Cantus Ensemble was founded in 2001 essentially as the festival ensemble of the Music Biennale Zagreb. The ensemble surpassed the festival boundaries that same year, but it became an independent group in the 2006/2007 season with its own concert cycle that is still almost the only continuous contemporary music element on the Croatian scene. Since that distant 2001, it has become an integral part of the MBZ, the most important and the longest lasting festival of contemporary music and related arts both in Croatia and the region. Out of many projects and engagements, soloists and conductors with whom the ensemble successfully collaborated during these festivals, three in particular should be highlighted – all three involve theater in their own, ardent way.
The first is the ballet Air, composed by Krešimir Seletković and coproduced by the Croatian National Theater in Zagreb, created for the 2011 Festival. Choreography and dramaturgy were the work of the internationally-renowned Swiss choreographer Martino Müller, and the ballet was performed by the Ballet Ensemble of the HNK Zagreb and the Cantus Ensemble led by Berislav Šipuš. The Ensemble was so good in this orchestral theatrical sphere that it received the Croatian Actors' Guild Award for the best ballet production in 2011, while the ballerina Pavla Mikolavčić received the award for the best artistic ballet performance.
The next project were productions of two anthological, one might even say iconic, works of the 20th and 21st centuries for the very next MBZ festival held in 2013 – Pierrot Lunaire by Arnold Schönberg and Le marteau sans maître by Pierre Boulez. Both were staged at the Ensemble’s initiative and in coproduction with the Zagreb Puppet Theater.
The beauty of these performances comes from the puppet directing of a Croatian actor, director and playwright Rene Medvešek, who opted for the use of very poetic, completely symbolical and abstract artistic images that strive to visually present or accompany sound elements. The author of the visual concept was academic painter Danijel Srdarev, and costume designer Petra Dančević garbed the ZKL ensemble as well as the soloists Martina Gojčeta Silić and Martina Matić Borse.
The 2017 Biennale placed a great challenge before the Ensemble – an excellent work, An Index of Metals, by the prematurely deceased Italian composer Fausto Romitelli. This piece, that is somewhere between rock and experimental music, is extremely technically demanding due to its numerous paraphrases and associations but has captivated the Biennale audience. It is also one of the most frequently-mentioned recent productions of the MBZ.
In the coproduction of the 30th festival Music Biennale Zagreb, Cantus Ensemble and Icarus Ensemble in April 2019, as part of the concert cycle Cantus@Lauba and the 30th Music Biennale Zagreb, performed the Concert Portrait of the composer Ivan Fedele. The peak of the project is Fedele's new composition Ex-Tension II, which was commissioned by Cantus and Icarus Ensembles and MBZ.
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