Held in the hilly, wine-growing region in the southwest of Slovenia, Brda Contemporary Music Festival is a small yet diverse and ambitious festival for all kinds of arts, but with a special focus on improvised music practices. Held just at the border with Italy, this liminal location is possibly its main asset, as it tries to foster cross-cultural ties and cooperation, as well as create a cross-border musical scene. The festival's main organiser and curator, the drummer Zlatko Kaučič, has been operating between the countries for a long time and also actively helping younger generations of musicians in their musical strivings. Thus, the festival is a sort of reflection of his personal artistic path, crossing the borders between countries, generations and artistic practices.
The festival was first held in 2011, then still under the name Smartfest. It took place in the picturesque medieval village Šmartno, where it is still held today and where it occupies various parts of the walled village, from the hall of the local cultural centre to the main square and the church. In 2012, the festival temporarily moved to nearby Medana and was first held as the Brda Contemporary Music Festival.
The festival presents a programme that mainly features Slovenian and Italian artists of the younger generation, with the Italians often coming from the Dobia Lab collective, an informal cultural organisation and venue in the neighbouring Italian town Staranzano. Similarly, the Slovenian musicians are often connected to the Zlatko Kaučič Kombo project, in which a number of Slovenia's young improvisers have participated. Some of the musicians who have played on the stages in Šmartno (or Medana) include Jošt Drašler, Vid Drašler, Marko Karlovčec, Boštjan Simon, Vitja Balžalorsky, Marko Lasič, Giovanni Maier, Massimo di Mattia, Paolo Pascolo, Aghe Clope and, naturally, also Kaučič.
Alongside these musical acts, there are photography exhibitions by photographers such as Žiga Koritnik, Tanja Rusjan or Iztok Zupan, and also light installation and performances by the crew of Hybrida from Tarcenta, Italy. While the video performances are done in conjunction with the music being played, the installations are set throughout the village. Dance performances, poetry acts and even film screenings are paired with live music being played, with some of the poets being Petra Koršič, Alenka Jovanovski and Petra Paravan. Besides all this, other things make their way into the programme as well.
Music workshops and Orchestra Without Borders
Among the main festival features are two-day workshops, led by important figures from the improvised music scene, such as Evan Parker, Phil Minton, Joëlle Léandre, Johannes Bauer and Ab Baars (who also hold concerts of their own). The participants of the workshops are usually the hosted musicians and some random visitors, coming from Slovenia, Croatia and Italy. These workshops at the end result in orchestra gigs, led by the mentors of the workshops.
The name of these orchestra formations is usually Orkester brez meja / Orchestra Senza Confini [Orchestra without borders] and, in a way, it is an extended combination of the Dob Orchestra (of the Dobia lab musicians) and the Zlatko Kaučič Kombo. In 2014, Zlatko and Giovanni started developing a double simultaneous conduction concept which resulted in the 2014 concert of the orchestra at the festival, where it was recorded and later released in 2015.