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Postcard from the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence

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AIX-EN-PROVENCE – This afternoon’s rehearsal began on a somber note, with the director acknowledging the horrible terrorist attack the night before and expressing solidarity and support with the many shaken musicians and staff who traveled here recently from Nice, to the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, which is only 2 hours away from car.

The musicians are members of the Youth Orchestra of the Mediterranean, a program that strives to connect this festival and this small city not far from the sea with the countries in its maritime region, and the list of countries they represent include many associated with crises over the past several years: Turkey, Greece, Israel, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Italy, France and others.

Répétition de l’Orchestre des Jeunes de la Méditerranée sous la direction de musiciens du London Symphonique Orchestrale 16 juillet 2015 au conservatoire D’Arius Milhaud, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.

Rehearsal of the Youth Orchestra of the Mediterranean under the direction of musicians of the London Symphony Orchestra July 16, 2015. Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.

Despite all the recent tragedies, Emilie Delorme, the director, promised that they would press on not only with their upcoming concerts at the festival and on tour elsewhere in France, Croatia, and Slovenia – but next summer and the summer after that, sounding defiantly optimistic in the face of a new level of anxiety that permeates this city and this country.

The Festival, perhaps more than most others in Europe, has made a real effort to reflect the multiculturalism of the continent. Not only does it fly in young musicians from around the Mediterranean each summer, but among its many other projects it has encouraged the creation of what may be one of the only classical string quartets in the Arab world, premiered Kalîla wa Dimna, an opera in Arabic and French, and sponsors an “Intercultural Creation Ensemble,” which incubates projects like the “Cairo Jazz Station” that weaves together diverse musical traditions.

Perhaps its for this reason that patrons attending this well-healed and well-known festival have to pass through metal detectors before each performance and that the police stand guard and close the streets as crowds leave the theaters.

Without hesitation, the conductor, Marko Letonja, took the podium and took up a pressing issue of a different nature amongst the young musicians: to try to induce more passion and merriment in the ensemble’s upcoming performance of Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.

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