How Romania′s Enescu Festival unites a nation | Music | DW | 20.09.2019
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Music

How Romania's Enescu Festival unites a nation

Described as a ray of light in a politically and socially torn country, the George Enescu Festival is also giving its first-ever guest performance in Berlin this season.

Atheneum in Bukarest | Rumänisches Athenäum (DW/M. Weident-Crummenerl)

Built in 1888, the Atheneum in Bucharest is a popular concert venue and a familiar sight in the Romanian capital

"Today's youth in Romania have no role models any more. During Communism, the Ceausescu regime destroyed the ones that had existed and replaced them with false ones. After its end, we are still on the search for role models," is how Anita Sterea, chairperson of the Noua ne pasa ("It Concerns Us") cultural association, describes the current situation in her country.

Fragmented and traumatized, Romanian society suffers from pervasive corruption and the mass exodus of mostly young people. Political trench warfare prevents the country's major problems, most importantly economic ones, from being addressed – issues that are becoming even clearer before the presidential elections in November.

It comes as no coincidence that the motto of this year's George Enescu Festival is "The World in Harmony," pointing to the festival organizers' belief in the power of culture to unite.

Anita Sterea (DW/M. Weident-Crummenerl)

Historian Anita Sterea leads the Bukarest Association "It Concerns Us"

During the festival, Anita Sterea has organized guided tours through the Romanian capital. "Following in Enescu's Footsteps" is one of them.

George Enescu is "an extremely inspiring model," says the young historian, "particularly because of his modesty, his proximity to people from all social strata, his joy in living and his respect for his common man." Although he knew that he was a genius and was celebrated on the world's concert stages — and was close to the royal family — Enescu never forgot his humble beginnings, says Sterea. 

Born in 1881 in a village in northeastern Romania, the child prodigy began his studies in Vienna and completed them in Paris. As a violin virtuoso and important conductor, Enescu toured the world's major cities. It was said that he was also a phenomenal pianist and cellist, one who after glancing at an extensive score could then play it by memory. The cellist Pablo Casals called him "the greatest musical phenomenon since Mozart."

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An entire country in festival fever

The 24th edition of the biennial George Enescu Festival, Romania's most important cultural event, has combined the forces of more than 2,500 exceptional artists from 50 countries until September 22. The roughly one hundred concerts are being performed in Bucharest and ten other cities in Romania, as well as in five other countries: Germany, Italy, Canada, Belgium and Moldavia.

The festival brings soloists and orchestras to Romania who would otherwise never be heard there and presents highlights such as this year's new staging of Richard Strauss's opera Die Frau ohne Schatten (The Woman Without a Shadow).

Elisabeth Leonskaya (DW/M. Weident-Crummenerl)

Russian pianist Elisabeth Leonskaya spoke to DW before her performance in Hermannstadt

The legendary Russian pianist Elisabeth Leonskaya, a frequent guest artist, maintains a long-standing connection to the festival and the country. Her career tool off after she won first prize at the 1964 International Enescu Competition.

Leonskaya appreciates the "warm-hearted, open and very curious audience," and says that for the people in Romania the festival is "the necessary dash of oxygen that will have to suffice until the next edition."

Enescu's music given a stage in Berlin

"My love for Enescu – as a musician and a human being – is what made me take on the artistic leadership of the Enescu Festival," Vladimir Jurowski told DW. Jurowski is the principal conductor of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (RSB) and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and as been designated music director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich beginning in 2021. Together with Mihai Constantinescu, the festival's managing director, and conductor Zubin Mehta as honorary president, he is planning the festival's 25th edition in 2021.

Vladimir Jurowsk conducting (RSB)

Vladimir Jurowski has been artistic director of the Enescu Festival in Bucharest since 2017

Jurowski's interpretations have set standards in Enescu performance. "What remains unforgettable," says American conductor Lawrence Foster, "is his concertante performance of Enescu's opera Oedipe with the London Philharmonic." On September 22, Vladimir Jurowski and his RSB will perform another Enescu masterpiece, his Third Symphony, in Berlin.

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"Enescu was underestimated as a composer, unjustifiably so," says Jurowski. "Just as Mahler's time didn't come until the 1960s, Enescus time is coming just now."

More of the composer's music is on the playbill in Berlin on September 26. In the Konzerthaus, the young Romanian conductor Gabriel Bebeselea will lead the Radio Symphony Orchestra in the composer's early work, Strigoii (The Ghosts), an oratorio based on a poem by the Romanian national poet Mihai Eminescu.

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