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International Appeal to Save George Enescu's House in Mihăileni

Monday, 4 March 2013 , ora 8.00
The pianist Raluca Știrbăț, currently residing in Vienna, the president of the International Enescu Society in the capital of Austria, has launched an international appeal to save George Enescu's house in Mihăileni, Botoșani County, where the great Romanian composer spent his childhood. It is the house where George Enescu finalized Symphonie Concertante, Op. 8, lieder, as well as other works. You can find below an interview by Ștefan Costache on this topic.

I'd like us to look over what has been done since the moment you sounded the alarm at international level. What was the evolution of events?

Thank you for joining our efforts to save this house; it's a house with a special significance in Enescu's biography and, therefore, very important for the Romanian culture and its renown. As we all know, Enescu's parents separated, following the intervention that Maria Enescu - the composer's mother, born Cosmovici - underwent in Vienna, an intervention that practically saved and prolonged her life. She settled in this house, which had belonged to Enescu's grandparents, to the priest Cosmovici in Mihăileni and she continued to live here, until her death in 1909. After his parents' divorce, during all the holidays he spent in Romania, Enescu continued to share his time between his father's house - the manor in Cracalia, which unfortunately doesn't exist anymore, burnt down in rather mysterious circumstances - and his mother's house, namely his grandparents' house in Mihăileni. It is worth mentioning that after his mother's death Enescu becomes, as expected, the owner of the house. This is recorded in several monographs of the village Mihăileni, for example that of 1932. Starting with 1946, things have become more complicated, as we all know. Currently, the situation of the house is complicated from the legal point of view, although it can be easily solved provided that there is political will and all the decisional factors get involved in this cause.

Let's take things one at a turn. What does the complicated legal status refer to? Who does the house belong to?

I'm a musician, not a jurist; there are people who have this job and are much more competent…From what I was able to find out, I think that the house has not one owner, but two; it's somehow shared. We have to say that, unfortunately, it's used as a storage facility for potatoes, cereals and other things…

… and it's damaged to a high degree…

Yes, it's quite run-down. Actually, this is the unsaid, but obvious purpose of the neglect: they are waiting for the house to cave in on its own, which will happen sooner and later, and then to extend the yard. The house should be, as quickly as possible, reclassified, expropriated and put on the list of heritage buildings; then, renovation should be started. It's not very difficult, as we're talking about a rustic house - and as the photos prove, a beautiful, solid house. They can make a draft, a revaluation, part of the woodworks and walls can be kept - I think that something similar happened at Eminescu's house in Ipotești, for example. So, the big issue is not renovation, but the house has to be urgently entered on the list of heritage buildings.

Do you know the exact procedure for entering the house on this list? I guess that the Ministry of Culture and Heritage deals with this issue…

Certainly. On 13th February, if I'm not mistaken, Agerpress reported a statement made by the Division for Culture and National Heritage, Botoșani County, according to which the house - as a result of the articles published and our international appeal - was proposed for inclusion on the list. Unfortunately, no such statement appears on the website of the above-mentioned Division. I hope that this undertaking is real. I don't know what has been done in the meantime, but I think it would be great if you, as journalists, could look into it; you probably have other means and more power.

We'll try. What are you going to do next, as it would be a shame for this endeavour to remain without a solution?

First of all, we are attempting to obtain a very good media coverage. And I think we have managed a lot in this respect. In just a month, the house returned to the conscience of the musicians and of the general public, in Romania and abroad. I must admit that the reactions from abroad were amazing. Even if only the geographical position (in northern Moldavia) is taken into account, I don't think that this house deserves its fate, especially since it still preserves so much of Enescu's childhood, adolescence and maturity. It's important to know that he returned here every year, until the autumn of 1946 when he was forced to leave Romania. In 1946 he made a pilgrimage to all the places dear and sacred to him, starting with Liveni, Cracalia, Șendriceni (where his father had owned another estate), Tescani; the last stop he made was in Mihăileni, where - as Romeo Drăghici and his cousin, Alexandru Cosmovici recount - he spent half an hour at his mother's grave, holding his head in the dust and said: 'It is here, from the sap of my land, that I gather my forces, as I'll be away from my country for a long time.' Unfortunately, he had no way of knowing or he might not have wanted to believe that he would never get back. Every autumn he had arranged for memorial services to be held in the village church. The house in Mihăileni was an important, sacred house to Enescu and it should have the same value for us.

We support you and we certainly appreciate your efforts; we expect that, every time there is news, you communicate it to us, so we can transmit it further.

Gladly. Furthermore, I'd like to say that it's true that the initiative belonged to me, but this is not my appeal, it should be ours, it should come from all of us. This, I believe, is the most important thing.

I'd like you to point out one or two contributions coming from people who are not in Romania, but who understood and supported your initiative.

The first person who stood by us and contributed to spreading the news very fast was the journalist Victor Eskenasy from Radio Free Europe; he wrote for the radio, but also for Suplimentul de Cultura. Then, right away, the famous London-based critic Norman Lebrecht took the article and published a letter-testimony in English on his website which has a lot of readers and media coverage and this made all the difference. Then reactions followed with a snowball effect, but mainly abroad. I wish that this kind of thing also happened in Romania.

I'd also like us to talk about the activity of the International George Enescu Society in Vienna, a society you set up and preside.

Our activities will focus on two main directions. The first one is popularization: it's a word I don't like, but unfortunately it's really necessary for Enescu. His music, as we well know, is not played enough. He is a giant of the 20th century. We try to change this by giving concerts and interpreting his music - we'll start a season of concerts this year or next spring at the latest. The other direction refers to musicology and translations. There are not enough books on Enescu; especially in the German-speaking space we have only a few, you can practically count them on your fingers. And here's where we try to fix things. We also make recordings, discographical productions…As far as I am concerned, I do my best in this direction; I am currently recording Enescu's works, the second CD will be launched very soon, in April, and I'll be glad to present it for the first time on the stage of the Romanian Athenaeum, on 30th April. Moreover, for the Austrian Radio, I'll record Enescu's works for cello and piano, together with the Viennese cellist Rudolf Leopold; this recording will also be made this year.

Getting back to the topic of the house in Mihăileni, what instruments can the state institutions use in order to enter a private property on the list of the national cultural heritage?

I first have to make a small digression: during the communist period, until the winter of 1989, the building was preserved as the Memorial House of George Enescu. Although it was not officially on the heritage list, there was a plaque, some broadcasts were recorded etc. After 1989 many things were left to chance. As far as I could understand, the process involves a reclassification, then expropriation for public utility and a just compensation (an agreement with the owners). Given that it's not the centre of Bucharest, but a village in the north of Moldavia, the amount is not very high. Afterwards, the building enters the list and renovation can begin.

Do the local authorities, namely, the Division for Culture, County Botoșani, deal with the whole process or is it necessary to go further?

From what I understood, the Ministry of Culture obviously has the most powerful instruments in this case, but local authorities can also contribute. I think that co-operation would be the best approach.

We'll request interviews at Botoșani and at the Ministry of Culture in the next few weeks and we'll keep you informed.

As the house is derelict, things have to happen very fast and, as far as I understood, a government ordinance can expedite everything.

Translated by Mihaela Olinescu and Elena Daniela Radu
MTTLC, Bucharest University