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Nigel Osborne

Differences in Demolition - A Sevdah Opera
Touring and education work

Nigel Osborne’s opera, Differences in Demolition, receives its UK premiere in London in July.


Born in Manchester, Nigel Osborne is a composer and music therapist whose studies and work have taken him all over Europe.  He studied composition with Witold Rudzinski at the Warsaw Academy, Kenneth Leighton, and Egon Wellesz, the first pupil of Arnold Schoenberg.  His works have been featured in international festivals and performed by many leading orchestras and ensembles around the world. He has had close ties with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia, London Sinfonietta, Hebrides Ensemble and Ensemble Intercontemporain, and has composed extensively for the theatre, with operas and music theatre works for Glyndebourne, English National Opera, the Shakespeare Globe, BBC Radio 3.

Nigel Osborne in Mostar, June 2007; Photo: Robert Golden Nigel Osborne has pioneered the use of music in therapy and rehabilitation for children who are victims of conflict.  Much of his work was carried out in the Balkans during and following the wars in that region during the 1990s, and he has also worked in the Caucasus, Africa and the Middle East

He is winner of the Opera Prize of Radio Suisse Romande and Ville de Geneve, the Netherlands Gaudeamus Prize, the Radcliffe Award and the Koussevitzky Award of the Library of Congress in Washington.  He is currently Reid Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh.

Differences in Demolition - A Sevdah Opera

Sevdah is thought to have originated after the Turks came to medieval Bosnia.  The word Sevdah itself is open to several interpretations, the most accurate of which means love, desire or ecstasy.  The old Arabic word was used by physicians to describe black gall, a substance which circulates through the human body that controls feelings and emotions, and Sevdah remains a musical expression full of emotion, calling for old times where people lived easier and loved more.

The idea to try and use Sevdah music to create an opera was conceived by Dragi Sestic, Tatiana Palinkesey of The Bosnian Institute in London and Ian Ritchie of Accord International, whilst they were sitting having a coffee in Sarajevo some years back.  Ian Ritchie asked Tina Ellen Lee, Artistic Director of Opera Circus, which is known for its accessible and unique approach to opera and music theatre, whether she and the company were interested in trying to develop the project.  The libretto was written by the eminent Bosnian poet Goran Simic, and Nigel Osborne was commissioned by Opera Circus to compose the contemporary chamber opera inspired by the beautiful Sevdah music.

Robert Rice and Mladen Vasari; Photo: Robert Golden The work is entirely new and does not contain traditional Sevdah material, except for one song, but Nigel Osborne’s years of living and working in Bosnia i Hercegovina have imbued the work with the essence and flavour of this Balkan music.  Lenka Udovicki directed the production.

Creating the Sevdah opera was largely about creating an ensemble of artists from many religions and races, with the aim not only of producing a beautiful chamber opera, but of spreading a message of cultural collaboration and communication through music and the human voice.  The instrumentalists and singers come from Croatia, Bosnia, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK, and the creative team from Canada, the USA, Scotland, Spain and England. 

Out of this project have grown a number of other projects, working with disadvantaged children in Bosnia and Croatia, creating workshops and residencies with young people and local communities in rural regions of South West England, and creating new collaborations with other artistic groups such as Scottish Dance Theatre and the Hebrides Ensemble in Scotland.  A trio has grown out of this Sevdah project with a singer, viola and accordion player exploring Sevdah and Sefardic music.  In addition, the company has committed itself to support the Mostar Music Therapy Centre in Bosnia, and the Children's Summer Camps in Croatia and Bosnia run by Nigel Osborne.

Touring and education work

Differences in Demolition was created in London at the Jerwood Space and in partnership with the National Theatre in Mostar. It then toured to 5 citites in Bosnia i Hercegovina during June 2007. Opera Circus also ran an education and training programme which responded to the needs of various youth centres, schools and Academies. Differences in Demolition; Photo: Robert Golden

The opera receives its UK premiere at the City of London Festival, running from 10 – 12 July at Wiltons Music Hall.  There are plans to tour Differences in Demolition in Scotland in 2008 to celebrate Nigel Osborne’s 60th birthday, as well as elsewhere in the UK, Turkey, Austria and Georgia.  In the Autumn of 2008 Opera Circus plan to tour the entire Balkan region, including returning to Bosnia i Hercegovina.  This part of the tour will finish with a conference in Sarajevo to discuss integration and cross-border collaboration through culture.

Opera Circus have run workshops, courses and residencies in the UK and overseas and have a long-term relationship with two orphanages and a home for disabled young people in Lithuania.  They volunteered to support Nigel Osborne at his children's camps for special needs children in Croatia and Bosnia both in 2005 and 2006 and will be doing so again at the Foundation for Peace in Sarajevo.

To find out more about Differences in Demolition, visit the Opera Circus website.

Related links
* Opera Circus
* City of London Festival
* Wiltons Music Hall
* The Bosnian Institute
* War Child Music
* Musicians without Borders
* University of Edinburgh
* Women for Women International
* Music home
* Other music features
* Music projects
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