George Enescu Festival 2021: Highlights of an anniversary edition
George Enescu Festival kicked off this past weekend, marking an anniversary, 25th edition and celebrating 140 years since the birth of the Romanian musician. Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, the festival returned with a program that includes numerous local premieres, from works by Enescu to operas in concert and contemporary music. We outline below some of the highlights of this year's edition.
This year's edition, spanning four weeks, is the longest so far. Events take place in Bucharest and several cities in the country: Sibiu, Timișoara, Cluj, Iași, Pitești, Ploiești, Bacău, Râmnicu Vâlcea, Constanța, Satu Mare. A total of 32 orchestras from 14 countries will perform, while top Romanian orchestras are present in the Music of 21st Century series. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra will carry on the tradition of delivering the festival's end concert. This year, the orchestra will perform conducted by Daniel Harding, in the country for the first time.
At every edition, the festival brings top classical music artists and ensembles to the country, and this year's edition is no exception. Ensembles such as L’Arpeggiata, Orchestra Controcorrente, La Cetra Barockorchester Basel, Les Arts Florissants, Münchener Bach-Orchester and Münchener Bach-Chor will perform at the festival, as will Joshua Bell, Joyce DiDonato, Yuja Wang, Diana Damrau, Philippe Jaroussky, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Maxim Vengerov, Valery Gergiev, and Daniele Gatti. Among the artists present at the event for the first time are Sonya Yoncheva, Sir Simon Keenlyside, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Gil Shaham, Lahav Shani, Baltic Sea Orchestra, the Athens State Philharmonic and the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, Alisa Weilerstein, Santtu-Mattis Rouvali, Nemanja Radulovic, London Mozart Players, Felix Klieser, Ramon Vargas, and Gabriela Montero.
The 25th edition of the festival marks 140 years since the birth of the Romanian musician with a program that includes 37 works by Enescu, the highest number presented so far, the organizers said. Among them are the Symphony No. 2, Op. 17, in A major, performed by the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, conducted by Kristjan Järvi, and the Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor Op. 25, "dans le caractère populaire roumain", arranged for violin and orchestra by Valentin Doni and performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Edward Gardner, with Patricia Kopatchinskaja as soloist.
The symphonic poem Vox Maris will be performed by the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christian Badea, and the Choir of the George Enescu Philharmonic, while Enescu's Symphony No. 4 in E minor will be performed by the Orchestra Dell' Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia, conducted by Daniele Gatti.
Several other works by Enescu are included in the festival's program for the first time. The concert delivered by pianist Cyprien Katsaris and cellist Manuel Fischer-Dieskau will present Trois mélodies, arr. for cello and piano (Le desert, Le galop, Soupir) and the Allegro in F minor for Cello and Piano. Furthermore, the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Gabriel Bebeșelea, will present the oratorio Strigoii (Ghosts), while the Athens State Orchestra, conducted by Stefanos Tsialis, will perform the Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra, alongside pianist Saskia Giorgini, a 2016 winner of the Mozart Competition in Salzburg.
Enescu's works have inspired several other performances presented at the festival. French violinist Nicolas Dautricourt designed a special event marking the composer's anniversary, The Enescu Project, while jazz performer Teodora Enache-Brody will present vocal versions of Enescu's Rhapsody No. 1 and Rhapsody No. 2. The concert, titled Unifying Worlds. From Beethoven to Enescu, will see Enache-Brody perform alongside guitarist Călin Grigoriu, cellist Andrei Kivu, and percussionist Joca Perpignan at the Bucharest National Opera. Besides Enescu's works, the program also includes vocal versions of Beethoven's Sonata Pathétique and Moonlight Sonata, Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances, and Pachelbel's Canon. The concert is part of the Creative Bucharest series, meant to encourage diverse artistic expressions inspired by George Enescu's music and legacy.
The opera offer
The festival, nominated last year at the International Opera Awards for the promotion of the opera in its artistic program, will again showcase several opera works as national concert premieres.
To mark 50 years since the death of Igor Stravinsky, the festival runs a program dedicated to the composer on September 1. This includes the Romanian premiere of The Flood, performed by the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, conducted by the festival's artistic director Vladimir Jurowski. The program of the concert also includes the work Les Noces, with pianists Daniel Ciobanu, Andrei Licaret, Alexandra Silocea, and Mihai Ritivoiu performing, as well as Renard, Histoire burlesque chantée et jouée.
On September 15, the National Orchestra of the Romanian Radio will perform the Romanian premiere of Alexander von Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg (The Dwarf). Oleg Caetani will conduct.
At the same time, the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra will deliver the Romanian premiere of Die tote Stadt ('The Dead City') by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, in a concert performance scheduled for September 10.
Furthermore, the Transylvania Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra of Cluj-Napoca conducted by Lawrence Foster will present Alban Berg's Lulu on September 23.
Another premiere is the Te Deum dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the festival. Composed by José Cura, it is performed at the event by Philharmonia London and José Cura, alongside the Academic Choir of the Romanian Radio at the Grand Palace Hall on September 5. The multimedia direction of this performance is by Carmen Vidu.
Music of the 21st century
First introduced in the festival's program in 2017, the Music of the 21st Century section is meant to "create connections between the Romanian public and the global scene of contemporary composition." The section showcases contemporary artists such as Fazıl Say, Sir Simon Keenlyside, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, and Avishai Cohen, as well as a number of premieres.
Pianist, composer, and human rights advocate Fazıl Say will be featured as a composer of Istanbul Symphony in a concert with the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Axelrod, on September 19. He will also perform as a soloist in the Great Orchestras of the World Series, with the Romanian Youth Orchestra conducted by Cristian Mandeal, on September 22.
British baritone Sir Simon Keenlyside will present the world premiere of Jonathan Dove's Exile – Concerto for cello, baritone, and orchestra, in a concert alongside Mihail Jora Philharmonic Orchestra of Bacau, conducted by Jessica Cottis. The work was written for Sir Simon Keenlyside and cellist Raphael Wallfisch.
Bassist Avishai Cohen will also perform at the Enescu Festival as part of the Music of the 21st Century section, alongside the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra on September 19.
Furthermore, violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja will perform in Bucharest the Concerto for violin, live electronics, and orchestra written for her by composer Fred Popovici. The public will also have the chance to listen to violinist Carolin Widman, and Ksenija Sidorova, the first accordionist to perform at the Enescu Festival.
The program also includes two artists as both composers and soloists of their own works. Venezuelan Gabriela Montero will perform her Latin Concerto for piano and orchestra and guitarist José María Gallardo del Rey will play Diamantes Para Aranjuez.
Several works will have their premiere at the festival: Jonathan Dove's Exile - Concerto for cello, baritone and orchestra, Tim Benjamin's Symphony, Mihnea Brumariu's Der Nachbar des Chaos, Fred Popovici's Concerto for violin, live electronics, and orchestra, and Adrian Iorgulescu's Obelisk.
Where to see & listen to the concerts:
Those who cannot make it to the festival, can see the concerts in the program streamed for free on the festival's website (festivalenescu.ro). They will be available for viewing for 12 hours to allow the public in different time zones to watch them. Every concert has its dedicated page, accessible from the program page. The page for every event can also be accessed from the homepage calendar, which lists the day's concerts and the dedicated pages.
The public television TVR will also broadcast live, on some of its channels, several of the concerts taking place at the Athenaeum and Sala Palatului. The program is available here. The public radio station Radio România Muzical will also broadcast most of the concerts in the festival. The program is available here.
(Photo courtesy of the Enescu Festival)