BEIRUT: The mountain village of Beit Mery is gearing up for its yearly festival season. Again, Al-Bustan Hotel, and several ancillary venues around the country, will swell with music from the classical repertoire.
The curtain rises on the Al-Bustan Festival Feb. 18 and will not drop definitively until March 23. Over these weeks the festival will play host to performing artists from around the world, including Armenia, Brazil, Germany, Italy and of course, Lebanon.
Since its foundation in 1994, the Al-Bustan Festival has clustered its yearly program under a theme. This year, the chosen theme is “Music and Nature,” with a special focus on compositions that find their inspiration in nature.
The palette will be broad and varied with the festival’s mainstay of classical music augmented by the baroque repertoire and opera as well as an evening of film music. The 2014 edition of Al-Bustan promises to be even more diverse than usual.
The festival will kick off Feb. 18 and 20 with bandoneon player Mario Stefano Pietrodarchi, accompanied by the Pan-European Philharmonic Festival Orchestra, under the baton of Gianluca Marciano. The playlist will include some of Dvorak’s best-loved tunes, along with numbers by Molinelli and Nino Rota.
Russian-born French violinist Alexandra Soumm will also be along to share her interpretation of Beethoven’s violin concerto, through Tchaikovsky’s “Winter Dreams.”
Classical music can be a bigheaded thing and a bit of learned chatter on the matter can whet the appetite. For those so inclined, French musicologist Alain Duault will join the festivities on Feb. 25 to lead a lecture and conversation on impressionism in music.
Another much-loved parallel event at Al-Bustan is the art exhibition. This year’s artist is Nabil Helou, whose work has been described as a “fusion between sculpture and painting.” The description is nothing if not intriguing.
Each year Al-Bustan introduces a piece of music that has hitherto not been performed in Lebanon. This year will be no exception. Russia’s Helikon Opera will perform, for the first time in Lebanon, Stravinsky’s “The Nightingale” and Mozart’s “La Finta Giardiniera,” on March 2 and 4, respectively.
For those craving novelty and innovation, “The Table” will be a must-see. Performed by Karbido – an avant-garde troupe conflating movement, music and visual art – the piece is a unique concept that promises to make audiences see furniture in a totally new light. This will be Karbido’s first performance in Lebanon, after enjoying rave reviews in Europe.
Pianist Paolo Restani will plunge listeners into the worlds of Ravel and Debussy on March 1 with a concert entitled “Whispers in the Forest.”
Fusion music will also play an important role in this year’s festival. “Late Night Oriental Jazz” will offer an ensemble of guitars and mandolins, showcasing the talents of Nabil Khemmir, Nabil Dous, Hatem Gafsia and Rafik Gharbi.
The State Ballet of Georgia will bring their interpretation of Fredryk Ashtron’s “Margueritte and Armand” on March 15-16. Featuring the solo work of respected ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, the troupe has also programmed a performance of “Dying Swan.”
As usual, musical of the classical period provides the backbone of Al-Bustan, and in this regard, Beethoven’s works will fill the air. Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaya and pianist Fazil Say will join forces on March 9 to play a range of Beethoven’s compositions. A few days later on March 19, nine artists will join foces in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth.
Known for his music in Nadine Labaki’s “Caramel” and “Where Do We Go Now,” Lebanon’s much-loved musician-composer Khaled Mouzannar is scheduled to perform on March 22. The event provides his fans a fine opportunity to put a face to the music.
The festival will wind down March 23 with “The Heat of Summer,” a performance gathering mezzo soprano Ruxandra Donose and the State Youth Orchestra of Armenia, under the baton of maestro Marciano.
Other much-loved works on this year’s playlist are Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” Chopin’s compositions and Rossini’s melodies.
With the tense situation in Lebanon and the wider region nowadays, it is hoped that Al-Bustan’s yearly slate of offerings can make some contribution toward raising people’s spirits.
Festival Al-Bustan will run from Feb. 18 until March 23. For more information, please visit albustanfestival.com