The Lebanese festival that created a whole new orchestra – online


Al Bustan Festival, currently taking place in Lebanon, has debuted an entire new orchestra created on social media, after one of its scheduled orchestras pulled out of the festival citing security concerns. Last December artistic director Gianluca Marcianò put out an open call on Facebook asking if other musicians could step in, and within 48 hours received an overwhelming response.

‘You can’t find an orchestra overnight as they are booked or too expensive, and we are a low budget festival,’ Marcianò told IAM.

‘I have a lot of musicians as friends and who said they would like to work with me… so I created a Facebook group and put out a post that I needed musicians. I now have 64 players and had to turn many more away.’

The result is Al Bustan Festival Orchestra whose members come from 26 countries, making it almost as international as The World Orchestra that it has replaced. TWO’s withdrawal from the 2016 festival came as a surprise, as it had happily played at the 2015 festival under similar security circumstances.

‘Some people were afraid to come because they said maybe it was dangerous, and the management team was also afraid,’ said Marcianò. ‘Our other artists remained on board, so we still have lots of big names coming.’ Lebanon, where the festival is based, has experienced a massive influx of refugees as a result of the Syrian civil war. More than 1,170,000 refugees are currently residing in the country, whose population is just 4,300,000 – placing huge humanitarian and infrastructural strains on the tiny nation. ‘There is an important role for music and healing in post-conflict environments,’ said the artistic director.

However, he added that the festival never gets directly involved with politics. ‘It’s a music festival and we want to keep it that way. If we keep doing what we do, this alone will send a strong message – that we are not afraid.’ As for the newly-formed Festival Orchestra, Marcianò emailed scores to all the members so they could practise in advance. ‘The music world is smaller than you think, so many have played together before,’ he commented. ‘We’ve had conversations on Skype and, with three full days of rehearsal, we are able to make good music together.’

Al Bustan Festival Orchestra is scheduled to play five concerts at the festival, which began on 16 February and runs until 20 March. Other 2016 highlights include a focus on Shakespeare to mark the 400th anniversary of his death, with a programme of works by Beethoven, Verdi, Berlioz, Gounod, Bellini, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev inspired by the bard.