Isidora Žebeljan (1967, Serbia) attracted the world’s attention with her opera Zora D, which was premièred in Amsterdam, directed by David Pountney and Nicola Raab. Since then, she has enjoyed a steady supply of commissions from important institutions and festivals: the Venice Biennale, Bregenz Festival, Berlin Philharmonic Foundation, Accademia musicale chigiana (Siena), City of London Festival, University of Kent, Gelsenkirchen Opera, the Netherlands Chamber Choir, Eduard van Beinum Foundation, etc. She has composed music for top music ensembles: Vienna Symphony Orchestra, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Berlin Philharmonic Octet, The Brodsky Quartet, and London Brass. Her works are regularly performed all over the world, including festivals such as RAI Nuova musica, WDR-Musikfest, Settembre musica Milano-Torino, Settimana musicala senese, ISCM-festivals, Zagreb Music Biennale, KotorArt, etc. Her music has also been performed by Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Turin, Janáček Philharmonic, I Solisti veneti, and by conductors such as Paul Daniel, Claudio Scimone, David Porcelijn, Christoph Poppen, etc. She regularly performs as a conductor and pianist. She has conducted in concerts in London (with The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields) and Amsterdam, and performed as a pianist with The Brodsky Quartet. Exclusive publishing rights to her music are held by Ricordi-Universal of Milan. Author CDs with music by Žebeljan have been released by CPO in Germany (in 2011 and 2015), Oboe Classics of London (2013), MASCOM Records, etc. She studied composition at the Faculty of Music in Belgrade with Vlastimir Trajković. In 2002, she began teaching composition at the same institution, as a professor. In 2006, she was elected to the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and in 2012 to the World Academy of Art and Science.
Needle soup – the title refers to the eponymous old Balkan story, which relates how a hungry vagrant outwitted an old miser. The vagrant fooled the miser by telling him that he could make the most delicious soup out of needles. And whilst cooking, he kept talking the miser into giving him more and more exquisite ingredients and thus in the end made an excellent, rich, and, above all, tasty soup.
That is the subject of the piece, too. The composer-vagrant-inventor enchants her ego-miser so as to free her intuition to recognise the most enchanting emotive-musical ingredients. And, telling a musical story, she fools her ego, so that they both may entirely yield to the Spirit.
A single initial idea starts a chain reaction of unpredictable musical ideas and events – giving rise to a ‘stream of consciousness music’ with elements of a ‘mystical musical surrealism’. It features a prominent narrative structure, but in a cinematic way (not like film music, but like the cinematic medium itself – musical images come in a series and make up a lucid energetic whole, which is perceived as the joy of creation).
The piece was commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic Foundation and premièred on 17 October 2015 at the Chamber Music Hall of Berlin Philharmonie, performed by Berlin Philharmonic Octet.