September 8, 2019 / 11:43 AM / 3 months ago

Romania's Enescu music festival thrives in shaky political times

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Floating above the turbulent politics of modern-day Romania, the biennial George Enescu Festival is a welcome relief for Bucharest’s classical music fans, with performances not just in the main concert hall but on street corners and in bookstores.

Conductor Emmanuel Krivine conducts the National French Orchestra during the 2019 edition of George Enescu Festival at the Grand Palace Hall, in Bucharest, Romania, September 6, 2019. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS

“This festival says a lot about us, just the fact that we have world-renowned orchestras who come here to play,” said Anca Badiu, a 42-year-old teacher on a walking tour organised as part of the festival, named after Romania’s most famous composer.

“The Enescu festival equals Romania and music wipes away all of our problems.”

One of Europe’s biggest classical music events, it draws bigger stars and audiences each time, though musicians say its main concert hall from communist times is an acoustic disaster.

The 24th festival, which kicked off on Aug. 31, features the London Symphony Orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle, the Royal Concertgebouw and the Berlin Philharmonic under Kirill Petrenko.

A host of international artists, including pianists Mitsuko Uchida and Yuja Wang, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and actress Marion Cotillard will be performing.

This year’s edition of the festival, established in 1958 three years after the composer’s death, comes against a backdrop of political instability as the Romanian government faces a potential no-confidence vote after losing its majority.

Festival organisers must fight hard to secure funds and make do with outdated facilities. Successive governments, which provide the bulk of the budget through the culture ministry, have failed to make good on vague promises to replace the main 4,000-seat Sala Palatului hall, which was built in 1960 for communist party meetings and has poor acoustics.

“I wish someday that Bucharest can have a great concert hall, this must be possible somehow, but we have to wait,” said Lawrence Foster, who conducted the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra to great acclaim.

“Still, it’s a great honour to be asked here, it’s an incredible festival.”

This year’s edition is the largest, conductor and the festival’s artistic director Vladimir Jurowski said, with concerts in the capital Bucharest and across the country, as well as in six other countries, including Italy and Germany.

Classical music will play in bookstores and petrol stations, while children’s choirs will sing in corporate offices and parks. Fans can tour the old city haunts of Enescu.

“It is a way for the public to understand the festival is not only for the Sala Palatului or concert halls,” said Anita Sterea, organiser of the walking tour. “The festival is everywhere and we can all enjoy it.”

Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Ros Russell

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