For 24 years now, Mihai Constantinescu, director of the Enescu Festival, has fought to nurture Romania’s cultural scene worldwide by staging a bigger and better classical music event from one edition to the next. Business Review went behind the scenes with Constantinescu to learn the secrets of this jubilant Romanian festival.
How would you describe your 24 years of organizing the Enescu Festival?
This is a festival that has grown because of the work of young people, as I myself was 24 years ago, thanks to their way of understanding each other and the cultured people who have convinced politicians to take favorable decisions for the festival. Thanks to the prestige of the festival’s artistic directors, such as Ludovic Spiess, Mihai Brediceanu, Lord Yehudi Menuhin, Lawrence Foster, Vlad Roman, Cristian Mandeal and Ioan Holender, the professionalism seen here has made the festival a reliable event. It is not easy to build, and even harder to maintain what you have built. We built this festival in the name of and for the great Romanian musician George Enescu and I think he would be proud of our achievement.
We must not forget that the festival brings to Romania, besides international reputation, an opportunity for economic development, from tens of thousands of foreign tourists who come here to attend it. Major festivals abroad are an opportunity for tourism: this exposure to cultural events attracts tourists and spurs organizers to show the best a place or a country has to offer. It’s the same with the Enescu Festival in Romania.
Tell us about the 15 years of negotiations with the Berlin Philharmonic.
I tried to demonstrate that we can live up to the demands of the world’s top orchestras. The four best orchestras in the world will attend this year’s event, which means a lot for the festival, for Romania and for us, as Romanians, who have demonstrated that “we can”.
We have brought the best and most representative classical music to this festival, and we met the difficult contractual conditions and obligations that we negotiated. This was appreciated; it made us credible to the orchestras. And in this area quality is decisive. A long time has passed – particularly due to the busy schedule of the Berlin Philharmonic – but in the end, this particular group found a few hours to come to Bucharest.
Describe a day in your life in the run-up to the event.
A day means 24 hours – we no longer have a normal workday. And the night – which is known as being a good adviser – is a good opportunity to resume what we did during the day, to analyze some decisions and to revisit others.
Is George Enescu’s work promoted outside the festival and/or competition?
I do not believe it is promoted enough in Romania and especially by Romanians. The Enescu Festival tries to do just this and has aimed for years to take the great Enescu music across borders, and showcase it here, in Romania, in contemporary interpretations by the most important orchestras in the world. There is also the Enescu Competition in which we try – we believe successfully – to introduce the study and interpretation of Enescu’s music to young artists, the musicians of the future. Part of the compulsory repertoire for the contest consists of some essential works by the composer.
Few major orchestras include works by Enescu in their concerts. It is a struggle to achieve this. It is not easy to impose your point of view, nor a program. And besides all of these difficulties, there is also the problem of understanding Enescu’s creations. Unfortunately – in my opinion – there are few people who understand and can make others understand the great works of Enescu. This could be why so many foreigners bypass it.
But those who are convinced – eventually – to interpret some of Enescu’s creations do it with pleasure and professionalism. And we have many examples of foreign performers and conductors who have become ambassadors of his music and the festival. But Enescu should not be promoted only during the Enescu Festival, but by all those working in the field of music. Enescu has to be studied as a “bible” of all Romanian musicians. Once we achieve this performance, we can ask foreigners to interpret his work as well.
Is the Enescu Festival the best Romanian cultural product for export?
This is something I cannot decide. Only the market can decide, along with Romanians, if they want to be represented by the festival. I think we have something to celebrate in this respect – the festival manages to be the largest international cultural event organized in Romania and to bring about 20,000 foreign tourists to Bucharest every two years, who come here especially for the festival. It depends very much on us. Let’s all recognize this achievement and come up with ideas to improve the festival, not with suggestions that “demolish and denigrate” it. Criticism is fine as long as it is constructive.
How do you select the orchestras? Have you ever been unable to bring an artist because of budget considerations?
The selection of artists and orchestras is based on their “business cards”, as well as the program we want to present. There have been artists and orchestras whose fee was not accepted. This was at the beginning of the festival, when they demanded high fees just to be refused and not to turn down a concert. Now it is no longer the case. The decision is entirely ours because we know the value, including their fees. Today many of our refusals are related to the repertoire, conductors or soloists. It is important for the festival to have this opportunity and discretion.
Was it difficult to impose Enescu on international orchestras?
Yes, it was – and is – difficult to impose. But, slowly, we have managed to convince them and as I said before, we are in a position to decide. The works that we require are pivotal: symphonies, suites, major works, which require understanding, knowledge, patience and a lot of practice. Those who understand this participate in the festival. We are happy that in terms of chamber music we more and more value soloists who include works by George Enescu in their programs. You will have a big surprise when you see soloists performing important chamber works – sonatas, suites etc – in 2017.
More and more international artists include major works by Enescu in their concerts or chamber recitals – let’s remember this February’s London premiere of George Enescu’s Symphony III, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, on stage at the Festival Hall in the Southbank Centre, right on the Thames, in front of an audience of over 2,000 who gave a standing ovation that resulted in four curtain calls. The London premiere came after Jurowski performed Enescu works at the Enescu Festival on the Palace Hall stage in 2013. It is and has been one of the aims of the festival, but there is room for more and better.
Is there any difference between Enescu played by Romanians and by foreigners?
This difference is becoming smaller and smaller because Enescu has begun to be understood. For those who decide to do one of his works, they can document and compare between interpretations. Unfortunately, fewer Romanians are playing Enescu. Now, it is foreigners who mostly top the charts with his compositions, which means it is a goal achieved. This is the merit of George Enescu Competition, which gets his repertoire played by more and more young people.
Can you rank the best Enescu performances?
I wouldn’t like to do so – although it would be possible – in order not to upset and discourage those trying to approach more Enescu. I’d rather pay tribute to the audience, the viewers whether through TV, theater, live transmissions on the internet or the festival site, www.festivalenescu.ro.