As the confinement measures started to ease, the Baalbeck Festival committee began planning for a major project which received the support of the President of the Republic, who has also been the honorary president of the festival since its creation. The idea was also supported by the ministers of Culture, Tourism, Health, as well as the Lebanese National Conservatory. The concert entitled "The Sound of Resilience" is part of the celebrations commemorating the centenary of the declaration of Greater Lebanon.
This is a Covid-19 post-confinement concert, which will take place on July 5 in Baalbeck, in the heart of the Temple of Bacchus, without audience, but taking the necessary physical distancing measures to protect the 130 participants. Filmed by the Lebanese channel LBCI, the retransmission will be live and will be relayed by all the Lebanese channels, and broadcasted as well on social networks. We also have a partnership with an Arab channel and we are negotiating with a European channel. The concept and the artistic direction were developed by maestro Harout Fazlian who will direct a Lebanese and Western repertoire, while Jean-Louis Mainguy will be in charge of the scenography.
The Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra with choirs from the Antonine University and Notre Dame University (NDU) will be at the heart of this musical event. The Baalbeck Festival, a cultural flagship event in Lebanon, seeks to instill a clear message: culture must survive. It is an engine of creativity, solidarity, resilience, and life.
Some people think that, because the country is in a very bad situation, then the timing is not right. To these people, we respond that music and culture in general have always been a dynamic sector, one that must continue to produce. It is a message of faith ... Despite the serious problems that Lebanon is facing, we must fight to preserve the cultural industry as flagship of the country. We have so many talents who want to express themselves! Our role is to continue to reinvent ourselves, hoping that one day we will have a real policy supporting the culture sector that feeds, in the case of festivals, the touristic and socio-economic sectors of an entire region. For this concert without audience, the artists and all the partners will offer their time and skills for free, to support this positive initiative. We also call on embassies passionate about culture to support our message. The list of institutions and people who support this project is very long, we will thank them one by one in our communications, highlighting the solidarity that has been built around this unique concert."
Before the pandemic and the confinement which upset the programming of all the festivals, did you have a program prepared for the summer of 2020?
Before the pandemic, we had decided to organize two big concerts. A delegation from Baalbeck visited us in December to remind us of the socio-economic importance of the festival for the city and its inhabitants.
For the past two years, we have been preparing to host L'Orchestre national d'Île-de-France. We were in contact with Valérie Pécresse and had regular discussions with the orchestra director, Fabienne Voisin, to coordinate this great project. The program included Beethoven's 9th symphony to celebrate the Beethoven year, and a Lebanese composition in the first segment. This concert was directly impacted by the pandemic and therefore postponed indefinitely.
We had a second evening planned to celebrate the centenary of Greater Lebanon, featuring renowned Lebanese artists. These were large-scale projects, which reflected the two artistic missions of the festival: encourage Lebanese creation and host international shows. Everything has been paused. But, despite the confinement, the committee continued its virtual meetings. We are constantly trying to reinvent ourselves.
In fact, the festival remained very active on social networks…
Since the beginning of the confinement, we sought to keep our social networks active by sharing extracts from concerts of the last 10 years. Our database is rich with very beautiful videos. Especially when it comes to recent productions.
If we are to look back at the 2019 edition of Baalbeck Festival, what would you say? Were difficulties already beginning to be felt?
The festival committee’s policy is to plan its budget according to its available means (state subsidy, sponsors and ticketing projection). In recent years, we had to lower our financial ambitions, while preserving artistic quality and especially artistic creations. The new ministerial decrees were very disadvantageous for festivals. A good thing, however, was the setting of a clear classification of the festivals according to their seniority, their continuity, the diversity, the cultural level of the spectacles and the historical place where they are held.
Nevertheless, the cancellation of the reduced visa fee for foreign artists, the decision to support, through festivals, the Mutual Fund for Artists, and recently the new decree which stipulates covering two thirds of losses (with a low ceiling) instead of the third of the budget as before were warning signs announcing the end of most festivals. In addition, pledges of grant funding are constantly reduced and paid with long delays that can reach several years. Today, with the economic, financial and health crisis, the problem is amplified, the sponsors (apart from some very rare patrons) are absent. We are an institution, with employees that we want to protect. We have some minimal reserves, but what next?
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 23rd of June)
Baalbeck International Festival is today the first to announce a major concert. Although without audience, it is of great symbolic significance since it will be broadcasted on television, therefore can be seen by millions of viewers. How did the committee achieve this?
As the confinement measures started to ease, the Baalbeck Festival committee began planning for a major project which...