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The George Enescu Festival, 2017. Interview with Mihai Constantinescu, the director of Artexim

Thursday, 28 September 2017 , ora 10.50
A lot of the weight of the George Enescu Festival lies on his shoulders: Mihai Constantinescu, the director of Artexim, the institution that is directly involved in organizing this event ever since 1991, from the first edition of the Enescu Festival of the post-communist era.

We are at the beginning of a new Enescu Festival, which edition is it?

The 23rd.

And for how long have you been working to built such a festival?

Ever since 1991, I don't really know, I didn't keep track. I think we've had 10 or 11 editions so far.

What did this period mean for you?

It was a very difficult period, and it turned even more so, because we're working even harder with our own people, with foreigners and with artists, with everyone, but it has been a very interesting experience and I still have the strength to work even further, as much as we have left.

What do you think the Enescu Festival symbolizes for Romania nowadays?

It is a positive image shown by Romania to the entire world, and I do believe that this image needs to be further preserved and fructified. In this moment, through this festival, we can show the whole world that we are something different than what was thought of us, or what they might still believe. We can show that we are a European country, a civilized nation with a special culture, a country that has something to show through this concert of the cultural world. I believe that those who stand with this festival are highly welcomed and they know that we need to continue with the tradition of this festival, that has been wrongly and forcefully interrupted, but which started to grow even more in the last period of time. I think that the way we present ourselves right now and they way we are represented is highly beneficial.

Can you tell me how will the 2017's edition of the Festival will promote the works and legacy left by George Enescu?

We tried to promote George Enescu by including his works, we have 37 in this edition, in the repertoire of foreign orchestras, ensembles or soloists. Most of the 37 works are presented by foreign artists, so we surpassed this nationalistic phase, in which we thought that were the best at interpreting Enescu's works, and we wish to witness how others understand and interpret Enescu. Regarding this, we have three collateral events to this festival, Oedipus, which we will be presenting in a festival on the 23rd of September, in London. It has the same arrangement that we will be presenting when opening the festival, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the George Enescu Philharmonic Choir, the Radio Children's Choir, this same ensemble will also be presented at London, on the 23rd of September at South Bank Center. Then there's the National Orchestra of France, performing Enescu's Concert Symphony, interpreted by Truls Mork. Then, for the first time, we have Enescu's Third Symphony, performed by Santa Cecilia Academy Orchestra, conducted by Pappano, and it will be a highly important event. Daniele Gatti will move the music of George Enescu even further through the thoughts and feelings of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, presenting in this edition George Enescu's Capriccio for violin and orchestra, starring Liviu Prunaru. Therefore, we have many moments in which I believe that Enescu is considerably valued, both in our own interpretations, and in the ones that were or will be done by the foreign orchestras.

In over 25 years since you've been the director of Artexim, the institution that organizes the Enescu Festival, what determined the positive evolution of this festival, starting the events in 1991 up until today?

First of all, it was the seriousness with which we approached this problem from the start and the fact that we have shown trust towards our partners. This was essential, because we basically started it from scratch, from a festival that did no longer mean anything in the eyes of the West. Soon after the revolution, in its first edition, the first foreign orchestra that came here was Saint Martin in the Fields, but other than that, we haven't had any foreigners to take part. Afterwards, the festival grew through the presence of some highly important names, thought the presence of Lord Menuhin, of maestro Mehta in the edition of 1995. After that, it grew through the directorship of Lawrence Foster, who contributed though his connections by inviting several important maestros and orchestras. In 1998, Daniel Barenboim came with Chicago for the first time, if you remember. Having Ioan Holender as director is also important. Maestro Brediceanu in 1995, maestro Cristian Mandeal in 2001 and 2003, they also contributed considerably to creating an important image, that the festival has earned, and afterwards, starting 2001, by getting the authorities to understand the importance of the Enescu Festival, they supported this festival in all the editions of the recent years, first of all by the substantial financing that they give to this festival and by the participation of state institutions in organizing this festival. It wouldn't have been able for this festival to evolve in this manner, if it hadn't been for them. Having some names that have slowly brought on the success of this festival, from Barenboim to Radu Lupu, and all the way to hosting the Berlin Philharmonic in our last edition, all of these contributed to an image that is currently very powerful and we hope it will remain so in the future, but this depends solely on us.

