‘How we like to music, is who we are.’ This choice is realized by the very decision to attend one type of event and not another, to present oneself to a certain set of spectators.


People choose to go to classical music concerts for various reasons; be it the music repertoire they like or the performers they have heard of or either because they have a subscription to a particular concert cycle or a well-established custom of going to a concert with friends. Whatever the reason, they know what is going to happen there since at least two of the performance components are almost always pre-announced; performers and the repertoire. We could say that these are the basics and in the centre of the concert-goer’s interest. Other elements are mostly taken for granted. After all, we are familiar with the ritual, we know the rules.

A ritualized event in the concert hall that Christopher Small has acutely described in his book Musicking shows a sort of alienation where listeners are more passive consumers, ‘spectators rather than participants whose silence during the performance is a sign of the condition that they have nothing to contribute to the spectacle that has been arranged for them.’

On the other hand, salon gatherings which in most cases are intended for a smaller number of people, have a long history. What is more important, a salon gathering is not a form or event that implies only one artistic activity or socio-cultural practice.

To shape an artistic vision of the contemporary salon and musical performance of ‘old’ Western classical music (OWCM) as an integral part of it requires a detailed elaboration of our engagement with the past and inherited traditions.


By the eighteenth-century standard, salon etiquette was fairly informal. Salons were fundamentally social affairs, running the gamut from formal gatherings (possibly approximating modern recitals) to noisy parties in which individuals playing (or sight-reading) were almost certainly drowned out by the company’s conversation.

Namely, the historical salon as a private event became the ‘domain’ of women where it was socially acceptable for them to have a role as performers, composers or simply organizers, excluding them at the same time from the prestigious public concerts which belonged mostly to men. Unlike today’s conditions, the salonnières of the past could devise activities according to their guests; they knew who will attend the event and in most cases, the level of attendant’s literacy was alike to theirs. In most cases, salonnières listened to the freshly composed works so the discussion around that music was lively and exciting. Besides, the eighteenth-century forms of sociability  were oriented on the art as an expression of feeling that is directed outwards and is concerned with how one’s own nature and one’s own views interact with those of others.

In other words, the salonnière’s performatives were intertwined with the audience’s performatives in an intimate environment of the salon, so this transaction’s dynamic was increased.

Given that salonnières of the past acted not just as performers, but as well as organizers, creators and partakers, a contemporary salonnière enacts all these actions and seeks to establish a new dynamism within the performance.

In the twenty-first century a general trend toward the dissolution of boundaries, especially in performance art, is heightened by an increasingly mediatized environment and reflected in the sense that ‘performance is everywhere’. Although many rituals are long-lasting and protective of the status quo, others encourage innovation by opening up a space and time for anti-structure or the temporary adherence to an alternative set of rules.

As creative performers and artists, we are responsible to create performances of OWCM that correspond with our contemporary socio-cultural conditions in order to communicate with present-day audiences.   The endeavour is not to make a historical reconstruction, it inclines rather a deconstruction.

While working with the selection of music and other archival materials which are exposed through mixed media, one has to bear in mind that fact is fact depending on how you look at it, or as mirrored in the mind. As suggested by Blau, the struggle to write history, to represent events, is an ongoing performative process full of opinion and other subjectivities. This proposes real challenges to a contemporary salonnière. Whether she acts as herself or as her historical counterpart embedded in the performance, she starts a conversation or encourages reactions and comments in the audience. Indeed, even in the standarized concert events nowadays we often hear performers who adress the audience in order to inform them or give lectures related to the chosen repertoire or instruments, but doing it as a performative while sharing the performance space with the audience has a lot more potential for activating the network of interrelations between all the participants. It opens up a space for interactive play.

It can be argued that in an operation like this, a contemporary salonnière has a role of a music curator. It is evident that the exposition of materials implies different media than sound; while music is performed live, various materials can be projected simultaneously through mixed media; audio or audio-visual recordings, spoken and written texts, live videos and other. The purpose of this is to show the process of creating a performance- the modus operandi itself. Assembled this way by providing the audience with alternative perspectives, the performance has the potential to stimulate change in perception and reception of OWCM by activating a set of relations between materials, between music and performers/music and listeners but also between performers on stage and between their historical counterparts (who can be embedded in the historically informed performances and/or outspoken via exposed materials such as diaries, records, letters etc.). In addition, by playing with different media at the same time (multi-focus), the elements are intertwined in taking the shape of augmented/mixed reality, at the same time establishing temporal and spatial relations such as now and then, here and there. Still, this doesn’t offer an opportunity for interactivity in terms of stimulating spontaneous reactions from the audiences or the possibility of their inclusion.

Due to its exceptional attachment to the past, Dubrovnik is specific in many ways. Once espousing a very active cultural milieu with cosmopolitan characteristics and in present time a UNESCO city in recognition of its worldwide reputation as a city of culture and rich historical heritage, Dubrovnik is definitely part of Europe. Namely, the former Dubrovnik Republic, which had from the mid-fourteenth- century stood out against all kinds of political pressures and had preserved its independence for centuries, managed to bring the city to the status of an important business and cultural centre. Dubrovnik has been fertile ground for the import of up-to-date creations of art from the Mediterranean and Central Europe, as well as for its own musical creation. Contacts were made with many European lands and capitals, which involved Dubrovnik people in a pan-European network of enlightened during the second half of the eighteenth and the first part of the nineteenth century. Since they regulary travelled to the European cities, they kept up with musical trends, as shown by the extant collections of their private libraries and their own musical legacy.

One of the strongest assets in the recent cultural history of Dubrovnik is precisely its historical identity and the use of historical sites that gave rise to its idiosyncratic environmental performance concept. Besides the city palaces that are preserved to the present time to witness the high living standards and rich cultural life of its owners, many of the Dubrovnik salon gatherings took place in the summer villas of Dubrovnik nobility.

The Renaissance Garden project is based on a contemporary interpretation of cultural heritage, devised as a salon gathering and therefore it is (traditionally) performed in the authentic ambience of the renovated Villa Bunić Kaboga from the 16th century.  It brings an unconventionally conceived program through intermedia performance; using live musical performances of the repertoire that covers a wide range from the Renaissance to contemporary authors as well as archival materials that outline the protagonists of Dubrovnik salons of the past.

Among the representatives of cultural circles that were affected by big social and cultural changes in the last decades of the 18th century, it is important to point out the name of Maria Giorgi Bona, a woman whose drawing room was a genuine meeting place at the very beginning of the 19th century and who surrounded herself with like-minded ladies who engaged themselves in science, philosophy, literature and music. She was praised by many contemporaries, one of whom dedicated a collection of songs to her entitled Amaryllis Epidaurica.

She won his heart and captured his mind.

Symbolically entitled Amaryllis, this edition of the Renaissance Garden project tells the story of forbidden love but also of the strength that defies it…




Photo: Katarina Karakaš Spiroski

Text: Ivana Jelača



Bersa, Josip: Dubrovačke slike i prilike 1800-1880, Dubrovnik, 2002.


Grujić, Nada: Vrijeme ladanja, Dubrovnik, 2003.


Small, Christopher: Musicking: The Meanings of performing and listening, Hanover, 1998.


Stojan, Slavica: Duhovni život dubrovačkih gospođa u 18. stoljeću, Dubrovnik, 1996.


Stojan, Slavica: U salonu Marije Giorgi Bona, Dubrovnik, 1994.


Sutcliffe, Dean: Instrumental Music in an Age of Sociability: Haydn, Mozart and Friends. Cambridge, 2019.