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Interview with composer Diana Rotaru

Tuesday, 7 November 2023 , ora 15.25

This year's edition of the festival is called "Persona" and aims to explore the theme of masks. Please tell us how this theme will be approached.

Since the fateful year of the pandemic's onset, 2020, we've been living for several years a kind of mask horror, and I've been trying to restore to the mask some of the symbolism and fascination it normally has. The "Persona" theme basically shows different aspects of the masks and their different meanings. If you have seen the Meridian poster by Ioana Buraga and Vlad Grigore - fantastic visual artists, it is basically an exhibition of masks, just as a festival, to a certain extent, is an exhibition of music and ideas and beautiful and talented people.

Each day of the festival has its own identity, its own mask, and these masks will even exist in physical form and we will draw lots - each day, one of the audience from Bucharest will be lucky enough to go home with a kind of key to Wonderland, the land of this new, contemporary music.

The Meridian Festival seeks to fulfil a highly relevant mission in the current cultural environment - strengthening or even building a bridge between the public and contemporary music. How will this connection be furthered?

First of all, I hope the passion of the organisers and myself as director for this music shows. I have been in love with it since I was a child, since I discovered the music of my mother, Doina Rotaru. What we have been trying to do since 2019, since we took over the organization of this festival, was to find a particular identity in Romania, perhaps also in Europe, through this highly suggestive and metaphorical theme, this umbrella under which each edition is built and symbolically dressed. We had Sound Gardens, Planetarium, Atlas; now we have masks, Persona. And basically, that I think is a possible bridge to the audience, who is helped to relate to new music that may seem abstract especially to an uninitiated listener, to associate it visually or symbolically with outside objects, which is this identity of the mask that we give.

Then, apart from the theme and colourful graphics, we choose charismatic artists who have something to say. There are artists who are as passionate about new music as we are. And so the festival begins: with Ion Bogdan Ștefănescu - an exceptional flutist, who will perform with his student ensemble''Flaut Power'' and with 4 choreographers who, together with 4 composers, have created a modular performance made of... let's call them 4 little ballets. This is the (un)MASKed show. So here we start a festival about masks with an unmasking. It's an unmasking offered by the Romanian Cultural Institute. This happens on November 5th, at 5.00 p.m., at the National University of Music in Bucharest.

Then all sorts of concerts follow. I wanted them to be as varied as possible, precisely to show how diverse the palette of our century and the 20th century is. What a listener, perhaps trapped in some prejudices, may consider to be elitist music, music written in the ivory tower, without concern for the audience... is completely false, because in fact music is the transmission of pure emotion. I hope that those who come to Meridian concerts will even manage to fall in love with some composers, who are there, can be asked questions and can be talked to.

So, we have this variety of programmes which include a concert at the Romanian Athenaeum, a concert in a bar, acoustic music concerts, concerts with live electronics where the acoustic source is completely masked - to use this metaphor again... There are events with a strong interdisciplinary side, such as this (un)MASKed show, such as the collaboration with various artists, with the visual artist Alexandru Claudiu Maxim, with dancers. We also have a contemporary Nō theatre concert on 9 November. It's already a sold out show at the Odeon Theatre. The protagonist is a Japanese singer, the only one in the world who sings Nō theatre in this contemporary setting, mixed with avant-garde sound languages: Ryoko Aoki, who is in Romania for the first time.

From your perspective, why are people afraid of new music? Why shouldn't they be afraid of it?

It is a type of attitude that is somehow ingrained in each of us; how we look at something we are not familiar with, how we look at something else or something new... we are afraid of it, we reject it and avoid it, or we are attracted to the new, in fact. And I think this is the basis of the reluctance of a certain category of the public towards new music. Let's not forget that we live in a century in which we are bombarded with information, including aural information, through every possible channel. There is a kind of saturation of the mind and perception, and many people prefer to focus on what is already known in order to survive in this bombardment of information.

I think, in the end, it's about this act of courage, of openness, of the willingness to try something new, to come with an open mind, an open soul, open ears, to accept what the musicians produce sonically on stage and to actually see that music, as I said before, is pure emotion and that is conveyed through any kind of musical language. And I would really like to see more contemporary or new music programmed in "regular" concerts, because then it will be even clearer the ideational match and the emotional lode that exists in a Baroque work, in a Romantic one, in a 20th century work and a 21st century work in an absolute premiere. Emotion exists in so many forms and we must enjoy it and accept it for what it is.

Interview by Ariadna Ene-Iliescu
Translated by Cătălina Colibaba,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year II
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu