Enescu, Underplayed Composer, Is Still a Star in Romania
Bucharest, Romania — Romania has a long record of defying a history of devastation, so it certainly won’t allow the pandemic to derail the Jorge Enescu International Festival, dedicated to its prominent musical native son, ended on Sunday. At stake was not only the 25th edition of this country’s biggest cultural event, but also the renewal of a global artistic exchange that this still marginalized part of Europe considers essential to its development.
Stubbornly less appreciated elsewhere, Annescu (1881–1955), whose “Odip” runs at the Paris Opera until 14 October, continues to have a widespread presence here beyond the realm of music. His face is on a five-li note from Romania; The largest orchestra in Bucharest is the Jorge Enescu Philharmonic. A splendid Beaux-Arts palace along Calle Victoriai, which briefly served as his home, is now the Enescu Museum and the headquarters of the Romanian Musicians Association.
Credited with giving the Romanians a national voice, inspired by the country’s rich folk music, Enescu also had a completely cosmopolitan approach that adopted a number of stylistic changes. He embodied the ideal of the perfect musician in his roles as composer, virtuoso violinist and pianist, conductor, teacher and benevolent mentor to young artists. Yehudi Menuhin praised him as “the most extraordinary human being, the greatest composer and the most creative influence I have ever experienced”.
Even as the ongoing pandemic dashed hopes of a return to a more normal life, an astonishing roster of 32 orchestras from 14 countries from one of the world’s most elaborate classical concerts managed to travel here for the festivities . Scheduled every two years, it alternates with the Jorge Enescu International Competition for Young Artists and Musicians. The festival began in 1958, three years after Enescu’s death, and was initially presented every three years. But an attitude on the part of the communist government, which can best be described as bisexual, became downright hostile and self-destructive during the regime of Nicolae Ceauescu. A lot had to be rebuilt after the 1989 revolution.
The festival lasts for four weeks, with several events taking place each day. A major focus is the lineup of top international ensembles, many of whom are said to include a work by Enescu in their touring repertoire. Ticketed events take place at four concerts in the center of Bucharest, but seven other cities around Romania also offer concerts under the auspices of the festival.
Conductor Vladimir Jurovsky, who concludes his tenure as the festival’s artistic director with this edition, emphasized in an interview the strategic importance of the orchestra’s touring for works by Enscu. Many of them would perform these when he returned home, he said, “to broaden the admiration and visibility” of the Romanian musician.
“I am particularly proud to have brought Enescu’s work to London and Berlin and Moscow with my own orchestras over the years,” he said, including a concert of “Odip”, Enescu’s only opera..
The allure of spectators to Bucharest, however, continues to haunt the festival’s organizers. “Everyone has a false image about Romania,” said Mihai Constantinescu, executive director of the event since 1991, when asked why the giant undertaking isn’t on the radar of many abroad.
“But the moment they get here,” said Constantinescu, “they are amazed.”
Longtime regular violinist Leonidas Cavakos spoke of the intensity of the audience’s appreciation: “They are very calm, very receptive. You feel a thirst for music and conversation, and that’s something that goes on stage. important to anyone.
When Cavakos joined the Munich Philharmonic for the first of that orchestra’s two concerts under Valery Gergiev, he was accompanied by the intense sonic pleasure of tracing Tchaikovsky’s constantly repeated melodies in a violin concerto as pure and undisturbed as possible. was surprising himself. The wildly unpredictable Gergiev was more engaged than in recent memory, presiding over a spectacularly sized version of Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony, an unusual and memorable pairing with the Tchaikovsky Concerto.
Enescu, violinist Patricia Kopachinskaza, “has a universe unto itself,” adding, “I find it remarkable how he discovered his language.” He is another festival regular, and this version introduced one of Valentin Doni’s Anescu’s most engaging and challenging chamber pieces, an orchestrated version of Sonata No. 3 (“Dance le characterire popular romaine”) for violin and piano. .
Despite their vivid stage presence and the valiant efforts of Edward Gardner and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the concept felt doomed from the start by the impossibility of balancing forces; The orchestrated piano part continued to distract from Kopachinskaja. But an experiment that didn’t work underscored the festival’s openness to exploring new aspects of Enescu and his work.
It was a sign that the festival was respected in music circles that Gardner chose it as the occasion for his first public performance since officially taking over the reins of the London Philharmonic. Their two shows were part of a deliberate emphasis on the British orchestra in this festival version as a post-Brexit statement of musical solidarity. Of the seven London-based artists initially invited, six were able to work around the stringent quarantine protocol and perform in Bucharest.
“It’s a beautiful requirement that a piece by Enescu be included for us at the festival,” Gardner said. The program produced sonata orchestration with Michael Tippett’s ritual dance from “The Midsummer Marriage” and a colorful, high-contrast account of Elgar’s “Enigma Variation”. The next evening, Gardner proved to be a natural storyteller with his thrilling and dramatically paced renditions of Sibelius’ Second Symphony.
Although much of Enescu has been lionized here, aspects of his heritage are being reevaluated or even rediscovered by the Romanians. Pianist Angela Dragiscu sparked nationwide media interest by introducing the festival to the long-forgotten Piano Trio No. 1 from 1897, which she performed with collaborators from the Berlin Philharmonic.
Dragisescu gave the trio its late US premiere in 2019 and became an authority on the enigmatic history of this precarious, Brahms-adjacent score, which Annescu wrote at age 16 and first explored as a student in Paris had gone.
“It is still unknown,” she says, “and only now, after the US premiere, has it begun to gain an international reputation.”
A surprising number of works also received their delayed Romanian premiere. One of these was Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s 1920 opera “Die tote Stad”, performed in a concert version by the Enescu Philharmonic, with romantic detail by conductor Frédéric Cheslin. In the final moments of the opera, the central character recognizes the futility of his desire to prevent time and harm. The bright resolution of the score settled like a blessing at the sprawling Sala Palatului, a former congress hall for the Romanian Communist Party whose exterior still bears bullets from the 1989 revolution.
Constantinescu has guided the festival since soon after that painful transition, but, along with Jurowski, he has announced his intention to depart after this 25th edition. The sought-after Romanian conductor Cristian Macellaru is rumored to be his successor. Or was it mere coincidence that at the end of the festival, it was announced that McIlroy had committed to recording Annescu’s full orchestral oeuvre with the Orchestra de France for the Deutsche Gramophone?
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