Architecture: Music to rebuild a city scarred by war: The pianist Ivo Pogorelich plays in London next month to raise money for the restoration of Dubrovnik. Here he explains why

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The Independent Culture
'VENICE,' says Ivo Pogorelich, the Belgrade-born, Russian-trained pianist, 'is a city of melancholy and a certain dark nostalgia; but Dubrovnik, its rival as the most exquisite city on the Adriatic, was always a place of vigour, of life and creativity. Now it has been wilfully destroyed, its historic monuments the targets of artillery fire. The music school has been used as a shelter from the bombing, and my own family house destroyed. I feel I must use what skills I have to give something back to Dubrovnik and Croatia.'

Next month Pogorelich will perform in London for the first time in five years, playing a programme of Mozart, Brahms, Scriabin, Ravel and Rachmaninov at the Royal Festival Hall to raise money for the 'Croatia Appeal' of the International Monuments Trust.

Fears that Dubrovnik would be the target of assault by Serbian guns during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia were well founded. If you have not visited this remarkable walled Baroque, Gothic and Byzantine coastal city, imagine guns being fired at the centre of Venice, Florence or Cortona, or, closer to home, at Bath, York or Edinburgh.

'The killing of innocent people in Croatia has been a terrible evil,' Pogorelich says, 'but the decision to single out and destroy the best-loved monuments of Croatia's best-loved city was an act of incredible spite, the warped idea of degenerate minds. It was aimed at destroying the collective memory of a whole people. Dubrovnik is more than an arrangement of beautiful stones; it's a symbol of the culture and greatness Croatia once had and aspires to again.

'Refugees have flocked to Dubrovnik during the war because, in their minds, it was a sanctuary. But we have, for example, seen the rooms of a hotel blasted apart one by one by artillery fire, killing families who had come here from burning homes elsewhere in Croatia. Now we have to rebuild.'

Ivor Pogorelich, who has a passion for architecture and a deep- rooted love of Dubrovnik, is the first to admit that in the decade before the bombs fell the city had been tranformed slowly and uncomfortably into a tourist ghetto. 'There were even plans to force ordinary people out of the old walled city altogether, so that what had once been one of the most advanced and sophisticated cities in the world would have become a holiday camp.

'This was not the fault of Dubrovnik alone,' he says. 'It was a central government idea to bring in more tourists, and so more hard currency.'

The reasons Dubrovnik became a magnet for tourists in the Seventies and Eighties were obvious: it was warm, sunny, by the sea, cheap and extraordinarily rich in historic buildings. Under the protection of Byzantium, Venice and the Hungarian-Croatian kingdom (and from 1815 to 1918 under Austrian rule), Dubrovnik was more or less self-governing and immensely prosperous for 750 years.

Enlightened city governments abolished slavery and capital punishment when these were more or less recreational activities in the rest of Europe; they started public health services and set up apothecaries and hospitals 500 years before Nye Bevan and Boots. They surrounded themselves with noble walls and commissioned the best contemporary architecture: who can fail to be impressed by the glorious Romanesque-Gothic (yes, both) cloister of the Franciscan monastery designed by Mihoje Brajkov in the 1340s, or the church of St Blaise (1706-15) designed in the Venetian Baroque style by Marino Gropelli?

Yet these are only the richest pickings in a city that was, up to last year, an unspoilt and inspirational whole. This year its tourist revenue is understandably down by 98 per cent compared with 1990. This summer's visitors are made up mostly of United Nations soldiers and refugees. Dubrovnik does not have a spare dinar for its own restoration.

'I am in a very privileged position,' he says, sitting in the vast, high-ceilinged Victorian drawing room of his London flat, part of a palatial red brick and terracotta block, designed by R J Worely in the style of Norman Shaw in the 1890s, overlooking the Albert Hall. Since his remarkable recital debut at Carnegie Hall, New York, in 1981 - he was 17 - Pogorelich's skills have earned him fame and fortune.

Six years ago he established a Young Musicians' Fellowship in Croatia and, two years later, the Bad Worishofen Festival in Germany to promote new musical talent. Now he is in the process of setting up a dollars 100,000 music prize for young pianists. 'I have the freedom to play where I want, to take up causes I believe in,' he says. 'I want others to have the same independence.'

But, most of all, Pogorelich wants to be able to return to play in a restored and revitalised Dubrovnik. 'Music is a universal element; it has the power to unite people of all nations, classes and creeds. I hope I can join people in England with those of Croatia by playing in London next month.'

Pogorelich is a talented musician and a compelling ambassador for the country of his birth. Doubtless he will be doing more for this ravaged country in the coming months.

Ivo Pogorelich Recital, 10 November, Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 (071-928 8800).

(Photograph omitted)

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