Summer festivals highlight Lebanese resilience in shadow of war

Fri Aug 30, 2013 11:43am EDT
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By Stephen Kalin

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hours after bombs ripped through the Lebanese city of Tripoli this month, concertgoers gathered for the opening performance of the Baalbek music festival. But it wasn't in Baalbek, and the planned star didn't come.

Instead, Brazilian jazz vocalist Eliane Elias serenaded the crowd of 1,000 in an open-air theatre on the northern outskirts of the capital Beirut, far from the internationally renowned music festival's historic venue among Roman ruins in the Bekaa Valley.

It was neither the planned location for the festival nor its scheduled opening act. Rocket attacks, kidnappings and threats of further violence in the Bekaa area had forced relocation to a refurbished 19th century silk factory in the Beirut suburbs, and prompted star U.S. soprano Renee Fleming to cancel her trip.

But the Baalbek festival and scores of others across the country have insisted on maintaining their programs this summer despite the Syrian civil war next door and growing violence in Lebanon itself.

"As long as we're here ... and doing the concert, there's hope. Life still goes on," said Marcel Khalife, the Lebanese musician renowned for his mastery of the lute-like oud.

"When culture ceases to exist, the nation ceases to exist."

At least 42 people were killed in the August 23 bombings outside Sunni mosques in Tripoli. A week earlier, 24 had died in a bombing in Shi'ite Hezbollah's stronghold in a southern suburb of Beirut.

Khalife began his performance on the second night of the Baalbek festival with a moment of silence for the victims.   Continued...

Lebanese composer and singer Marcel Khalife performs with cello player Sari Khalife during the Baalbek festival, which was held in La Magnanerie, a 19th century silk factory, in Beirut August 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi