Could Al-Bustan Festival Become a Winter Destination for Music Aficionado Worldwide?

Nélida Nassar  02.22.2013

It all began very humbly on February 19, 1994 in the Emile Bustani 450-seats theatre. That first festival was the brainchild of Mrs. Myrna Bustani and the festival’s founders, who conceived it as a beacon of hope and peace after the devastation of Lebanon civil war. It is hard to believe that it has already been twenty years since the inception of its first edition. This unprecedented Lebanese winter festival is held from February 19 to March 27 each year in Beyt-Meri “The Lebanese Verbier or Bayreuth” as well as in historical churches across the country. Born from the passion, vision and unwavering tenacity of Mrs. Boustani, the festival has seen more international musicians join it year after year. The artists discover Lebanon often wishing to return back, over and over again.

In 2013, Al Bustan Festival Celebrates a Triple Anniversary
Twenty years indeed have passed but the festival’s gaze is set firmly toward the future. This season tag line: “This world needs music” is especially positive and unifying considering the worldwide economical climate, the Lebanon political reality, the Syrian War and the Middle East’s Arab Spring uprisings. The festival original vocation persists to bring music back to Lebanon despite many years of strife and war. “Its aim is not only to attract foreigners but it is a festival for the Lebanese, to make their lives easier” adds Mrs. Myrna Bustani.

Al Bustan tales in a wide palette of over 28 to 30 offerings, including opera, concerts, recitals, dance, lectures, master classes, and rehearsals featuring some favorites (Brahms, Piazzola and Grieg). Typically, there are one or two operas each season, including staged and concert versions, and festival management regards the genre as essential. An international festival of music and performing arts, it offers early music, contemporary programs, orchestral and choral concerts, dance and theatre with predominance of chamber music. “You can hear good concerts all over the world, but if the opera is not good, the concerts would also suffer,” continues the festival’s president Mrs. Bustani.

For this year’s edition, the festival has a distinctly flavor program part retrospective with the return of virtuoso pianist Boris Berezovsky (fifth appearance, March 18); and the following musicians in their respective second appearances; the Stile Antico young British angelic-voices singers (February 24); cellist Gautier Capucon (February 28); Opus X, four musicians Lone Madsen, clarinet, Tanja Zapolska, piano; Caroline Campbell, violon; and Samira Dayyani, cello, produced by the Grammy award winner Steven Epstein (March 5); award-winner soprano Joyce El-Khoury as well as tenor Dario Shmunck in Verdi’s Requiem (March 23, 24).

And part celebration of the two 19th century titans born the same year Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner. It is also the ultimatum great operatic composers of all time face-off. Giuseppe Verdi, the great Italian humanist and hero of the Risorgimento, the unification of Italy, Richard Wagner, creator of gigantic Gesamtkunstwerken (total works of art) and classical music’s myth maker. Verdi composed the human passion drama of melody, melodrama, contrast; Wagner, that of ideas, innovation, transformation and philosophical tales. One lived south of the Alps, one north, the Italian sings with music the German thinks with it. In many ways, Italy and Germany had different natural experiences during the 19th century and each composer was closely associated with the political and cultural life of their country Italy and Germany. Maestro Peter Conrad in his lecture (March 11) will draw surprising parallels between the two giants.

The Helikon Opera Company Hello Again!
The festival program includes one opera “Das Liebesverbot” (March 8) and operatic arias “Wagner Unleashed” (March 9). This will give audiences a chance to see and hear again the Helikon Opera Company perform Wagner under the superb baton of the musically perceptive Maestro Vladimir Ponkin, Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the National Academic Folk Orchestra of Russia.

Dance is part of the Al Bustan Festival since 2004
Each edition of the Al Bustan Festival has featured a special dance performance. This year is no exception with the second participation of Paco Péna Flamenco Dance Company in its new offering of “Quimeras” or figment of the imagination that premiered at the Edinburg Festival. The piece interweaves the work of Peña’s famous Flamenco Dance Company with sub-Saharan, hi-tempo African music and dance. A heartfelt and conscious driven presentation mainly performed to superb drum music with Peña’s breathtakingly beautiful own guitar playing.

Festival Addional Theme
In addition to the Wagner and Verdi’s bi-centennial celebration theme, another topic is also prevalent in this festival’s edition. Already communicated in Paco Péna “Quimeras,” the celebration of African music culture, tradition, homogenity, richness and influence is also featured with “In Mozzzart In Africaaa,” a blend of traditional zulu music with classical music. “Two music styles fused in a way that leaves room to the original song and style and not absorb a lot from it so that it stays with its authenticity.”

Director of the 2013
The Artistic Director of the Festival Maestro Gianluca Marciano will be working triple time this year as he is also the Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre in Georgia and the Principal Guest Conductor of the Beijing Drama Dance and Opera Orchestra. He is a real dynamo whose productivity and expressiveness stands comparison with any of his peers. He will conduct the Pan European Philharmonia opening evening with the skillful duo Anna Tifu, violin and Boris Andrionov, cello (February 19, 21), the brilliant Francesca Dego, violin and Jose Bustani, piano (February 23). One of the many virtues of Maestro Marcino is his musical versatility that will unlock Verdi’s lyricism in both the Requiem (March 23, 25) and the Gala Concert (March 27). An accomplished pianist, he will also perform at some of the festival’s venues.

Focus on Promoting Young Talent
It would be impossible to describe all 28 to 30 of the festival events here, as it promotes the work of young emerging talents. Some performances worth mentioning are the Pan-European Philharmonia, a group of young musicians where the average age is 23; an evening with the dazzling and imaginative pianist Katia Buniatishvili (February 22), or the world premiere of Lebanese born composer Zad Moultaka Men Choir of Mezwej Ensemble “All Men Dance” with Joel Versavaud, saxophone and Claudio Bettinelli, percussion (March 14). Zad Moultaka is on a personal musical language quest, incorporating the fundamentals of contemporary western musical writing – structures, trends and signs – to the specific characteristics of Arabic music – monody, heterophony, modality, rhythm, and vocal. In keeping with its cultural vocation, the festival organizes master classes for young Lebanese talents. This year BEMA Music Academy located in four different towns with students aged 12 to 18 is benefitting from the Wiener Kammersolisten (the Vienna Chamber Soloists) master classes. The soloits Lars Bjoernjaer and Lisane Soeterbroaek, violon; Markus Renhart, clarinet; Johannes Flieder, viola; and Katherina Gross, violoncello will imprint their glorious sonorities on these promising, youthful minds.

2013 looks set to be a great success? Not just in terms of the programming but for those attending the Festival in its 20th anniversary edition. With the line-up of its opulent program there is a broad mix of artists and events guaranteed to tempt those of all ages and interests. This festival would not be possible without the support of the festival friends and sponsors, a good number from the banking, financial and corporate world. Mrs. Bustani is not only a cultural ambassador spreading music to the nation while introducing world class musicians to Lebanon, she is also an educator with noble projects of fostering music amongst the youth, thus securing its role in the lives of future generations.

For those of us seeking the second-to-none in music sustenance, one can claim that for five weeks in the winter, Al Bustan Festival is the musical navel of the Middle East and is right on the money. The hundred people who attend and sponsor it every year would agree. The world musical aficionados are all invited to join and attend its many more successful years.

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