with practical examples or explanations of theory with practical demonstrations of the various possibilities. Knowledge needs to be disseminated, expanded, enriched by dialogue, traditional rules need to be tested, debated, tried out and, of course, consciously broken again and again. This seems to me to be the key - as with craft skills. It is only when the knowledge is 'sitting', so to speak, that the art can begin. Let's look at examples from history, there have always been composers, musicians, who have looked for jobs, inspiration and opportunities in different places. There they gained insight and the possibility to compare, to reflect and to collaborate in other contexts. I myself believe that one should go elsewhere for inspiration, exchange views, live or study abroad, observe our situation from a distance and then come back. Not only in the musical field, but also economically, socially and politically. It is unnecessary to fear that we will lose our Slovene identity in doing so. At most, we will enrich it. We are enriching it with additional knowledge. It also seems important to me that we really show young people the usefulness of the knowledge they acquire at school - at different levels and in different genres. In order to thrive in their chosen life path as a musician, they also need to accept that not everyone will be a soloist. But they can work in other ways, the field of art is wide open, someone just needs to encourage them to look in more directions. You have always been visionary: before the end of your studies, you founded your own symphony and chamber orchestra in Slovenia, Festine, which brought professional musicians together with students, giving young people the opportunity to share their experiences of professional musical life and to guide them in playing contemporary music. During my studies abroad, I also experienced many similar synergies. This was lacking in our musical landscape at that time. Of course, the first answer I got was that we had enough symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras. Nevertheless, I persisted on many levels and I am happy that the various synergy projects I have introduced have been so successful that they are now being used by other institutions, because there is still a great need for this. When designing programmes for young people, you need to have a sense of the environment in which you live, so that you can offer them relevant content and skills that will help them develop their careers. Society is changing fast and demands the same from artists. What is the interest of young people in classical music? The interest is huge! Especially if you look at music education and we have more than 22 thousand young people attending every year. But this transition is not being transferred to the listening public or audience to the same extent. All genres still exist, young people are creating and want to create - including classical music. Primary school music directors tell us that interest outstrips enrolment. Music gives children a lot of life skills, but also values, tolerance, respect for diversity and openness to dialogue. You are the central figure, founder and artistic director Slovenian National Youth OrchestraLjubljana International Orchestra and the Triple Bridge European Career Centre for Artists. How do you manage to coordinate all these roles and excel at it? Since 2008, I have been actively involved in the progression of young musicians, involving them in ensembles and projects that enable them to advance their careers. The European Artists Career Centre is a platform for knowledge transfer on an international level and deals with young professional musicians who are about to graduate or have graduated and are in the market. In the Career Centre, we try to give knowledge about the arts as well as management and marketing. We involve them in various activities and career workshops, the orchestra academy, masterclasses, so that they get a feel for all the possibilities in the professional world. We work in a networking and cross-sectoral way. Since 2012, foreign institutions have known and used the possibilities to send their students to us. We call it the Orchestra Academy. It works by admitting young people to the orchestra by call for auditions and giving them the opportunity to play in a simulated professional orchestra. The result of this academy is the Ljubljana International Orchestra - Ljubljana International Orchestra, which traditionally performs at the Ljubljana Festival and tours abroad. Since March, I have also been leading the Musič for the future project, where we are proving that music can do many things - in our case, the evacuation and integration of young musicians from Ukraine. I am most proud of Slovenian Youth Orchestra, which is delivering outstanding results and is now looking for support and a place in society. Slovenia's outstanding young musicians certainly deserve it. Immediately after the start of the war in Ukraine, you and your husband Tom Peršuh decided to evacuate young musicians from Ukraine, and since then your extended family has grown to about 140 members. You have said that your priority is to provide these artists with your knowledge and experience in a linguistically, educationally and musically rich environment and to integrate them as young artists, not as refugees. We have all - including at national level - fallen into this war situation, and in our organisation we were the first to bring such a large group to Slovenia with the aim of integrating them. It was horrible to see young people like the young people we are dealing with here, how scared they are and how they are suffering. It hurt the borders as a mother. The campaign was a big challenge for everybody, especially because we are a music organisation. But in a flash, we came together and became a humanitarian organisation as well. It was exhausting, it was tense, but today I can look back with satisfaction and pride at what we have managed to do. The most important thing in evacuation is to offer the possibility of integration. We have sorted out everyone's documents, they are receiving compensation, they are all in schools - primary schools, music schools, academies and living in student hostels and apartments. It turns out that stakeholders get on best with people with the same interests. So we, as a musical family, understand our fellow musicians from Ukraine best. The charity concert of young musicians from Ukraine at Cankarjev dom, united with the Slovenian Youth Orchestra and high-carat guest Gidon Kremer, one of the best violinists of our time. How did you manage it? On the night of 6-7 March, the young musicians arrived in Ljubljana after we had picked them up in the town of Chop by bus. They had already made the two and a half day journey. On 8 March, three musicians were already on stage, playing at a concert organised by our national television for Ukraine. This was the first musical performance organised by us. By the end of July, we had organised 32 more, and then we performed at the Bled Forum. We were very committed to musicians giving performances, concerts - to activate them on a daily basis and to organise their lives. They carried the appeal for peace through music. Of course, the concert with Gidon Kremer, which we held together with UNICEF, was particularly well received. We simply contacted Mr Kremer, explained the project to him and he immediately expressed his support and performed with us on stage. He was rehearsing in Hungary at the time, but he took the time to come to Ljubljana. Of course, given your charity involvement, I would like to know how you see the functioning and development of the Manager's Concert? I have been following Mr Sibinčič's work for some time now, because I am also interested from a professional point of view in who the young talented musicians are that he chooses to support, and what his insight is into the musical landscape in our country. His work, his support for young people, is invaluable. Visiting Slovenian companies and encouraging them to fund the arts is a huge commitment and hard work, and I am grateful to him for fighting so tirelessly for young musicians. Even if your profession is romantic for many people, because you are surrounded by music all the time, I would like to know what your relationship is to music in your spare time. Are you also able to enjoy listening in a relaxed way, or do you prefer silence then? When I am not practising or my son is not practising, we have silence. There might be a quieter background of jazz or classical music. In my spare time, I prefer silence, and I relax with the sounds of nature. I like to be by the sea or in the woods, where there are no other impulses. Music always draws me into analytical listening. What do you like to do when you have free time, what do you like to do to relax, do you have any hobbies? I enjoy nature immensely. If I can, I go for a walk every day to Ljubljana Castle. Our lives are so organised, with a precise schedule and time, that it is the unplanned, spontaneous gatherings with friends that bring me the most joy. Have you perhaps passed on your musical talent to your son? My eight-year-old son is very curious. He goes to music school, he practises his technique diligently, but his favourite thing is to explore the instrument sonically, to improvise. He plays piano and guitar. We'll see... What do you consider to be your mission in life? I see my mission as connecting and spreading awareness of what can be achieved in music with little resources. But also to show and prove through my work how a well-designed cultural landscape, not only musical, is a mirror of the country. It is also my mission to convince young people who thought they did not have a strong enough voice in the field of musical art to the contrary. I will therefore be delighted if, together with the Managers' Concert and Mr Sibinčič, we manage to convince as many managers as possible that young artists are the messengers of our future. I see the ability to connect as one of my main assets when working with large ensembles. That is my strength.

Finance - annex
Authors Petra Kancler
Date. 2022