—from The Times of Trenton – November 07, 2014
On Sunday at 3 p.m., Concordia Chamber Players will perform Mozart’s String Quartet No. 21 in D Major, K. 575, and Johannes Brahms’ autumnal masterpiece, the Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115. The concert will feature violinists Emily Daggett Smith and Scott Yoo, violist Milan Milisavljevic, and cellist Michelle Djokic. The clarinetist, Jose Franch-Ballester, will also open the concert with Béla Kovács’ “Hommage à J.S. Bach.” The event will be held at the picturesque Trinity Church in Solebury Township, Bucks County, just past New Hope, Pa.
Djokic, who is also artistic director of the group, now resides in the San Francisco Bay area, but she was born in Trenton and returns to the area throughout the year, certainly in connection with her Concordia concerts, and now also because of her involvement with Trenton’s Foundation Academy Intermediate, where she conducts master classes for young musicians.
“Last year I was there I think three times,” she says. “This year I’ll be going every time [the Tuesday before each Concordia concert], working with middle school kids and the high school kids. Then on the Sunday, we always make sure as many kids can come to the concert as possible.”
Djokic founded what is now Concordia Chamber Players (originally the New Hope Chamber Players) in 1995. In 2005, she was named assistant principal cello of the San Francisco Symphony. She joined the New Century Chamber Orchestra in 2008. The ensemble is directed by virtuoso violinist and former Cherry Hill resident Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.
But over the years, her greatest passion has been chamber music performance, which is evident both through her playing with Concordia and her enthusiasm for adventurous programming. In fact, rare is the concert where Mozart and Brahms share the same bill.
In recent seasons, audiences in Bucks County and Princeton (where Concordia is resident chamber ensemble of the Princeton Festival) have been treated to music by Ingolf Dahl, Rebecca Clarke, Ernst von Dohnányi, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Darius Milhaud, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Alexander Zemlinsky and plenty of Bohuslav Martinu (including his “Fantasie for Theremin, Oboe, String Quartet and Piano”). But the group is equally adept at tackling the core repertoire, from Bach to Olivier Messiaen.
In addition, Djokic has programmed and performed new works by John Novacek and Clarice Assad, and formed ongoing professional relationships with guest artists like bandoneon player J.P. Jofre and Jean-Christophe Spinosi, music director of the Ensemble Matheus.
Concordia is characterized by shifting personnel. Some of the players are connections from Djokic’s years as a student at Juilliard, who have gone on to play with the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Others are friends made on the concert circuit. All are outstanding chamber musicians.
Djokic was raised under remarkable circumstances. Her father, born Petar Djokic (later known as Pierre), had fought with the Yugoslavian underground against Tito during World War II. After being liberated from a concentration camp, he served with the OSS in France.
After the war, to support his wife and children, he worked in a steel mill in Fairless Hills, Pa. He managed not only to secure music lessons for all seven of his children, but also to get them all into some of the most prestigious schools in the country – Juilliard, Princeton, Harvard, Rutgers and Oberlin.
Djokic gets teary-eyed reflecting on her father’s vision and his sacrifices. She is equally emotional about revisiting Trenton and working with the young people of Foundation Academy. She grew up on Cumberland Avenue, only blocks from the middle school’s current location on West State Street. She was in town on Tuesday to work with the students.
“It’s so exciting to be sharing this with the kids,” she says. “It’s a win-win for everyone. For me, I feel so much satisfaction going back to where I grew up, like I’m giving something back, because I really love this part of town. I’m hoping that this is going to be a long-term relationship, and that the kids really start to feel like Concordia Chamber Players belongs to them, as well, and that that’s their home, to come to concerts. Ideally, I’d like to bring the concerts to Trenton. Hopefully that is in the future for us, as well.”
Djokic’s involvement came about as a result of Peggy Krist attending a Concordia concert. Krist, a New Hope resident, is the founder and director of the Jonathan D. Krist Foundation, created in memory of her youngest son, a student at Oberlin, who was killed in a car accident at the age of 19. The Foundation was responsible for creating the Jazz Academy at Solebury School and setting up programs and scholarships that have helped dozens of students from underserved schools again access to college through their involvement with music.
Krist has since created a college scholarship in the name of Djokic’s father, who died last year.
“When Peggy heard me telling this story to these kids of my dad going to the steelworks, 8 to 4, 4 to 12, 12 to 8 shifts, and sometimes he’d come and pick us all up to go to music lessons…,” Djokic says, “Peggy really starting realizing how much it was affecting the kids to hear a story like that. You know, parents that work that hard and still find a way to give their kids music lessons, recognizing how important it is. To inspire the kids even further and to have my dad’s name remain in Trenton, with that message, I can’t tell you how much it meant to me and my family to have her do that.”
by Ross Amico