April 2005, Vol. 6 No. 5
Presenting AUB to the Outside World on
Film and Video
Al-Bustan Annual Festival Attracts AUB Community
Choral Concert Workshop and Guitar
Festival Held at the Assembly Hall
Civilization Sequence Program Screens Falstaff
Oleanna Play Reading: Power Dynamics and
Book Review: In the Path of Hizbullah by Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh
A Tree Grows in Hanine
The wide-scale social and political repercussions of the Hariri assassination in Beirut did not alter the schedule of the 12th Annual International Al-Bustan Festival of Music and the Arts. One day after the infamous explosion rocked the Lebanese capital, its program began as scheduled on February 15, with a Helsinki tango music concert by Kristina Kuusisto and Mary Mantyla.
Yet according to AUB Trustee Myrna Bustani, who is the festival’s organizer and president of its board of directors, the festival could be seen as employing cultural channels to bring people together amidst the insanity of recent events. As she explained it, that’s why people are invited, to temporarily forget the general feelings of distress that have engulfed Lebanon and embark through the offered concerts and performances on “a childhood journey to the magical land of fairytales.”
The next Bustan offering, on February 27, was a concert by the Russian musician, Ekatarina Melnikova, which took place in AUB’s Assembly Hall. An organ soloist of the Moscow Philharmonic Society and a teacher of organ improvisation at the Russian Academy of Music, Melnikova was educated at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where in 1998 she received an advanced postgraduate diploma under the supervision of renowned musicians like Nicholas Danby, David Titterington, Naji Hakim, and Gillian Weir.
The Russian musician, who has participated in major festivals around the world, incorporated in her performance musical pieces culled from her international repertoire and spanning almost three centuries. Her concert, appropriately entitled “A Dance to the Music of Time,” featured masterpieces of classical music composed by Sweelinck, Pachelbel, Bovet, Grieg, Prokofiev, Boutouzova, and Saint-Saens.
Harmony of Voices, the recently formed soloist singer ensemble from Sweden, and the Stockholm Baroque Orchestra came together on March 5 to present yet another memorable performance at the AUB Assembly Hall. The artists, dressed in gold, black, and red evening attire, entered the stage in a processional manner, dimly lit by candles. Seated against the dramatic backdrop of the shining organ pipes, and led by conductor Frederick Malmberg, the singers were ready to perform amidst an almost saced atmosphere.
The program began with the Svenska Messan (Swedish Mass), a thirteen-part piece of music composed by Johan Helmich Roman in 1752. George Frederick Handel’s Dixit Dominus was sung next and comprised eight intervals, starting with “The Word of the Lord” and concluding with “Gloria Patri e Filio” (Glory to the Father and Son). President John Waterbury and Provost Peter Heath were among the members of the AUB community who attended that evening, which was dedicated to the “rebirth of Lebanon and the souls of its martyrs.”
Groups of students, professors, and friends of the AUB community again made up most of the audience at the Al-Bustan Hotel in Beit Meri on March 15. They were there to attend the festival’s chosen Shakespear play, Hamlet, produced by the English Sincera production team. The narrative was shortened to a minimum, with the original four-and-a-half-hour text shrunk to under two hours.
In an interview at the Hotel’s Scottish Bar after the play, director Dylan Lowthian explained some of the changes in the adapted text. For instance, the two male characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, were merged into a single female character to compensate for the gender disparity of an otherwise “very masculine-oriented play.”
Becs Andrews, who designed the set and costumes, reinforced Lowthian’s claim about wanting to present a different, modern, and creative production of Hamlet, in explaining why the costumes she designed were “grotesque and exaggerated.” She also commented that the panoramic view from the bar shows the “biblical landscape of Lebanon at its best and makes you forget your immediate surroundings for a moment.”
Undeniably, the Al-Bustan Festival has become a vital event on Lebanon’s cultural calendar, promoting as it does the enjoyment of a wide range of classical and modern music and theater presented in unprecedented, original forms. Myrna Bustani’s meticulous planning has gone from strength to strength in terms of the orchestration of events and propensity toward attracting artists of the highest caliber. That the Al-Bustan Festival has become a premier landmark on the Middle East music and arts circuit is a fact—celebrated this year through the excellent performances offered by the more than four hundred artists who came from the northern countries of Europe, namely England, Ireland, Scotland, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Poland, Russia, and Finland.