Who is the one that establishes this selection of names? Are you always considering bringing in young talents as well?

Young talents that we should be drawing into the festival, because we must admit that it is difficult for an older conductor or a soloist to understand or begin to understand Enescu's music at a certain age. That's one of the reasons we opted for young artists, such as maestro Jurowski, who is the artistic director, such as Petrenko, and also Pappano, a myriad of young people that still have the patience and wisdom to bow down to the music of Enescu, and I'm not talking about the myriad of youngsters that we brought in to interpret the chamber works of George Enescu, starting with the Capuçon Brothers, Vengerov and all the list that you'll be seeing this year.

We usually make the list of artists in a strict accordance with the discussions that we've had over the years with the artistic directors of this festival. And, obviously, after we've had a list of stars and ideas that the festival has had over the years, we started inviting them, thing that, in some cases, as you know, lasted even for 18 years, as was the situation with the Berlin Philharmonic, getting Anne Sophie Mutter lasted around 10 years, but, in the end, they were all accomplished, which is the most important thing.

We are trying, along with the directors, their connections and the names they put on the invitations that we're launching towards these artists, to bring in famous names. When somebody came here and was content about the festival, saw what the festival was about, he talked about it to the other artists: "you can go perform there, it's a serious business, it's a festival worth visiting and performing at."

From the experience of the many years that have passed, is there an artist that hasn't had such a good opinion regarding the festival?

Not about the festival, no. But every artist that has performed at Sala Palatului had something to say about the hall. We have tries to improve the hall's acoustics, we haven't been criticized in the last period of time, but I they can't agree that, even for such a festival, Romania doesn't have a perfect hall for such an event, and neither a public worthy for a hall that offers a perfect audition, such as it is the case in the biggest capitals of the world, where there are proper concert halls to accommodate such grand events.

Of course, the discussions, proposals and even promises that were made public regarding this absolutely mandatory new concert hall are well known. Are there currently any project regarding this?

I know that the Ministry of Culture is preparing a huge surprise and I will leave it to the Minister to announce this surprise.

What is the ensemble for this festival?

We have a hard core of 9 people that are working in between festivals, and, apart from that, we have collaborators. In this moment, when the event is about to begin, we reach up to 80-90 people to work with, usually young people. We re-freshen the suite in every edition, we are left with merely 10 people from the previous editions, and a core, so that's 20 people that know what organizing this festival requires, and the rest of them are young people that we gather for to help us, students, MA students from different fields, so not necessarily from the Conservatory or from Business School. We've had doctors at a certain point, we've worked with agronomists, students that were interested in taking part in organizing an event. It is a school which a lot of people appreciate and, because of that, some of them remain for the next editions, as far as it is possible for them to take part in activities.

At this time, one week before the festival's debut, are the tickets and passes selling well?

I can tell you that we have a 90% ticket sale for the concerts at the Sala Palatului and the Athenaeum, we barely have events that haven't sold out. We're trying to increase the publicity and the gathering of those who are interested in contemporary concerts, this posing several problems nowadays, and not just in Romania. Contemporary music is the Cinderella of music everywhere at the moment, but what we offer in regards to contemporary music and that forum is, in my opinion, something to be taken into consideration, and those who enjoy contemporary music will also stand by us. It is an experiment that we are making for the first time in this edition, we hope that it will be successful in the end, because foreign participants are very important, we have composers that are interpreted by the great orchestras of the world that have never come and have never been performed in Romania, composers which we will be presenting for the first time. This is some sort of a trial for us, we have events with 21st century's music, that still have a few tickets available, maybe a few more and that's were we're trying to push even further. But other than that, the halls will be full and a part of the audience will be content, the other part will be upset because they can's watch the performance, but we'll be able to satisfy everyone through radio, TV and internet broadcasts.

Is there any concert or event that you, as a music lover, highly await?

