Lorna McGhee: Performance Day in Bucharest

This is our third night in Bucharest.Tonight we will perform in the rather imposing “Sala Palatului” as part of the Georges Enescu Festival.The interior of the hall was designed in the communist era and has been unaltered since then.It is huge, seating around 4000, and has a special balcony tucked under the main balcony where you could imagine “party bosses” and their cronies seated.It is fitting that in this venue we will be playing Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony, written to appease the communist authorities on the surface, but providing a bitter and poignant critique of them underneath. As you walk around Bucharest you feel like you are bumping up against history at every turn. There are beautiful buildings from the art nouveau, art deco and belle époque as well as more unusual old buildings that seem to show middle-eastern influences of an earlier Ottoman reign. Especially noticeable are the many beautiful, small Orthodox churches, with opulent icons and frescos covering every square inch of interior space. There are many contradictions in this city–some of the most beautiful old buildings are crumbling, with weeds as big as small trees growing out of the roof. An ugly concrete communist building will butt up against some belle époque beauty. While Ceausescu demolished most of the old city, there is a lot of restoration going on now with what remains. The square opposite the Sala Palatului contains a huge sculpture commemorating the 1989 revolution. Its obelisk pierces the heart of the old régime. Apparently it was a controversial design and some of the locals regard as the “olive on a skewer.” The most interesting fact about this square that we pass on our way to the hall, is that it is the place where Ceausescu was air-lifted out by helicopter during the revolution. Most disturbing of all is to see shops like “Gucci” or “Max Mara” while only a few blocks away children are sleeping rough on the street.

Yesterday, a few of us from the PSO participated in a side-by-side concert with local young professional musicians, most of whom play in the Romanian Radio Orchestra or the Enescu Philharmonic. It was nice to have the chance to meet some local musicians and to find out about their life here. There is an especially strong violin tradition here.

Georges Enescu, in whose honor the festival is named, was one of the great violinists of all time. He is perhaps best known now as a composer, but if you have a chance to listen to recordings of his playing you will hear how soulful it is. He was Yehudi Menuhin’s mentor. Today, I visited the Enescu museum and also the “peasant Museum,” which I have to say, is now among my favorite museums in the world. There was so much artistry in the traditional way of life–exquisite carvings adorn everyday objects–so much attention to detail–beautiful embroidery and tapestry or weaving or lacework. It was a feast for the eyes. With only an hour and a half to go before the concert, I should sign off now! It seems there is so much more to tell, but it will have to wait for another time…off to Paris tomorrow! Very excited!

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