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Classical Music

Round Top Music Festival: 20 Questions With Vladimir Kulenovic

A conversation with the conductor about music, nature and being in the zone.

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  • Conductor Vladimir Kulenovic (Photo Credit: Balazs Borocz)
    Conductor Vladimir Kulenovic (Photo Credit: Balazs Borocz)
  • Conductor Vladimir Kulenovic (Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Lake Forest Symphony Orchestra)
    Conductor Vladimir Kulenovic (Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Lake Forest Symphony Orchestra)
  • Vladimir Kulenovic in rehearsal at the 2016 Round Top Music Festival (Photo Credit: Sergio Lozano)
    Vladimir Kulenovic in rehearsal at the 2016 Round Top Music Festival (Photo Credit: Sergio Lozano)
  • Vladimir Kulenovic in rehearsal at the 2016 Round Top Music Festival (Photo Credit: Sergio Lozano)
    Vladimir Kulenovic in rehearsal at the 2016 Round Top Music Festival (Photo Credit: Sergio Lozano)
  • Ultimate Frisbee at the 2016 Round Top Music Festival (Photo Credit: Sergio Lozano)
    Ultimate Frisbee at the 2016 Round Top Music Festival (Photo Credit: Sergio Lozano)
  • Gardens at sunset, Round Top Music Festival (Photo Credit: Sergio Lozano)
    Gardens at sunset, Round Top Music Festival (Photo Credit: Sergio Lozano)

This weekend's guest conductor at the Round Top Music Festival is Vladimir Kulenovic, Music Director of the Lake Forest Symphony. Maestro Kulenovic conducts the Texas Festival Orchestra, featuring professional-level young musicians from conservatories across the country, in a program of Franz Joseph Haydn's Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major and Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). The concert is Saturday, July 9, at 7:30 PM in Festival Concert Hall.

For this latest installment of "20 Questions From Round Top," Vladimir Kulenovic answers 10 questions about the music and the festival in the audio interview above, and he answers 10 more questions about his life as a conductor and Chicagoan below:

1. What composer in history do you feel most connected to? That is, a composer whose music you not only love, but whose personality and sensibilities you relate to... and could imagine being good friends with!

It is impossible to choose a single one! I admire Bach the most; my life path shares a strong connection with Shostakovich; I think I would be great friends with Ravel and Haydn; and if I could gift all the remaining days of my life to one composer so that he can again be alive and continue his life – that would be Mozart.

2. Does music run in your family?

Yes, my father is a composer, and my mother a pianist. My grandparents are also artists: my grandfather is a writer, and my grandmother a theater director and former actress.

3. What was it like to leave your native country (war-torn Yugoslavia in the 1990s) and move to the U.S. when you were 12? Did music play in a role in helping you adjust?

"In the middle of difficulty lies the opportunity," was a quote of Albert Einstein that I saw during my first days in Boston upon leaving my home country. I was in the middle of difficulty back then myself, as my father was exiled and we were facing tough times, but those words resonated with me. I knew back then, at 12 years of age, that I [would] have to work and make those words true by seizing the opportunity. And I did so, with my work in music. I am very happy that I moved to United States and am grateful for the opportunity, as much as I am grateful that I return to Serbia and am able to conduct there too and contribute to both of my countries.

4. You live in the Chicago area. Tell me about your neighborhood. What's your typical day like?

I am still exploring Chicago, and I love to explore cities by running through them, which is how I would start the day, with some exercise. That helps me achieve optimal alertness to dive into work, which is a priority [for] every day. The rest of the time [is] dedicated to friends, reading, films and art.

5. What's your favorite way to spend a winter day (or evening) in Chicago?

If I am free, I would spend the winter day cooking something elaborate, and reading a book during the process. In the evening, invite friends for an amazing dinner!

6. What's your favorite way to spend a summer day (or evening) at Round Top?

During rehearsal week, even time off podium is spent reflecting on the work. But in these idyllic surroundings we are blessed to be able to do that in nature, while taking a walk or a run, or even in the wonderful swimming pool!

7. The story of your journey as a conductor – discovering classical music as a young boy, escaping war-torn Yugoslavia with your family, immigrating to the United States to later attend Juilliard and the Peabody Conservatory, and recently being named 2015 Chicagoan of the Year in Classical Music! – would make a good movie, in my opinion. In this movie, who would you like to play yourself?

Paul Newman

8. What are your top 3 "desert island" pieces?

Bach's The Art of Fugue; Beethoven's 9th Symphony; "Word of Light" (written by my father, Vuk)

9. Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

No rituals, I am always in the zone.

10. What goes through your mind after the final beat, once the performance is finished? (Joy? Relief? Exhaustion?)

That is entirely up to the piece of music that I am playing. In fact, that piece is “playing me” and it keeps resonating even after the last note has been played. Usually, I am a bit sad the performance is over, but in the same time happy with what has been achieved while never being fully satisfied.