There are some events, first of all, there's the opening show that will be a rather difficult event, because this is the first time we will be using screenings in our concerts. I'm talking about Oedipus, that is already difficult enough, and we also add the screenings and the way we present the combination between the London orchestra and the Romanian choirs, artists that will be performing this work for the first time. It is a new distribution and we're glad that, along with the Covent Garden distribution, there is, at the moment, another Oedipus distribution. This is an important moment, and if we successfully pass this first moment, things will seem simpler afterwards, but just a tiny bit, because we have other two concerts that have screenings, we have other difficult events, from an organizational point of view, some rehearsals that we need to make in certain conditions, and soon. Not to mention the orchestras that will be joining us along the way, we have a lot of organizational problems that we're used to, but we also find them difficult and they represent a novelty in organizing.

You will also be witnessing a Radio National Orchestra concert, an exceptional concert, a work that will be performed for the first time in Romania, with fabulous distribution and screenings, a concert conducted by Lawrence Foster, a special presence in our festival.

What motivates you to keep up this hard work?

First of all, it's all the work we need to do to commemorate George Enescu, fewer and fewer are doing so, and we are the only ones that is doing something in the memory of Enescu. Everybody thinks that, because we're playing Enescu's works in our festival, they don't need to do it anymore, which is very bad, instead of learning from the foreign artists, who present different interpretations, and trying to come up with interpretations of our own. For Enescu, I believe it is necessary that all of us try to do all in our power to promote him, his music and all the valuable musicians that we invite to perform in this festival, and we try to value as much as possible, so that there won't be any discussions regarding the differences of value between what we see during the festival and what we see during the concert seasons.

A second motivation would be the routine, and by doing these editions of the festival, we try to perfect ourselves, we would want to bring or try new things at a certain point, in one of the editions. In this edition, we have a large number of new names, we have over 70 artists that will be performing in Romania for the first time. You'll see that in 2019, other artists will appear, so that's why we're trying to present so many artists here, because not a lot of capital cities, and not a lots of music lovers have the chance to witness so many artists at such a low cost in merely three weeks. It is true that this is a different topic, and that the entrance fee at our concerts is not as high as it is in other countries.

But we must admit that the prices have gone up considerably for this year's event.

That is also true, unfortunately, and we do apologize for this situation, but the things that we put at your disposal have also gotten a lot more expensive, not to mention the artists that come at a very high price. This routine of searching for new things motivates you even more with each edition, and promoting the youth is just as interesting, because by organizing this competition during the years when the festival wasn't active, we get the chance to see young artists that take part in this competition and, as you already noticed, we promoted them through our concerts in this festival.

There are some who say that they will no longer interpret Enescu's work because it is already performed at the Enescu Festival, others say that the festival takes over the budgets and the attention alike, and it has too many concerts. What would you say to them?

The budget from the Ministry of Culture is financing the national orchestras and institutions, which are only a few, and all the others are being financed locally, the budget from the Ministry of Culture has never been supplemented from the local budgets. This is a fake problem, the Enescu Festival is receiving all the money, leaving barely anything for the rest of the concerts. Let's be honest, during the years when we don't organize the Enescu Festival, the other concerts aren't getting any better, so there's no reason for them to say stuff like "when the Enescu Festival is not active, we have enough money to bring Lang Lang, or whomever." So this is indeed a fake problem, and I think it very much depends on the ones that run the institutions at the moment and the ones they work with from the public administration, because they have to go and convince them through their current and future activity, in order to get more funds for those institutions. There are differences between concerts, some manage to bring in good people, others don't, some limit their possibilities, in order not to cause too much of a fuss. This is one point of view we agree on, those concerts could benefit by enriching their ensemble with competitors from the George Enescu Competition, with soloists that perform at the festivals or take part in provincial concerts, and that would surely come and perform in other conditions, some of them even agreed to different financial conditions for concerts, but this very much depends on the quality of those certain concerts, the quality of the orchestra they will be presenting themselves with or the conditions they have to offer.

And regarding Enescu, coming back to this issue, take a look at all those concerts and tell me how many times have you heard the works of Enescu being interpreted in other institutions in Bucharest, and even the entire country. It is not normal. And from a second point of view, notice how many Conservatory students and graduates know how to perform Enescu's works or have already interpreted them. This can also be witnessed in the George Enescu Competition, where we've had a very poor Romanian representation.

Cristina Comandaºu
Translated by Ruxandra Vorotneac
MTTLC 1st Year University of Bucharest