|Wayne Escoffery at Valamar|
We spoke this week by telephone to the Festival Director of the VALAMAR JAZZ FESTIVAL in Poreč (Istria/ Croatia) , the singer/ composer/ flautist Tamara Obrovac.
Tamara Obrovac directed the very first Valamar festival in 2010 and is currently getting ready to present the third, from June 20th-24th. This year featured artists are Ralph Towner, the Enrico Rava Tribe , the Joey Calderazzo Trio , Ceacilie Norby’s Quartet, Hugh Masekela and Fred Wesley and The New JB Horns.
Although Obrovac was involved with the festival from the start, she doesn’t want to take the credit for having got it off the ground. If not her, then who. I asked? Obrovac attributes the original concept to Croatian tourism minister Veljko Ostojić. Like Obrovac, he is originally from Pula, the biggest town of the Istrian peninsula, on its southernmost tip , principally known for its well-preserved Roman amphitheatre.
Ostojić approached her with the original plan in 2008. He wanted there to be a jazz festival in Poreč, which would take advantage of the unique setting of the historic sea-port. He also knew that he wanted Obrovac, as a musician, to run it, and to put in some serious, musician-led programming. The festival should – he envisaged, have a stage at the Valamar Hotel and Resort (formerly the Neptun Hotel), right up against the sea. Valamar, a resort operator, duly got involved as title sponsor of the festival, and has provided the accommodation and logistics for all three festivals. The chain has just been awarded the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence 2012
Obrovac remembers the time – more than two years – when she concentrated on getting it all together for the first time. She knew she needed to assemble the right production team, of people she knew, and who she knew she could work with. “I wanted a calm and capable team” she told me. She remembers the deliberately slow build to the first festival, the time spent worrying about what might goo wrong – very little did. She told me about the sense of relief and joy as the first acts took the stage on the first day: Claudia Acuna, followed immediately by Dave Holland’s flamenco project with Pepe Habichuela.
What is magical about the Valamar setting, Obrovac told me, is that the music emerges from the natural sounds of the place: crickets in the trees, and the gentle lapping of the waves.” Calm, natural sounds,” says Obrovac And a bit of research into Tourism Minister Ostojić shows that his enthusiasms are also quite well aligned. Go to his page on the Croatian government’s website and his entry ends as follows : “Hobbies – Gourmet: wine and olive oil. – Sea”. Obrovac is proud of the festivals this and values: “The musicians are delighted. They are treated well”, she told me.
2010 was, incidentally, the centenary of construction of the very first hotel in Poreč, then called Parenzo. But whan one digs into the history of this region, 100 years seems like a blip. Parts of the Euphrasian Basilica, which this year is being used or the second time as a venue, date from the 5th century. Last year Tamara Obovac herself, with Richard Galliano, performed inside the basilica. hThis year Ralph Towner will play a solo guitar reciteal outsidein the stone yard- it will be an atmospheric concert, and Obrovac knows what she expects: “meditating, a calm situation.”
Obrovac doesn’t have a project in the festival this year, but her performances in other years have been a feature of the festival. Obrovac identifies completely with the endeavour to make the culture and the particular linguistic and folk song traditions of Istria better known. Last year she performed with Richard Galliano. This year the local musicians will be In evidence in the jam sessions. But Obrovac’s individual art leaves its mark, though. John L Walters tells me he remembers “ falling headlong” for her music, which he described at the time as “floating, beguiling” in the context of the 2004 World Music Awards.
The depth of history of Istria can stop you in your tracks. The sea-port of Poreč has at different times been called : Parenzo (Italian) Parens or Parentium (Latin) Parenz (German) Παρενθος, Pàrenthos (Ancient Greek). The Istrian peninsula has been Roman, Venetian, part of the Holy Roman Empire (1797-1805), under Napoleonic rule as part of the Kingdom of Italy (1806 -1810), part of the Illyrian provinces of the French Empire (1810–1813), and then belonged to Austria (1814-1918) Italy (1919-1945), Yugoslavia (1945-1991) and is now part of Croatia.
Obrovac spoke about the apartness of Istria arising from its geographical situation. It’s mostly surrounded by sea, but, she pointed out, the main way out to the north is via a road tunnel under the Učka mountain range. “It’s almost an island”, says Obrovac. I’m looking forward to discovering more of island life.
I have been invited to the Valamar Festival as guest of the Festival.