Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cambodia goes Baroque

An upcoming International music festival will showcase Europe's Baroque music and perform works by undisputed genius JS Bach in Phnom Penh
Participants in the upcoming Baroque festival, which starts Thursday in Phnom Penh, rehearse for performance.

THE International Phnom Penh Music Festival is set to begin this Thursday, rewinding 400 years with a Baroque theme, a classical style that emerged in Europe in the 1600s and dominated for 160 years. 

The festival marks the culmination of a joint effort between the Art Foundation, the Goethe Institute, the German Embassy and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, and will feature a mixture of Cambodian and international musicians. 

All concerts at the festival will be free of charge - a change from the last four years. 

"The magic and universal language of music is an elite work, but it is not only for the elite. Our decision to make all the concerts of the festival free was a hard one, but it's in keeping with our mission; to spread music of all sorts  throughout Cambodia," said  Art Café owner and festival organiser Anton Isselhardt. 

Baroque music first appeared at the end of the Renaissance, Europe's intellectual, spiritual and cultural awakening after the Dark Ages. 

...we have to be aware of what is happening outside cambodia because we need to be inspired.

The literal meaning of Baroque is "misshapen pearl", and the style is known for being emotionally intense, with an interest in capturing the objective essence of a singularly strong emotion, such as grief.

The parallel theme of the Thursday festival is the German Bach family, which produced seven generations of musicians and composers. The most famous member of the Bach family is Johann Sebastian Bach, whose key works, Art of the Fugue, the Brandenburg Concertos and Well-Tempered Clavier, marked the peak of the Baroque era  and established his reputation as a composer of incomparable genius.

Last year the festival attracted an overall audience of 1,000, and this year the organisers hope to improve on this number, particularly encouraging more Cambodians to attend. Cambodians last year accounted for only 20 percent of the total audience.

Positive globalisation 

Professor Sam-Sang Sam, a musicologist at Phnom Penh's Pannasastra University, said he was pleased Cambodia will play host to a festival of foreign music and foreign musicians. 

"In terms of music in Cambodia, we are very young, like a baby. We have to be aware of what is happening outside Cambodia because we need to be inspired. This music festival is not dealing with conservation or restoration, but innovation," he said.

"There is so much fear that globalisation will ruin our culture, but this is one very positive side effect of the trend. For young Cambodian musicians, the chance to play with international musicians will greatly benefit their confidence and self-esteem," he added.

Veng Sereyvuth, a senior minister at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, agreed. 

"Cambodian society knows quite well that art is an integral part of life. Only in art, ethical, moral, philosophical and even sensual values are transported and continuously evaluated. Especially after great sufferings and a more economically orientated phase of reconstruction, Cambodian society tries increasingly to recover its own richness and is also interested in discovering transcultural values represented by the arts," he added. 

"We also know that arts are the best playground for the discourse between nations, ethnicities and individuals."
The first concert of the festival will be held at the Chaktomuk Theatre at 7pm Thursday and will feature four works by various Bach family members, as well as a speech on Baroque aesthetics and thinking by professor Dieter Mack.

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