The Western Balkans Youth Orchestra

Photos by Adem Marovci

'Playing the Future' - Idea and Mission

Making music brings people together. This applies naturally also to young musicians in the Western Balkans, where peaceful cooperation across borders and ethnic divides remains an issue after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia some 25 years ago.


A natural outgrowth of the European Summer Music Academies, that have taken place in Pristina every year since 2012, the WBYO was officially launched in August 2019, with the goal of becoming operational in spring 2020. Alas, due to the pandemic, the first physical meeting of the full WBYO had to be postponed to autumn 2021, when the first batch of enthusiastic WB musicians formed a 30-member string orchestra.


As a project orchestra, the WBYO brings together young musicians from each of the six Western Balkan countries* (ALB, BiH, RKS, MNE, NMK and SRB) in roughly equal numbers. They meet once or twice a year in different locations in the Western Balkans, as well as in changing configurations. At the beginning of each working phase, individual and sectional training under the guidance of veteran orchestra musicians from both the EU and the Western Balkans prepare the young musicians for their roles in the orchestra. And naturally, intensive rehearsals with the full orchestra are at the heart of each working phase. After this preparation, the orchestra sets out for concerts in some or all of the 6 WB countries* and even further afield – in order to make the success of this collaboration audible and tangible across borders! The role of the concertmaster will rotate – so as to always be from a country* other than the one in which the performance takes place.


As varied as their ethnic, national, religious and cultural backgrounds may be, by getting to know each other during intensive rehearsals, by performing as an ensemble on stage and touring together over many days, the young musicians are fused together into one single unit, one full orchestra – a feat of collaboration and coordination of the highest order, matched normally only by highly-qualified professionals in far more stable settings! And thus, the WBYO youth become high-class ambassadors of cooperation in a region that remains marked by strife and discord. 


The initiator and artistic director of the WBYO is the Albanian-born conductor and pianist Desar Sulejmani, who currently resides in Essen, Germany. Mr. Sulejmani was also a major driving force behind the European Summer Music Academy, which has already taken place for ten successive years in Kosovo. 


From its inception in 2019, this undertaking was financially supported by the Rotary Club Aachen-Land, in cooperation with the Rotary Clubs Aachen-Charlemagne and Aachen-Nordkreis, that organized a charity concert in February 2020 for raising money for the project. Further donations were received from the Rotary Clubs Fulda and Canterbury Sunrise. The sum of all these funds was then doubled by a matching grant from the Rotary District 1810, in order to give the WBYO a stable financial basis. In summer 2021, the eight clubs of the Aachen rotary family, together with the Rotary Orchester Deutschland, organized yet another charity concert. The WYBO further relies on additional support for its specific events that comes from various local sponsors, such as embassies, development agencies, European agencies, universities, businesses and partners (see the supporters in the various projects). 


In order to ensure optimal support for this project and its objectives, as well as for a successful implementation of the concerts on site, the initiating German Rotary Clubs are using their international network to build a group of local Rotary clubs in the Western Balkans (‘Rotary Network for the WBYO’). They will take care of the promotion of the idea and the concerts on site, and communicate with the local press. This cross-border cooperation in itself is an essential component and an important outcome of the project.

*) In the WBYO context, the designation is without prejudice about positions on status.