Beethoven, Brahms help polish Romania's image

Wed Oct 7, 2009 5:51am EDT
 
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By Michael Roddy and Luiza Ilie

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania is better known for pickpockets and stray dogs than for first-rate concerts of Beethoven and Brahms, and it knows it has an image problem.

"We are the criminals and the thieves of Europe," said Mihai Constantinescu, executive director of the Enescu Festival of music, summing up how his compatriots are often perceived.

That's why, to the astonishment of audiences and musicians alike, one of the poorest countries in the European Union spends some 7 million euros ($10.18 million) every two years to stage one of the world's most lavish classical music festivals.

"It's important to bring people to let them know how it is here, because the image of Romania...is made by gypsies in Italy, by thieves in Ireland and by criminals in Belgium," said Constantinescu, a pianist who now works in arts management.

Founded in 1958 following the death in 1955 of Romania's most famous composer, George Enescu, the biennial festival is now an attempt to make the world see Romania in a new light.

For about four weeks in September, top artists like pianist Murray Perahia, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Toulouse Opera, cellist Yo Yo Ma and violinist Joshua Bell take center stage.

The concert halls of downtown Bucharest couldn't be more packed, the music couldn't be better, nor the audience reception warmer or more enthusiastic.

"The scale and lavishness of what's in store is astonishing," Ivan Hewett, who visited the festival this year, wrote in London's Daily Telegraph, summing up what journalists from around the world had to say.   Continued...

 
<p>A banner advertising the Enescu Festival is seen on the Romanian Athenaeum, in Bucharest September 24, 2009. To the astonishment of audiences and musicians alike, one of the poorest countries in the European Union spends some 7 million euros ($10.18 million) every two years to stage one of the world's most lavish classical music festivals. Founded in 1958 following the death in 1955 of Romania's most famous composer, George Enescu, the biennial festival is now an attempt to make the world see Romania in a new light. Picture taken September 24, 2009. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel</p>