A tribute to Isidora Žebeljan

5 October 2020

Isidora Žebeljan has died at the age of only 54 and I wish that I did not have to believe it. The world has lost a truly original and important composer who wrote music with a very distinctive voice: her works were individual, strong, and emotionally appealing. We have also lost an important teacher with her passing. She was a professor of composition in Belgrade, influencing the next generation. A joyous and positive person, she has left many appealing compositions and also wrote music for films and the theatre. There is no question about her achievements. I knew her from the time she was first noticed by the Genesis Foundation and I was fortunate to attend several of her premieres, and not just the ones commissioned by Genesis that you can read about elsewhere on this site.

But above all I remember her as a warm, energetic and most loyal person; a loving wife to her husband, a fine and devoted mother. From the time I met her, I never had a birthday or Christmas without a card from her. She was one of those people who kept in touch, sometimes sporadically, but always reliably. And her humanity and warmth show in her compositions.

Isidora graduated from the Faculty of Musical Arts in Belgrade. She was subsequently engaged as a professor of composition at the same faculty from 2002. As opera intendant David Pountney, who presented an opera by her for the Bregenz Festival, has said, she had a totally original and extremely appealing voice as a composer. She was Serbian with a strong sense of her roots but she also spent a lot of time abroad and was really, like all artists, a citizen of the world. She represented, and portrayed in her work, all that is best and most exciting about our world, our humanity.  She had a successful career and a reasonable amount of recognition for her talent in her lifetime but she has left us far too soon after a long battle with illness. We are all poorer for losing the works that clearly would have come; and for losing such a splendid human being from this world.

Mel Cooper

Former Deputy Director, Genesis Foundation