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Can the Sarajevo Philharmonic hang on?

The siege may be over, but a host of post-Communist problems now threaten Bosnia's cultural institutions.

Still, many members of the Sarajevo Philharmonic remember the war years with a certain nostalgia. They were dangerous and difficult times for all Sarajevans, and members of the orchestra were no exception.

Arijana Zupcevic, now the second-violinist, joined the ensemble in the middle of the conflict at the age of 19 and recalls walking 10 miles each way through the besieged city for rehearsals and concerts. Seven members of the philharmonic died during the war, one killed not far from the doors of the National Theater, and at least 12 were seriously injured.

But, Dzevad Sabanagic, the philharmonic’s white-haired concertmaster and its longest serving member, says during the war, people turned to music and books for comfort because they had nothing else.

“In a city where 1 million grenades fell during the siege, people were longing for art,” he says. “We would see when the people entered the building that their faces were full of fear, because they had to walk through grenades and snipers. But the music kept them alive and it kept us alive.”

Now, he laments, Sarajevo is again focused on its material rather than spiritual needs. The city’s cafes are restaurants buzzing with stylish young people and its streets are lined with shops selling luxury clothes brands. The political situation is still precarious, but the guns have been silenced for nearly a decade and a half.

As he nears retirement, Sabanagic too worries about the future of classical music in Bosnia and the divides that still separate its people. When he was a child, classical music came to every city and village in the country. Today, the philharmonic, which also plays for the city’s opera and ballet, rarely travels outside Sarajevo and is now the only full-time, professional orchestra in the country. “There are 30 music schools in Bosnia today, but most students finish music school never having actually seen a philharmonic concert,” he says, shaking his head.

Increasingly, he and others fear, classical music in Bosnia — as in other western nations — is becoming a pastime of the old and rich. The cost of tickets, which usually range from $7 to $20, are modest by American standards, but still expensive in a country where many still make only a few hundred dollars a month.

The audience at the Feb. 19 concert, which also featured the well-known Argentinian born mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink, who happens to be married to Valentin Inzko, the international High Representative in Bosnia, was certainly distinguished. Many of the country’s political leaders were there, including one of the country’s three presidents and the prime minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the country's two entities, as well as a good representation from the city’s diplomatic corps. But the predominant hair color, noted 22-year-old Dijana Pliska, was gray.

“As you can see in the concert, there are few young people, and they are mostly from the music academy,” said Pliska, herself a 22-year-old student of music, gesturing at the crowd. “We young people should do something to make other young people love classical music.”

Editor's note: Swanee Hunt and Charles Ansbacher are investors in GlobalPost.