Al Bustan international festival of music and arts and member of the European Festival Association, since it was founded in 1994, has put Lebanon on a pedestal as a unique and unprecedented tradition of a music season in winter. The festival founders wished to revive the cultural life of a country reemerging after 17 years of war. With more than thirty performances seasonally presented every year, over a wintery period from February to March, with a predominance of chamber music, the festival includes opera, orchestral concerts, dance, marionettes and theater. Developed around cultural and special themes, the festival is distinguished each and every year with one-of-a-kind choices of artists, works and performances, creating a unique bond between artists and their audience in a warm atmosphere.
Renowned for her punctuality, Myrna Bustani arrived just on time for our meeting. Over the years, the International Al Bustan Festival of Music and Arts has always started at 8:30 sharp. She simply believes that each and everyone starts with their own selves to give the right example. Bustani was the first woman to be elected as a member of the Lebanese Parliament in 1963, but didn’t enjoy the experience there. However, she attests that there were many people who were giving a positive input at the time, such as Nayla Mouawad.
Bustani describes the beginning: “It all started when I went to attend a piano festival near here, and I was shocked to see people talking and projectors placing emphasis on the audience instead of the pianist, the light supposed to frame the musician on stage actually ended up blinding him temporarily. I shared my concerns with Walid Gholmieh and he answered, ‘That’s how Lebanon is, what can we do?’ And so I decided to do something about it and lo, the International Al Bustan Festival of Music and Arts was born.” It started with simple piano concerts, but has evolved in crescendo to opera, which the audience has appreciated more and more every year.
“It started with simple piano concerts, but has evolved in crescendo to opera”
A success story
The keys to Bustani’s success were nothing more than hard work, perseverance and quality. Still, that required a lot of dedication, motivation and effort. She believed in bringing back to life “the music of the dead,” which was the status of classical music at that time. The only time classical music concerts were shown on TV was when someone had died. She wanted to invite people to look and listen, beyond their normal experiences. Furthermore she added her own touch to the music festival, holding art exhibitions and seasonal workshops that used to happen during the festival at the conservatoire in the beginning, but were shifted to Broumanna at a later stage.
“The keys to my success were nothing more than hard work, perseverance and quality.”
The festival’s upcoming theme is Shakespeare, in homage to the 500-year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016. The theme for the year after that (as themes are planned for two consecutive years) will be “Women of Orient” – an ode to Cleopatra, Shehrazade and many more.
An ode to Fairuz
“Today, youth doesn’t know the real Lebanon, and the feeling of being Lebanese. Youngsters are forgetting their own identity. They need to know that they are not like anyone else and that they have their own identity should and be proud of it. Besides, in our today’s hectic world, a big part of our heritage is lost.” The iron lady surrendered to her emotions the very first time she heard the word “Lebanon.” A Lebanon she cherished, loved and venerated, a Lebanon who knew the glory of Beirut and the magical tones of Fairuz’s voice. She even recalled Fairuz concert that they organized in the Royal Festival Hall in London in 1986, when war in Lebanon was at its peak and Lebanese people attending weren’t talking to each other.
“Maybe it’s time to put our hands together and build a Lebanon of culture, beauty and civism.”
The concert was an amazing glorious moment in time, eternalized by Fairuz’s enchanting voice, a voice that holds within so much historical, authentic and emotional heritage. Even unflinching British policemen stated with swollen eyes that they have never heard such a beautiful voice. Nada Massoud, responsible for communication at Al Boustan Festival added, quoting a documentary about Fairuz by Frederic Mitterand, “Don’t count on Fairuz to solve your problems and get you together.”